LucasArts means Stars Wars, right? Not always. It is true that many of the best LucasArts games are taken directly from the Star Wars franchise, but LucasArts may very well be the unsung masters (or Jedi Knights in this case) of Adventure games with titles like Full Throttle and Monkey Island on their adventure resume. However, probably the best of their adventure games, or at least the most original, would be Grim Fandango. Hmmm, not a great name, and one that might inspire you to seek out an alternative gaming experience, but that would be a great mistake seeing as you would miss out on one of the most original videogames ever produced.
Graphically speaking, Grim Fandango is not the best looking game. The visuals do their job to an adequate degree, but there are still occasions when the graphics stand out – just check the Day of the Dead fair outside your work building (Lost Souls Liberation Army HQ) should you require convincing. Lighting effects are nicely done, but not overly impressive, though; and in-game particle effects are generally scarce, so there’s no big need to take that into account. But the technicalities of Grim Fandango’s graphics are not the perspective to dwell on; not when the originality of its visuals are, quite simply – amazing. If you consider and evaluate the artistic side of the game’s graphics (not always covered in videogame reviews) then Grim Fandango is one of the best to date. Take a look at the World of the Living: simple graphics but surrounded by a great idea. Bringing a Mexican Art Deco mixture to everything in Grim Fandango is a great idea; if you’ve ever been to Mexico or know about the Day of the Dead, then you will know that it is full of color and vitality. Oddly, this lively styling strength serves the game well because you (Manny Calavera) are actually dead; it all falls into place?it even seems somewhat logical.
To reiterate, the technical aspects of the game are not its best traits. But, once again, the sounds in Grim Fandango fall perfectly into place too. Sound does its job well, when it is needed, and in a very original way – although perhaps not as effectively as its graphical partner. The music in the game is a whole different story, though, and you can hear a lot of different musical styles in Grim Fandango; from Mexican-inspired music to some Jazz-inspired music. It all serves the originality of the game well. The weight of the title’s success is carried, in the main, through its story and dialogue; Grim Fandango has one of the best scripts ever written for a videogame, and some truly marvelous voice acting, too.
This is the type of game that doesn’t rely on gameplay too much; it’s more of a dialogue and puzzle-solving experience. So, it would be unjust to compare Grim Fandango’s gameplay to, say, an action game, but it can still be compared through effectiveness: does it serve to the genre? There are some examples during the game where it can become a little frustrating to successfully control Manny with absolute precision. As mentioned earlier, the game doesn’t rely too heavily on gameplay, but that doesn’t alter the fact that there is room for improvement – especially taking into account what type of game Grim Fandango is. Most of the time, as the player, you will only be required to move Manny around, manage his inventory, talk with NPCs, and use items at particular times and in particular places. That’s the good thing about the gameplay – it’s easy to learn – so you can submerge yourself into the story faster.
The story itself and the interaction dialogue are both very entertaining and highly original; this is undoubtedly the fleshy, meaty heart of Grim Fandango! You are Manny Calavera, a sort of travel agent for the after-life. Manny is currently somewhat dissatisfied with the state of his life(?), until a woman (Meche) appears in his office one day with a problem (I won’t outline any further so as not reveal the plotline); and that’s where the story starts, taking many twists and turns, and taking Manny on an epic adventure. An epic adventure: meaning that it takes 4 years of his after-life, as he travels to many distant places. Manny begins the game in the confines of a dull office and then travels to many, completely different and wonderful environments – and that is why Grim Fandango is epic. Manny will meet a colorful cast of characters along the way, pull off detective-esque duties, execute some stunts, and drive, too; he will go from being a lowly after-life travel agent, to a boat captain, to a?well, weird turns abound and that, in essence, is the beauty of the game. The story has some dramatic touches, but it contains more comedy than anything else – and very entertaining comedy at that. You will find yourself laughing aloud at some of the one-liners and punch lines. Manny Calavera himself is an immediately likeable character, and funny ?as hell’ (yes, pun fully intended). The story alone will keep you tied to the game as it effortlessly sucks you into its (imaginary?) world; the game deals with some serious life and death issues, but they’re approached in a funny, light-hearted way, much as it would be considered in Mexico. People often attempt to focus on the funny side of life and death in Mexico, and death, especially, is seen as something normal and worthy of celebration (as in the Day of the Dead). But Grim Fandango is not a documentary piece about the Day of the Dead, so, as Mexicans say, “don’t take it too seriously, okay?”.
Grim Fandango ranks highly in terms of value, and games like this should come along more often. It stands as a development lesson stating that, with enough talent and creativity, an incredible game can be made without wasting too much time and money focusing on ?just’ graphics and sound. It is the perfect marriage between movies and videogames; Grim Fandango is a prime example of the power of a good story over mere aesthetics. The technical aspects of a videogame are not nearly as important as an engaging and convincing storyline; story alone can carry a game very far. Though its graphics, sound and gameplay are all strictly satisfactory, they do still help to increase the power of the game’s story involvement. So do yourself a favor and experience the story of Grim Fandango. You won’t be disappointed.