287: No Gods, No Devils

No Gods, No Devils

From the super-stylized Land of the Dead in LucasArts' classic Grim Fandango comes a game about life.

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What a great read about one of the best and most underrated LucasArts adventure games. The game itself was like a fresh breeze at its time, and it would still be today. I love the whole setting, the twist that comes with the whole idea that all these characters are actually dead and just try to deal with their situation.

I wish there were more games like that, games that walk beside the mainstream and encourage the player to contemplate themes like life and death.

I remember that Grim Fandango was dismissed back in the day because of the unconventional control scheme (only keyboard, no point and click). It put people off and many gave up after the first few minutes, some not even giving it a shot at all. To which I have to say: Please PLEASE give it a real shot, you'll get used to the controls soon enough and what awaits you then is a truly epic (this word is overused these days...) journey, a heart-warming love story and adventure full of humor and drama. Manny Calavera is one of the most endearing protagonists in gaming history. The style is just so unique for a game (very much inspired by movies like casablanca and mexican culture and art deco).

Anyways, great to see Grim Fandango get some spotlight again!

I never got to play Grim Fandango when it came out, but I remember being fascinated by a blurb in a magazine talking about it's setting, and showing a screenshot from the game. The title, the pitch, and that one picture stuck in my mind for years, even when nothing else was ever mentioned about the game (until recently), and I still wish I could give it a try.

Yet another reason that A: Grim Fandango is one of my favorite games and B: Brendan Main seems to write my favorite articles. Even though I've played through this game a few times now, there's always a new way to look at it, and something that can be said that remains relevant. If only more games would work to be so poignant and unique these days.

I loved this game so much even though I was young and it seemed really hard. I wish they made games like they used to!

Edit: By 'they' I refer to Lucasarts.

Ah Grim Fandango, how I dearly loved that game... and then was unable to play it for years because one of my siblings lost my blasted CD somewhere. Back when I'd first played it I would go on about what a brilliant adventure game it was, and how they really needed to play it, and then I would have been prepared to swear I entrusted my jewel case with sibling #1 to do just that.

Some time later, since I felt like playing the game again and they'd apparently never so much as even put the disc into the tray, I attempted to return it to the fold only to learn that it had "mysteriously vanished". And so I remained Grim Fandango less - several times over the years I've almost just caved in and purchased another copy, but the knowledge that I already own a perfectly functional one... somewhere had always stopped me.

Which is a pretty good thing really, because I came home yesterday to discover my game sitting at my place at the table - it turns out Grim Fandango had somehow ended up amidst the unholy clutter that sibling #2 generates around himself, and sibling #1 had found it while cleaning. There was much rejoicing.

I only recently played Grim Fandango, despite wanting to play it for some time now, but you know, it's hard to get your hands on it!

As an adventure game, it's ok, but nothing very impressing. Some puzzles are too hard, others are too easy, the pacing is somewhat distorted by the end, that kind of stuff. But the setting is one of the best ever imagined, I have to agree with that.

Also, the music. I simply love it.

That afterlife sounds like the Chinese Celestial Bureaucracy. You'll get to where you are going eventually, but first fill out these 9250 forms in triplicate and may Kuan Yin have mercy on you if you make a mistake or have to cross something out, because the Celestial Emperor WON'T.

LadyRhian:
That afterlife sounds like the Chinese Celestial Bureaucracy. You'll get to where you are going eventually, but first fill out these 9250 forms in triplicate and may Kuan Yin have mercy on you if you make a mistake or have to cross something out, because the Celestial Emperor WON'T.

"Well sir, the good news is that we've reviewed your application, and we've found that you qualify to be a vampire. Here are your robes and hat. You can begin work at your earliest convenience.

The bad news... well, the bad news is that you have to hop everywhere. No skulking, no running, no "turning into mist." Just hopping. For all eternity.

We're sorry. You should have read the fine print."

I take issue with the part in the middle where you say that none of the villains are pure evil (wich you misspelled by the way).

The lawyer!

I was really amazed by the soundtrack back then (and ofcourse the rest: story, pacing, gameplay). Really good stuff. But I'm just a sucker for adventure shindigs

Mullahgrrl:
I take issue with the part in the middle where you say that none of the villains are pure evil (wich you misspelled by the way).

The lawyer!

Saying a lawyer is pure evil seems beside the point. Do you blame a shark for biting, or a staphylococcus from staphylococcizing? Maybe it just had a bad childhood. Tough to say.

