‘Grim Fandango’ raises the dead

In 1998, “Grim Fandango” was released to critical acclaim and then soon forgotten. Despite the fact that it won several awards — even beating out other heavy hitters like “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” and “Half-Life” in some publications — it didn’t sell very well. In fact, “Grim Fandango’s” commercial failure can largely be blamed for the fall of LucasArts as an adventure game developer.

Since then, “Grim” fell into the nether, unable to run on modern hardware and languishing on auction sites for ridiculously high prices.

However, a couple weeks ago, thanks to a three-way cooperation between Sony, Disney and Double Fine — an independent studio largely comprised of former LucasArts developers — “Grim Fandango” has been released again, re-optimized for modern hardware and boasting improved graphics and a re-orchestrated score. And while there are some aspects of the game that don’t hold up that well anymore, “Grim” is still a worthwhile ride.

The story takes place in the Eighth Underworld, an afterlife setting largely inspired by Day of the Dead folklore. In the city of El Marrow, reaper-slash-travel-agent Manny Calavera works to direct fresh spirits into the next world. Those who lived good lives can take a four-minute train ride straight into nirvana, while those who were scumbags in life must make the four-year trip on foot. However, Manny uncovers a conspiracy that puts good souls at risk of getting lost forever in the afterlife, and it’s up to him to get to the bottom of it.

The game is a point-and-click adventure, but unfortunately some of the puzzles haven’t aged very well. There are many that have incredibly obtuse solutions, and unless players use a walkthrough — which is definitely not recommended — they’ll be spending hours wracking their brains and desperately exploring areas for the right tool for the job.

Thankfully, though, it’s the world that makes “Grim” worth playing. This is a world that, despite the afterlife setting, is bursting with color and life. It’s filled with tons of creative areas, from film-noir-inspired cities to desolate forests, and bustling nightclubs to solemn temples. Each of those areas is jam-packed with interesting characters and some of the best dialogue and writing in any video game. These are worlds and characters that have real soul, pun not intended.

The revitalized graphics and music that come with the remastered edition are beautiful as well. While there are some areas that definitely still need a little cleanup, the game’s art style shines through.

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Ultimately, it’s “Grim Fandango’s” artistic direction, storytelling and fantastic characters that allow it to stand the test of time. And at a lower price, with better visuals and audio, it’s a fantastic bargain. It’s absolutely worth a purchase today.