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Overview

Grim Fandango is a critically-acclaimed adventure game directed by Tim Schafer and released by LucasArts in 1998. Players take the role of protagonist Manny Calavera, a travel agent for the Department of Death and grim reaper, as he travels through the Land of the Dead on a quest to reach the Ninth Underworld and his eternal rest. The game's story and setting primarily draw from aspects of Hispanic culture, Aztec mythology, and film noir cinema. Many of Grim's characters including Manny are voiced by Hispanic actors, and the game's script is peppered with Spanish words and phrases. Grim Fandango was the first LucasArts adventure game to feature 3D polygonal characters moving and interacting in a pre-rendered 2D world.

Gameplay

Grim Fandango moves away from the point-and-click interface of the SCUMM engine used in preceding LucasArts adventure games and instead makes use of the GrimE engine that allows players to directly manipulate the movements of 3D characters using keyboard tank controls. As Manny walks through the environment, his head will turn to look towards certain important objects or characters; players may examine, pick up or use the object Manny is looking at with the appropriate keyboard commands. Grim Fandango's minimal presentation was praised for its cinematic qualities, but was also criticized for being unwieldy compared to a more traditional point-and-click adventure game interface.

Although the control scheme and game engine were new to the genre, Grim's core gameplay remains much the same as previous LucasArts adventure games and primarily alternates between navigating humorous dialogue trees and completing inventory-based puzzles in order to advance the plot. Players must explore their environment thoroughly to find key objects and may converse with NPC characters or examine their surroundings for hints about the solution; these puzzles also demand varying levels of abstract reasoning. Grim Fandango is infamous for its difficulty even among other adventure games of the era, and some of the game's most challenging puzzles require players to not only observe, but also to listen carefully to character dialogue or even ambient noise in the environment in order to progress.

Setting

A mural depicting the four-year journey of the soul through the Eighth Underworld

Grim Fandango's setting combines elements of Aztec mythology and Mexican folklore with a heavy dose of noir-style influence drawn from films such as Casablanca and The Big Sleep. The game takes place primarily in the Eighth Underworld of the Land of the Dead, a limbo that must be traversed by the souls of the deceased in order to reach their final reward in the Ninth Underworld and truly rest. Souls in the Land of the Dead take the form of skeletal Mexican calaca figures used during the Day of the Dead festival; naturally, this same festival is also celebrated within the Land of the Dead, during which time many souls visit loved ones in the Land of the Living. Several varieties of demons also inhabit this world, some of which co-exist with human souls and may be summoned for specific tasks such as maintenance or security. In areas of urban development, the bleak and lifeless landscape of the Eighth Underworld gives way to a 1930s-era film noir ambiance. Art deco and Aztec motifs are interwoven in many building facades and interiors, and the game's cast often dresses and behaves in typical noir fashion. Several characters also smoke heavily in keeping with the genre, which Grim's manual humorously references by addressing anti-smoking concerns with the fact that the game's characters are already dead.

The Edge of the World, one of Grim Fandango's many surreal environments

All souls begin their journey in El Marrow, the largest city in the Eighth Underworld, for processing at the Department of Death. The souls of the dead are brought to the Eighth Underworld by "travel agents" working for the D.O.D. who act as grim reapers, fetching recently-departed souls from the Land of the Living and setting them on their journey through the Land of the Dead. Souls who led poor lives must attempt a four-year journey on foot with little or no assistance, and they are often waylaid by terrible danger or lack of resources along a seemingly-endless path. Souls who led good lives may be offered a better choice of travel options, with the fastest mode of transport being the "Double-N" Number Nine Express: a luxury passenger train available only to the most virtuous souls that ferries them safely across the entirety of the Eighth Underworld in a mere four minutes.

Leaving the city of El Marrow by other means leads to the Petrified Forest, a maze of stone trees which are mined for a concrete-like substance used to construct El Marrow's skyscrapers. Souls fortunate enough to survive the forest's demonic denizens must cross a wide desert to reach the port town of Rubacava, where they may secure passage on a ship bound for Puerto Zapato on the opposite side of the Sea of Lament. The final stretch leads across vast icy wastes and snow-covered mountains, where an ancient temple serves as the portal to the Ninth Underworld.

Not all souls who make the long journey through the Eighth Underworld are guaranteed to reach their final destination, and many suffer a kind of "true death" along this treacherous path, such as dismemberment by any of the soul-hungry demons and monsters that roam the less-developed regions. Souls who led particularly despicable lives or who have made the journey through dishonest means may also be denied passage to the Ninth Underworld entirely, instead being cast into a fiery pit for all eternity. One of the most feared methods of true death is being "sprouted" by special Sproutella dart guns that create flowers which cover a soul's skeletal figure, causing immobilizing pain and eventually consuming the soul in the process. These weapons are popular among the strong elements of organized crime that have risen to claim power over other, weaker souls seeking salvation in the Land of the Dead.

