In case you haven’t notice this isn’t a book but a video game. Before I go any further, this is more of a look at the feel of the game itself, the look and to a lesser extent the plot of the game as opposed to the actual gameplay.
It would be rude to do a Halloween special of sorts without doing something even remotely related to Halloween, I could have done a horror novel or something by Poe or Lovecraft, I could have even done something with regards to a film. I am however going to do something on a video game that is actually quite close to my heart as a game that I have enjoyed which has a story that I adore. There are many homages, videos and articles out there with regards to people’s love for this game and I do not know what else I could add to it so here goes.
Grim Fandango is a game I happily go back to purely for the story. More so now that I know how to get through it and solve the puzzles after multiple play troughs. I remember playing it as a teenager on the PC trying figure out what to do and where to go and I have it on my Switch now which is perfect for me because I prefer playing it on a portable device.
The thing I love about the game is the themes is presents to us. The fusion of film noir, art deco and the Jazz Age with the Mexican holiday of the the Day of The Dead and by extension, Aztec Mythology and the afterlife.
As a huge fan of film noir it’s great to see nods to films such as Casablanca, Double Indemnity, The Killers (among others that I can’t think of straight away). We find our hero in the land of the dead, like a middle ground between the land of the living and the Ninth Underworld (as found in Aztec Myth) Manny Calavera (As you would expect for someone in the land of the dead, a calaveras) a down on his look salesman (like in Double Indemnity).
Manny like many film noir is no angel, he tries to cheat the system in work so he could get better sales (sales that is for travel packages to the Ninth Underworld, the nicer the soul that enters the land, the better package they get). We learn that everyone has a reason for being where they are in the Land of the Dead before they can move on from it. We also learn that in many ways it is not that different to the Land of the Living. People still do things that they did when they were alive. They love and hate, drink and gamble. Manny in this case exposes a certain degree of crime and comes across a number of unsavoury characters. He also meets other characters such as Meche who later becomes his love interest, an innocent soul who he wants to protect. Other characters in the game also include demons who have been sent to serve the souls of the Land of he Dead by doing manual tasks such as being mechanics and ‘sea bees’. Manny’s sidekick Glottis being one of them. Personally I thought it was a missed opportunity to not look at this more but it does not take anything away from what you’re already seeing.
Within the context of the game, it usually takes four years to walk to the Ninth Underworld on foot and the game takes places on certain days over a four year period. Each year representing a level. The second year we see all the classic tropes of film tropes, sinister characters and beatniks. I was fascinated by the idea that in the Land of the Dead because people can’t die, they are ended by becoming the bed for flowers, a form of life (pushing daisies if you will). So instead of reaching the Ninth Underworld, they reincarnate as flowers.
Visually you see the art of the Aztecs and Mexico merge with the look and shading of Film Noir. The Art Deco buildings have Aztecs symbols on them, a number of the characters talking with a Hispanic accent while also being 1940’s and 50’s attire and keeping that Film Noir look to it. This is also reflected in the music
I love these type of adventure games and Grim Fandago is different to the traditional ones in that there is no mouse icon to move around, you just have to look at what Manny is looking at. Menus are kept to a minimum which also means you don’t have puzzles which combine different items together at least in the way they did in games such as Discworld. This is also one of my favourite games and I love the Film Noir themes that play throughout. Although I have read that many aren’t as enthusiastic about the second half of the game as they were with the first I think there is still enough to keep you going and definitely want to replay it again. Again I love the Noir theme and I prefer this in fact to LA Noire’s which as great as it is, does not quite have the same charm and feel at least for me. There are of course other similar games out there. Contrast being one of them as well as the Max Payne games which has more of a darker feel.
[First released in 1998 but now available on a number of platforms, the PS4 and Switch being among them as a remastered version.]