But on the typo, I take your point. "Eebil" is incorrect. It's spelled "eeeebil," and should always be followed by a spooky laugh.

Brendan Main:

Mullahgrrl:
I take issue with the part in the middle where you say that none of the villains are pure evil (wich you misspelled by the way).

The lawyer!

Saying a lawyer is pure evil seems beside the point. Do you blame a shark for biting, or a staphylococcus from staphylococcizing? Maybe it just had a bad childhood. Tough to say.

But then, do you blame a Curryesque daemon for roasting people over magma?

Brendan Main:

LadyRhian:
That afterlife sounds like the Chinese Celestial Bureaucracy. You'll get to where you are going eventually, but first fill out these 9250 forms in triplicate and may Kuan Yin have mercy on you if you make a mistake or have to cross something out, because the Celestial Emperor WON'T.

"Well sir, the good news is that we've reviewed your application, and we've found that you qualify to be a vampire. Here are your robes and hat. You can begin work at your earliest convenience.

The bad news... well, the bad news is that you have to hop everywhere. No skulking, no running, no "turning into mist." Just hopping. For all eternity.

We're sorry. You should have read the fine print."

"Oh yes, and you'll find a fascination with counting things. Grains of rice... beans... just don't let your new obsession with counting things mean you fail to take shelter from the daylight. Please to enjoy your new eternity as a Chiang-shih."

"Manny, until now we scraped along the ground like rats, but from now on, we soar. Like eagles. Yeah. LIKE EAGLES... ON... POGO STICKS."

Glottis is brilliant!

I have my Grim Fandando disc up and ready and I'd really love to play it again. Tough luck there. Apparently as time progessed the game has become more a more difficult to run due to compatibility issues and now it just crashes in the first scene. I don't want a remake, I just wish LucasArts would take a little time to make this playable again.

shiajun:
I have my Grim Fandando disc up and ready and I'd really love to play it again. Tough luck there. Apparently as time progessed the game has become more a more difficult to run due to compatibility issues and now it just crashes in the first scene. I don't want a remake, I just wish LucasArts would take a little time to make this playable again.

If you enjoy playing old games, then you need to get familiar with creating virtual machines. I have ones that run everything from DOS and Windows 95, to Windows Server 2008. There should be a fair bit of information on the internet about setting them up for gaming, in fact I'm pretty sure I read an article on it even in a mainstream gaming magazine just a couple of months ago.

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'd heard the name Grim Fandando before and I'd heard it paired with phrases such as "you must play this," but for some reason I'd never taken the time to look at it. And so the sea of great video games which I'm now drowning in grows slightly bigger. Now my weekend which was going to be occupied by penumbra overture and amnesia has been high jacked by Grim Fandando.

This was a great game...hopefully they won't try to make a sequel.

The game is basically impossible to buy and doesn't work right anymore -> great candidate for a Good Old Games release. I'd buy for sure. Never had the chance to play the real thing but my game designer friend swears it's the best adventure game made.

'Grim Fandango' is a masterpiece, and it's the closest I've seen a game ever come to earning the label of 'art piece'. It isn't just one of my favourite adventure games; it's one of my favourite games of all time. The writing, the concept, the characters, the creativity and the atmosphere were all brilliant. It's an incredible game that I'd recommend to any gamer.

Grim Fandango is a game that is truly art.

Nutcase:
The game is basically impossible to buy and doesn't work right anymore -> great candidate for a Good Old Games release. I'd buy for sure. Never had the chance to play the real thing but my game designer friend swears it's the best adventure game made.

With all the buzz the internet created for this game, its practically guaranteed to sell well. I'd also love a GoG release.

I used to have it, but I gave up on it. Thats a decision I regret to this day. Wish I stuck with it...

Call me a godless heathen, but it seems to me that this idea of the Land of the Dead perfectly reflects the Land of the Living. Nobody is in charge, corruption is still rampant, and we still don't really know what's going on. So, as with life, we just live from day to day and hope it'll all work out in the end.

What a gloomy message :-P

Hello,
being old enough and having played Grim Fandango when it was first released i can say that i loved it, before it became cool to love retro games. It appealed to me as it was a different game at the time. All my mates were playing NES and Sega, whilst i had a beat up 386 or tried to get my Spectrum ZX81 or my Commodore Vic 20 to work. I played Grim Fandango, Monkey Island and Alone In The Dark (at the time having to work out a code using playing cards in the box to start the game each time, take that EA DRM!).