Story

Manuel "Manny" Calavera in his professional attire

Manny Calavera is a departed soul that has become disillusioned with his stagnant position in the bureaucracy of the afterlife. As a travel agent for the Department of Death, it is Manny's solemn duty to reap the souls of the recently-departed from the Land of the Living and usher them into the city of El Marrow in the Land of the Dead, where they are judged for their deeds in life before being sent on their long journey to reach the Ninth Underworld. Manny himself is obligated to serve as an agent of the DOD until he has worked off an unspecified debt to the "powers that be" by selling enough Number Nine tickets to virtuous souls for their journey across the Land of the Dead. Once a top-rated salesman of travel packages, Manny has recently fallen into a slump due to a severe lack of clients who qualify for these premium "Double-N" tickets; he soon realizes that his boss Don Copal assigns all the best clients to rival reaper Domino Hurley, thus making Manny's prospects of repaying his debt and reaching the Ninth Underworld extremely unlikely.

After reluctantly consigning the saintly Mercedes Colomar to a four-year journey on foot in spite of her spotless record, Manny begins to suspect that corruption has taken root inside the DOD; however, he is immediately accused by Copal of stealing Domino's rightful client (among other recent infractions) and is quickly detained. An unexpected ally named Salvador Limones soon arrives at Manny's makeshift cell to release him, and he is eventually recruited as the newest (and only) field agent of the Lost Souls Alliance: a tiny resistance group dedicated to fighting corruption in the Eighth Underworld and restoring dignity to the souls cheated out of their rightful passage through the Land of the Dead. With the assistance of the LSA, Manny and his demonic chauffeur Glottis escape El Marrow and embark on a quest to find his lost "Meche".

Grim Fandango's story takes place over four years; each chapter occurs during the Day of the Dead festival with a year-long break between acts, allowing for a significant amount of off-screen character development. Manny typically ends each chapter as he begins a new entry-level job position required to continue his search for Mercedes. Their first-year anniversary after leaving El Marrow finds Manny and Glottis as successful co-owners of the new Calavera Café in Rubacava, a thriving nightclub and casino. When Mercedes finally arrives at his club one night, Manny abandons everything he had built in the past year to pursue her. However, she is quickly dragged away onto the departing SS Lambada by Domino, who has risen to a position of power in the DOD since Don Copal's brutal murder a year ago by co-conspirator Hector LeMans. After being prevented from boarding Domino's ship by Mercedes herself, Manny concocts a plan that same night to book passage for both Glottis and himself as crewmen aboard Velasco's cargo ship, the SS Limbo.

Wreck of the SS Lola (stern section)

Another year passes, and Manny's passion for success has allowed him to rise to the rank of captain aboard the newly-rechristened and re-chromed SS Lola. After making port at Puerto Zapato on the Day of the Dead, Manny receives word from Salvador's carrier pigeons that corrupt DOD agents have been dispatched with orders to assassinate Manny and his entire crew. He also learns that after being abducted by Domino, Mercedes threw herself overboard somewhere near "The Pearl," a legendary treasure resting at the bottom of the Sea of Lament that shines brightly enough to lure many greedy souls to a watery doom. Making a narrow escape in the severed stern section of his ship, Manny and Glottis arrive near the Pearl's location just before the remainder of the SS Lola sinks to the bottom of the ocean. With the unwilling assistance of a longtime seafloor wanderer named Chepito, the pair carve a path through the murky depths and eventually arrive at a coral-mining facility at the Edge of the World, where Mercedes and several other lost souls are being held by Domino against their will. Manny sabotages the mining plant, raising the wreck of Velasco's long-lost ship SS Lamancha from the seafloor and rescuing Mercedes in the process; however, his new ship is quickly pursued by Domino, and a showdown ensues between the two reapers which ultimately results in Domino's grisly demise.

At long last, after reaching Puerto Zapato again and trekking across vast frozen tundra, Manny's group finally reaches the Ninth Underworld Temple another year later, where Glottis suddenly falls critically ill due to his recent lack of exposure to motorized vehicles. While Manny and Mercedes investigate Glottis' condition, the rest of their group is detained by the Ninth Underworld's gatekeeper; he states that these souls were issued Double-N tickets upon arrival in the Land of the Dead which must be redeemed to pass through. The punishment for selling Double-N tickets is severe, and unless Manny can produce his group's assigned tickets, their souls will be damned for eternity.

Utilizing a makeshift rocket-propelled gondola, Manny, Mercedes and a revitalized Glottis ride the Number Nine's rails all the way back to Rubacava. The trio recovers the Bonewagon that had been stored there so that they may slip into the renamed city of "Nuevo Marrow" (relatively) discreetly; accompanied by the ultra-hip Olivia Ofrenda, a self-professed admirer of Salvador and his noble cause, the group arrives at LSA headquarters underneath Nuevo Marrow shortly thereafter. Olivia, Salvador and Meche split off to conduct vital reconnaissance of Hector LeMans' casino inside the former DOD building while Manny and Glottis investigate the sewers beneath the city and discover the floral boutique of Bowsley, Hector's paranoid supplier of Sproutella weaponry. Arming himself with deadly baby's breath, an Manny infiltrates Hector's casino incognito and eventually reaches Hector LeMans himself. After gaining Hector's trust, Hector leads Manny back to his old office and unwittingly offers him his former position before Manny reveals himself and demands the stolen tickets at gunpoint. Hector narrowly escapes by falling from the roof of the casino after losing his precious stash of Double-N tickets.

