Games I Own: Grim Fandango
Posted on 23rd Mar 2009 at 14:03 by Joe Martin with 11 comments
Romance is, I think, something that isn’t explored enough in games – probably because of a weakness in the medium that doesn’t make it hugely capable of displaying that emotion. I can only think of a half-dozen games that actually deal with matters of the heart so openly and most of them are Leisure Suit Larry games! Despite it being a fairly small niche though, Grim Fandango stands head and shoulders above the masses as perhaps the most singularly romantic game I’ve ever played.
The story for the game is a masterpiece of noir fiction, set in a imaginative take on the Mexican afterlife and with players cast as unlikely hero, Manny Calvera, salesman for new souls. When somebody dies in the real world it’s Manny’s job to assess their soul and try to find them the quickest way to the true heaven. If someone has been good in their life then they can take a quick train through the afterlife straight to heaven. If they’ve been bad then they’ll be lucky if they’re even given a map, but it’s Manny’s job to help them as best he can.
Despite being good at his job though, Manny is having a tough time of it and is struggling to get any good clients. He suspects conspiracy and that suspicion is solidified when he realises that he’s sold the wrong deal to a genuine Spanish saint, a skeletal stunner named Meche. Meche should have gone caught the train to the Ninth Heaven straight away, but Manny set her off on foot and was unable to get her a ticket. Naturally he feels bad, so abandons his post and sets off to find her and help her reach her true fate.
As a work of storytelling Grim Fandango already has all the romance it needs; a likeable but flawed hero, a beautiful woman and a series of obstacles and enemies to overcome. There are undead mobs to get past, flaming demons to deal with and a huge mystery to solve – one that’ll take Manny many years to crack.
What makes Grim Fandango so emotionally staggering though is that it doesn’t ever tell you what to think or feel, but relies on the strength of the characters to make you empathise those feelings. Manny doesn’t ever come out an directly say he loves Meche, but it’s made obvious from his actions and the way he mourns her fate. He feels hugely responsible and somehow the weight of that can be seen on his face even though he doesn’t even have any skin.
Owing as much to Casablanca as it does to Mexican mythology, Grim Fandango was perhaps the last, great gasp of that famous bunch of original adventure game visionaries – Gilbert, Grossman, Schafer and the rest of the Lucasarts lot. There were a few sputters afterwards, but looking back it seems like Grim Fandango was definitely the last high point for the genre. Grim Fandango, alongside The Curse of Monkey Island, were certainly the last attempts that Lucasarts seemed to want to make before it dedicated itself to Star Wars spin-offs – which just goes to show that not all romances have happy endings.
You can however download the rather excellent soundtrack for the game over here, so it isn't all bad news.