Grim Fandango Dances Again

The original Grim Fandango came out for Windows in 1998. Developed by LucasArts, this dark, comedic adventure game received universal praise and was regarded as one of the most innovative games ever. Flash forward to 2014, most had forgotten the game even existed. That was until creator Tim Schafer announced at E3 2014 that it would be remastered for PS4, PS Vita and Steam with the help of developer Double Fine.

Grim Fandango takes place in the Land of the Dead, inhabited by souls of the dead who all act like their living counterparts, except that they are skeletons modeled off of Mexican calaca figures. It follows the story of Manuel “Manny” Calavera, a travel agent at the Department of Death whose job is to help the newly deceased across the Land of the Dead to their place of eternal rest. He is forced to work off debt until he can go to the Ninth Underworld, which is basically heaven for departed souls. The player controls Manny on his quest to save Mercedes “Meche” Colomar and make his way to the Ninth Underworld. The story takes place over four years, each new year representing a new chapter.

It is by far the most stylized game I’ve ever experienced, both in art style, plot and overall design. It is very reminiscent of an older film-noir such as Casablanca, with its dark plot, character designs and heavy references to gambling, smoking and drinking.

Many of the characters, including Manny, speak with a Latin accent, and the soundtrack mixes elements of South American folk music, jazz and big band music to create a unique experience.

Games like Grim Fandango simply aren’t made any more. There are no fighting or action scenes for the most part. Manny can only walk around, use items and interact with people. Grim Fandango is enjoyed for its characters, atmosphere and most of all, story. It is extremely dialogue heavy and will have the player speaking with every soul in every town in order to find out what to do and where to go.

Thankfully, the dialogue is fantastic. Every conversation you have with anyone can go many different ways thanks to multiple dialogue options, which means that conversations feel very real.  The voice acting is the best I have ever heard to this day. Every character has their own personality, an aspect I greatly enjoyed. Many of the conversations are hilarious. The creators clearly had a great sense of humor.

The player must go through with many complex puzzles in order to advance in the story.

Unfortunately, many of the puzzles seem to defy logic, and force the player to look up the solution online. Oftentimes, the game does not give the player sufficient hints on what to do, which can leave the player lost and confused. Many of the solutions to puzzles don’t make any sense at all.

For the remastered version, I don’t think Double Fine did as well as they could have. Included in the remaster are improved graphics, lighting and orchestral score. However, the graphics are not really that much better than they were 17 years ago. Despite many improvements, it still doesn’t look like it belongs in the 21st century, especially since the frame rate is often rather poor. They did not optimize the game to look good on modern widescreen TVs, nor did they change the cutscenes at all — a major oversight. It is hardly worthy of being called a remaster.

Along with this, I found some problems while playing the PS4 version of Grim Fandango Remastered. Multiple error codes came up while trying to save and the frame rate dipped to low levels during certain events.

I wish the developers had done a better job with the remaster, but at the very least the release of Grim Fandango Remastered means that a new generation of gamers can finally play the game. Previously, it was almost impossible to find a copy.

Even with all of its problems, Grim Fandango Remastered is still worth playing for the original game’s unique story and ambience. I have a feeling that many modern gamers won’t enjoy Grim Fandango Remastered, as its idiosyncratic puzzles and major emphasis on dialogue will turn people off. It isn’t for everyone, but if you can get past the logic-defying puzzles and poor graphical performance, Grim Fandango Remastered is worth playing for its incredible narrative alone.