Such is my passion for this game, I’m not even sure where to start. To put it bluntly, this is my favourite game of all time and nothing could ever possibly eclipse it. It serves as a reminder as to what games really mean to me.
You play Manuel Calavera, an agent working for the Department of Death in The Underworld. This is a classic point and click game, through and through and the last in the golden age of adventure games. You’ll speak to NPCs, pick up objects and solve environmental puzzles using logic (and a bit of luck).
I think I was eight when I first played it. It was a time when people actually bought print and when internet speeds weren’t capable of being a viable delivery method for demos, when gaming magazines were the outlet for news, criticism and getting hands-on with the latest games before release. And that’s how I first became aware of Grim Fandango’s existence. The full game came out and I experienced something that blew my young mind away. It had everything a kid of that age (and by ‘a kid’, I can really only refer to myself) could want; imagination expressed in the form of bizarre worlds, playful (but extremely intelligently designed) puzzles, and a story that was easy to get lost in.
My appreciation for it nowadays is tenfold. The writing in Grim Fandango is absolutely unparalleled. When I was younger, the sheer strangeness of the interaction between the characters in this alien world drew me in. That still holds true but I was too young to truly appreciate the utter genius of the writing and dialogue. It works on so many levels. The game adapts a predominantly serious tone (in constant to the many whacky previous LucasArts adventure games), a rather sombre one. I suppose this is appropriate seeing as the game takes place in the afterlife. There are moments of genuine hilarity though, delivered in the form of witty dark humour. The writing’s ability to simultaneously juggle serious subjects whilst still providing the occasional laugh is a testament to Tim Schafer’s incredible talents.
I think everyone has a specific piece of fiction that they could credit with blossoming their love of storytelling, that one perfect tale where everything comes together so precisely and the real power of the medium is revealed. For me, that was Grim Fandango. It was the first time I can recall where I felt actual attachment towards a character. The ending left me heartbroken and was a defining moment in storytelling for me because again for the first time, I found myself affected profoundly by something completely fictitious. I find it amusing that given the constant assertion that video game story telling is by default inferior to all other forms, that it was indeed a video game that truly set me on the path of stories in the first place.
For those reasons, there can never be another game that could possibly have such a huge impact on me and Grim Fandango is guaranteed a place in my heart forever more.