Manny meets Mercedes at Nuevo Marrow's train station to entrust her with the stolen tickets, but the pair are ambushed by Hector's men and forced to split up. Manny escapes into Olivia's waiting car with the tickets; however, he is betrayed by Olivia, who reveals herself to be Hector's lover after tossing Salvador's battered and decapitated skull into Manny's lap. Olivia drives Manny to the outskirts of town to dispose of him at Hector's greenhouse, where he is shot with slow-acting Sproutella by a gloating Hector. Manny manages to escape from the greenhouse in great pain before collapsing in Hector's hillside garden, using the last of his strength to freeze the floral growth in his chest with liquid nitrogen before it can spread. He returns to Olivia's car and is given his final orders by Salvador: secure the Sproutella gun in the car's trunk and look after the rest of the LSA. Olivia quickly discovers Manny loitering near her car and picks up Salvador's skull, who bites down on his secret Sproutella-filled fake tooth, sprouting both himself and Olivia.

Recovering the key to the trunk from Salvador's body, Manny returns to the greenhouse for a final showdown with Hector; however, Hector is very well-armed and the situation soon becomes a stalemate. After a lengthy shoot-out, Manny eventually devises a way to neutralize his arch-nemesis and, in a gruesome floral explosion, puts a decisive end to the criminal career of Hector LeMans. Manny returns to the temple with Mercedes, Glottis and the stolen tickets, where he explains Hector's scheme to the gatekeeper and secures his friends' release. He also bids a tearful farewell to Glottis; as a spirit of the land, Glottis cannot pass into the Ninth Underworld. After saying their goodbyes, Manny, Meche and the other lost souls finally board the Number Nine on an express trip to their rightful hereafters.

Legacy

The Grim Fandango cast

While critically acclaimed, Grim Fandango was not a commercial success; however, it did spawn a large fan base attracted by its humor and bizarre aesthetic. The game won several awards following its release in 1998, including IGN's "Best Adventure Game of the Year," GameSpot's "Best of E3 1998," "PC Game of the Year," "Best PC Graphics for Artistic Design" and "Best PC Game Music."

The project leader, Tim Schafer, left LucasArts shortly after the release of the game to start a new game company named Double Fine productions. He had previously worked with LucasArts on titles such as Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, The Secret of Monkey Island and Full Throttle.

Following the buyout of Lucasfilm and Lucasarts, the rights to Grim Fandango are now owned by Disney.

Grim Fandango Remastered

During Sony's E3 2014 press conference, a remastered version of Grim Fandango was announced for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. On July 9th, 2014, Double Fine announced that in addition to developing the remastered version for Sony consoles, they will be working on the PC, Mac, and Linux versions which will be released simultaneously with consoles.

Grim Fandango Remastered was released on January 27, 2015. Included in the remastered version are higher resolution textures, real-time lighting, direct character control, and audio commentary from the game's development team.

Soundtrack

Grim Fandango had an original soundtrack composed and produced by Peter McConnell at LucasArts and combines orchestral score, South American folk music, jazz, swing, and big band music. The soundtrack was released as a CD at the LucasArts store but is no longer available. The MP3 version of the soundtrack can be purchased on the Grim Fandango fansite.

Grim Fandango Soundtrack cover
  1. Casino Calavera
  2. Swanky Maximino
  3. Smooth Hector
  4. Mr. Frustration Man
  5. Hector Steps Out
  6. Hi-Tone Fandango
  7. She Sailed Away
  8. High Roller
  9. Domino's in Charge
  10. Trouble with Carla
  11. Blue Casket Bop
  12. Manny's Office
  13. Rubacava
  14. Blue Hector
  15. This Elevator is Slow
  16. Domino
  17. Don Copal
  18. Neon Ledge
  19. Nuevo Marrow
  20. Gambling Glottis
  21. Raoul Appears
  22. Scrimshaw
  23. Talking Limbo
  24. Coaxing Meche
  25. Lost Souls' Alliance
  26. Los Angelitos
  27. The Enlightened Florist
  28. Temple Gate
  29. Ninth Heaven
  30. Compañeros
  31. Manny & Meche
  32. Bone Wagon

Additional Information

  • The actor who provided the voice of Glottis, Alan Blumenfeld, also appeared as the voice of The Milkman in another Tim Shafer game, Psychonauts.
  • When players are in the Calavera Cafe, if they go to the stairway and walk into it backwards, Manny will slide down.
  • When talking to Velasco by the SS Limbo, players can see a face on the moon.
  • If players type "blam" during gameplay, Manny's body will explode, comes back together and he will say "ouch!"

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