However the reason why we don't have these games anymore, why story is often last on the list, excusing a few notable exceptions; such as Mass Effect or Half Life, which often get pillored for being too 'wordy' (Yahtzee), is that the majority of gamers, yes you out there, always bother your Mum to buy games like Black OPs or Halo. You do this without realising that you are killing creativity.
These games are the huge releases of the year yet they lack imagination, originality and consist of a story no deeper than "alien is bad, must shoot alien." In recent times this has expanded to also "Must shout at similar gimps whilst doing so."

Are the teens of today going to talk about Black Ops the way we're talking about Grim Fandango now? Of course they're not.

What will they be talking about in 15 years time...?

"Halo 14", or "Blacky Inky Black Really Black Ops (this time its personal) Kinect Version - Make the tea bag action in real life over your beaten opponents!"

What a fantastic future gaming has.

WaspFactory

I agree whole-heartedly with WaspFactory. 'Grim Fandango' is a wonderfully imaginative and perfectly crafted game with quality in all aspects; 'Black Ops' is just like every other 'Call of Duty' game (and basically every other mindless first-person shooter), simply with a different coat of paint - it's like buying the same barbie doll 50 times just because each time she's sporting a new hat and handbag. Now, I've got nothing against the FPS genre, but when companies continue to make carbon copies of the same game, and millions of people still buy them over underrated masterpieces like 'Grim Fandango', that's what pisses me off. It's about time people started to wake up, and actually invest their money in good and innovative games, rather than throwing it away to buy generic crap like 'Black Ops' - pathetic.

A great game, but I think the article stumbles early on its premise and never recovers.

Grim Fandango is not a game with a new and revolutionary look at death. Death does not occur within the context of the game. Everyone you meet is already dead, your character cannot die, and the Land of the Dead is merely a texture swap for the real world. That's not a revolutionary new look at life and death or karmic consequences, it's a lack of them.

Acknowledge that the Land of the Dead is merely a setting for a fantastic, but otherwise conventional, adventure game in which players don't die, like Monkey Island (also a great game) and this becomes apparent.

I just think it's a shame the author chose to focus on this entirely cosmetic feature of the game, and tried to make more out of it than is really there.

Excellent article. I'm particularly glad to see Chandler mentioned - his brand of character-driven noir is one that tends to get ignored in favour of the more pulpy Max Payne style. I've loved Grim Fandango ever since I first brought the box home and opened it up, and most of the reasons I do are in this article.

Narcogen, I think that's a little disingenuous. It's not just 'making more out of it than is there', it's an examination on the unique features of the game's setting and what they imply about the game's moral system. This kind of thinking, the 'oh, but that's just a simple aspect of the setting, it's not worth paying attention' hamstrings writing about games and is shamefully anti-intellectual. There's nothing wrong with examining games to see how they work. In fact, I'd wager that this kind of careful and insightful criticism is essential to learning from past games and driving the medium as a whole forward. Part of the reason Grim Fandango is as memorable as it is comes from its playing with our assumptions about game conventions. If we ignore that, then we're blinding ourselves to potential improvement.

Similarly, Monkey Island takes the standard 'level up an adventurer pirate' that you'd have seen in Sid Meier's Pirates and other games of the era and subverts it. Not only do you start on an island where all the pirates are landbound, but you're made to complete tasks that are essentially meaningless and don't provide you with any reward. I'd go on but that's another article in and of itself.

And you can die in Monkey Island. Hold your breath for more than ten minutes.

I have an original copy of Grim Fandango, but it has NEVER. FUCKING. WORKED. I've spent many hours tampering with it. I think the disc is flawed in some fashion. I wish they would just release it on Steam. THAT would be awesome.

I rented it back in the day, when I was 8 or 9, about 3 times because I couldn't afford to buy it. Never finished it, but it is still a game I remember fondly.

Lucasarts were bound to examine the meaning of death. They were after all the studio that banished death completely from their adventure games. And rightly so because it didn't serve much purpose in that genre.

They probably didn't get any closer to answering the ultimate question, but they did manage to make one of the most memorable games in history. Unfortunately this game risks getting lost in the mists of time, unless it is republished somehow.

It's true that the game was slightly scarred by the control scheme. The dead may not need controls but we mortals do, and unfortunately a lot of people were turned of by this. If some of the readers happen to have it lying around but never managed to get into it, or find it lying around in a budget bin, do give it a chance. At the very least hang on to it, because it is a bit of a collector's item by now.

Thank you for the excellent article, and sorry for the forum necromancy.

 

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