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I really need to get a PS3...

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My Favorite Games #3: "Grim Fandango"

My history began with this game the day it was released. My actual playing of it, however, did not.

Grim Fandango was a very highly anticipated adventure game from the core team of adventure game creators at Lucasarts, the video game devision of Lucasfilm Ltd. It was released the day before Halloween in 1998, and told a surreal but epic noir-styled storyline (in the vein of the Maltese Falcon), set in the world of the dead, heavily inspired by artwork created in association with the Dia de los muertos celebrations in Mexico. At the time that I purchased it, the game required 32MB of RAM to play. I only had 8. The game would frequently lock up, and be unplayable because my computer did not meet the minimum requirements to play it. A year or so later, after I had the opportunity to upgrade my computer, I was finally able to play the game that had tempted me for so very long

The main character of the game, Manuel Calavera (or 'Manny' for short) begins the game as a reaper, shepherding a poor dead soul to the land of the dead. As it turns out, he's little more than a travel agent, attempting to pay off debts he accrued in life by working for the Department of Death in the afterlife. From this downtrodden platform, he stumbles across an elaborate conspiracy that has been robbing the honest souls entering the afterlife of their just dues, as well as thieving Manny of the lucrative clients he deserves to help him pay off his community service debts.

The game stretches across 4 years, and introduces the protagonist Manny to a vast array of intriguing and amusing characters, including the loud and brash Glottis, a “travel spirit” whose existence relies on driving very, very fast. There’s also an old sea captain, a cranky TSA agent, a very unlucky French butler, a determined man attempting to cross the ocean floor on foot, and a Che Guevara-inspired revolutionary. Meeting and interacting with the intriguing characters is most of the fun of this epic game, as Manny Calavery attempts to solve the mystery of who is behind the nefarious scheme to steal honest souls’ tickets on the “Number 9”, a train that can ferry the souls of the dead to the land of eternal rest in 4 minutes instead of the 4 years the journey might take otherwise.

Most of the characters in the game are modeled after calacas skeletons which are common in Dia De Los Muertos celebrations. Other characters in the game are closer to typical 'Tim Schaefer' fare: bizzare anthropomorphic bee-men, orange monsters, and vampiric fire-beavers. There are many puzzles to solve, and sinister forces to stop.

The charm and inventiveness of the world is what made the experience so endearing to me. The locations and story were just so unique and creative, that it made me want to learn more about Dia De Los Muertos, and about South American history and culture. The game was funny too. The dialog was sharp and witty, and a joy to experience.