[In this narrative-focused analysis, Northern Kentucky University student Patrick Delaney critically examines LucasArts' classic film noir adventure game Grim Fandango.]
Game Title: Grim Fandango
Genre: 3rd-Person Adventure
Release Date: September 30, 1998
Game Writer/Creative Director/Narrative Designer: Tim Schafer
Grim Fandango is a film-noir epic set in the Land of the Dead, a dark, dangerous afterlife that's equal parts Aztec religion and Casablanca. A hardboiled purgatory between earth and heaven, the Land of the Dead is populated by the restless souls of the deceased (represented by skeletal calaca figures) who must make a dangerous four-year journey to the Land of Eternal Rest.
Players assume the role of Manny Calavera, a grim reaper for the Department of Death, whose job involves freeing souls from their mortal coil and selling them swanky travel packages that include things like sports cars and luxury cruises to aid them on their trip to heaven. Premium clients are eligible for a ticket on the Number Nine, a mystical bullet train that whisks the pure-of-spirit to heaven in four minutes instead of four years. If Manny wants to work off his sins in his previous life and score a seat on the Number Nine, he's going to need to start selling some tickets, and fast.
But business has been terrible, with Manny unable to sell decent packages to his clients. When his latest commission, the kind and beautiful Meche Colomar, doesn't qualify for the Number Nine seat she clearly deserves, Manny begins to suspect that someone in the Department of Death is rigging the system. Manny's attempt to clear Meche's name and earn himself a fat paycheck quickly becomes a descent into the corrupt underworld of the afterlife and a quest for justice, redemption, and love.
A travel agent in the afterlife who can't leave his dead-end job until he's worked off some time to the "powers that be," Manny is a grim reaper tasked with selling flashy travel packages to souls beginning their four year journeys. When we first meet Manny, he's been given the ultimatum of landing a premium client or losing his job and any hope of working off his sins.
A modern-day saint and Manny's ticket to salvation, Meche should have been a shoo-in for the Number Nine, but someone doctored her file and stole her ticket to heaven. Left with no choice but to make her four-year journey on foot, Meche sets off unprotected into the seedy back alleys of the afterlife. Manny's quest to find her serves as his main character motivation for the majority of the game.
A true speed "demon", Glottis is an elemental spirit summoned to work as an auto mechanic for the Department of Death. Obsessed with souped-up cars, there's nothing he loves more than putting the pedal to the metal and feeling the wind in his face. Fired from his job, he joins Manny in the search for Meche, quickly becoming Manny's closest friend.
A fellow reaper at the Department of Death and Manny's main competition, Domino is ruthlessness and corruption wrapped in a power suit. Arrogant and self serving, he'd push an old lady down a flight of stairs if it meant a promotion. In fact, he's part of a crime ring that steals Number Nine tickets and sells them on the black market. Over the course of the game, Domino becomes the most prominent antagonist, transitioning from a devious businessman to a homicidal goon.
The arch villain, Hector is a criminal mastermind who robs deserving souls of their tickets to heaven. Bloated and sadistic, he's built an empire of crime by stealing Number Nine tickets and selling them to the highest bidder. The tickets he sells, however, are counterfeits: his true goal is to steal enough Number Nine tickets to qualify his rotten soul for a trip to the Land of Eternal Rest.