I am the Grim Reaper…AND your travel agent!

Yesh! I finished it! I finally finished playing Grim Fandango. In fact, I was almost sorry to see it end! Truly, LucasArts deserves a standing ovation for seeing the potential for entertainment in a game so full of black humour!

In case anyone’s heard of it but is too scared to try it out cos they don’t know what exactly the game mechanics are like [I know I was!], fear not. All will be revealed. I’m not going to go into spoilers or walkthroughs, you can find that stuff easily.

The game plays in 16bit color and at 640*480 resolution, so if you MUST have evidence of how hard your graphics card is working when you play, then stay away [mutters: lusers]! Grim Fandango is an adventure game, so if you constantly need enemies to kill with high powered weapons, look for a game with a crowbar. Grim’s all about the story, and the only reason you “play”, by which I mean solve logical [and sometimes not too obvious] puzzles, is to check out some great lines delivered with FULL voice acting [and I mean every line, complete with Spanish accent!] and unlock cutscenes [and there are 32 cutscenes, which are decently long and give you a sense of satisfaction!] to advance to the next stage of the plot.

Sure, sometimes the graphics come across as a bit blocky but if you can stand a bmp file of a face mapped onto a character polygon structure, you won’t mind this. In fact, I’d say the not-as-cool graphics just gives it a very lo-fi feel, which is consistent with the whole noir theme. Plus it constantly reminds you that this game is being played like an interactive book.

The music is awesome, with some Mexican mystery jazz vibe going on. It’s always consistent with the scene you’re in but never gets repetitive [or perhaps the game is so involving I never noticed…].

It’s a 3D game [scoff!], and is played in third-person with the camera fixing itself to a spot until you advance to another room or a blind spot in the room. Needless to say, there were no bugs [at all!] and it is a breeze getting used to the controls. The story stretches over 4 years, which translated to say 20-30 hours in front of the console [probably more, cos you WILL get stuck and refuse to use a walkthrough]

The hard part is solving the puzzles or figuring out the next thing to do. While it IS logical, it’s not obvious [or maybe I wasn’t thinking hard enough!]. The puzzles themselves are usually a matter of using the right stuff at the right place, and pressing the Observe button usually tells you what the protagonist is looking, or what it could be used for.

On that note, Manny [the protagonist, ladies and gentlemen: Manuel Calavera] looks at anything he passes by that’s of interest or can be affected in some way. Like all LucasArts game [save Indy Jones], you can’t ever die or be “booted out” of the game prematurely.

At this point, readers might get the impression that this is no different from the traditional point-n-click adventures that triggered the rise, and fall of this genre. Well I’m convinced it is the evolved version to suit the needs of 3D gaming with free movement. Instead of a text parser [games with text parsers, I think, tend to get a bit…irritating] and a pointer to click on elusive hotspots, there’s the Observe button, the Use button, the inventory scroll button and pick up/drop button. And this simplifies matters elegantly and successfully.

Personally, from what I notice, most people don’t resort to games as another avenue to “read”, so Grim Fandango might not exactly be everyone’s favourite Lipton tea. So don’t blame yourself if you don’t seem interested. Rather, *know* that you’ll be missing out on a great story set in gorgeous and genuinely unique and interesting locales, with fleshed out characters and elements of action, mystery, conspiracy, mid-life crises, and even a bit of romance. Oh well, story of your life.

Next up, a long overdue Final Fantasy 7. Box edition @ Sim Lim $44.90. Pretty steep price for such an old game, but hey, we all know it’s a classic. We all know it deserves an entry in every hall of fame that’s relevant. I’m just going to find out why.

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