Grim Fandango is an 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.
Grim Fandango moves away from the point-and-click interface of the SCUMM engine used in preceding LucasArts adventure games; it instead makes use of the GrimE engine, which 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 it 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.
Grim Fandango's setting combines elements of Aztec mythology and Mexican folklore with a film noir influence drawn from movies such as Casablanca and The Big Sleep. The game primarily takes place 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.
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 DOD 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.
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. After reaping the soul of yet another lackluster client, Manny laments the fact that his boss Don Copal assigns all the best clients to arrogant rival reaper Domino Hurley, thus making Manny's prospects of repaying his debt and reaching the Ninth Underworld extremely grim. Tired of waiting for a turnaround in his fortunes, Manny devises a scheme to steal one of Domino's clients and reclaim his former prestige as the DOD's premier reaper.
Although Manny successfully obtains an outstanding client, he is still unable to secure a Number Nine ticket for the saintly Mercedes Colomar. After reluctantly consigning Mercedes to a four-year journey on foot in spite of her spotless record, Manny begins to suspect that corruption has taken root within the DOD. Unfortunately he is immediately accused by Copal of stealing Domino's client (among other recent infractions) and is quickly detained inside the DOD's garage. An unexpected ally named Salvador Limones soon arrives at Manny's makeshift cell to release him, and Manny is eventually recruited as the newest (and only) field agent of Salvador's 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 Salvador and the LSA, Manny escapes El Marrow through a secret underground tunnel and embarks on a quest to find his lost "Meche". Emerging on the outskirts of the Petrified Forest, Manny soon encounters his demonic chauffeur Glottis, who had recently been fired from the DOD for modifying company vehicles without permission. By working together, the pair manage to pass through the dangerous forest as well as the expansive desert beyond it, eventually reaching the sleepy port town of Rubacava.
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, a thriving nightclub and casino in Rubacava. When Mercedes finally arrives at his club one night, Manny abandons everything he had built in the past year to pursue her. However, Mercedes 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 and crime boss 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.
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 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 returning to Puerto Zapato 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 Bone Wagon that had been stored there so that they may slip into "Nuevo Marrow": the renamed city of El Marrow that has since become a den of vice and corruption under Hector's control. 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 while Manny and Glottis investigate the sewers beneath the city, where they discover the floral boutique of Bowsley, Hector's paranoid supplier of Sproutella weaponry.
Arming himself with deadly baby's breath, a disguised Manny infiltrates Hector's casino and eventually reaches Hector LeMans himself. After gaining Hector's trust, Hector leads Manny back to his old office at the DOD building and unwittingly offers him his former position as a travel agent. Here Manny reveals himself and demands the stolen tickets at gunpoint; however, one of Hector's demon crows suddenly crashes through the office's window, distracting Manny and allowing Hector to escape onto the ledge outside. While trying to leap to an adjacent rooftop, Hector slips and falls into the darkened streets below. He also loses his precious stash of Double-N tickets in the process, which are subsequently retrieved by Manny.
Manny and Glottis meet Mercedes at Nuevo Marrow's train station to entrust her with the stolen tickets, but the trio are ambushed by another of Hector's demon birds and are 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 disembodied 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 rib cage with liquid nitrogen before it can spread. He returns to Olivia's car and is given his final orders by Salvador's head: secure the Sproutella gun in the car's trunk and look after the rest of the LSA. Olivia soon notices Manny loitering near her car and picks up Salvador's skull to interrogate him; taking advantage of the opportunity, the resistance leader bites down on his hidden Sproutella-filled fake tooth and spits onto Olivia's face, sprouting both himself and Olivia.
Recovering the key to the trunk from Salvador's decapitated body allows Manny to rearm himself, and he returns to the greenhouse for his final confrontation with Hector; however, Hector is also very well-armed and the situation 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, but he is content to stay behind along with his demonic brethren. After saying their goodbyes, Manny, Meche and the other lost souls finally board the Number Nine on an express trip to their rightful hereafters.
Grim Fandango won several press awards following its initial 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". While critically-acclaimed, Grim was not a commercial success; however, it did spawn a cult following attracted by the game's humor and bizarre aesthetic.
Project leader Tim Schafer left LucasArts shortly after the release of Grim Fandango to form his own new studio called Double Fine Productions. Prior to his departure, Schafer had worked on several earlier LucasArts adventure titles including Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle.
Following their 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm and LucasArts, the intellectual property rights to Grim Fandango are now owned by The Walt Disney Company.
Grim Fandango Remastered
During Sony's E3 2014 press conference, a remastered version of Grim Fandango was announced for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. In July 2014, Double Fine announced that in addition to developing a remastered version of the game for Sony consoles, they were also working on PC, Mac and Linux versions which would be released simultaneously with the console versions.
Grim Fandango Remastered was released on January 27, 2015. Included in the remastered version are higher resolution textures, real-time lighting, point-and-click character controls and developer commentary featuring director Tim Schafer and several additional members of Grim's development team.
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.
- Casino Calavera
- Swanky Maximino
- Smooth Hector
- Mr. Frustration Man
- Hector Steps Out
- Hi-Tone Fandango
- She Sailed Away
- High Roller
- Domino's in Charge
- Trouble with Carla
- Blue Casket Bop
- Manny's Office
- Blue Hector
- This Elevator is Slow
- Don Copal
- Neon Ledge
- Nuevo Marrow
- Gambling Glottis
- Raoul Appears
- Talking Limbo
- Coaxing Meche
- Lost Souls' Alliance
- Los Angelitos
- The Enlightened Florist
- Temple Gate
- Ninth Heaven
- Manny & Meche
- Bone Wagon
- 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!"