Reviews: Grim Fandango

The Citizen Kane of video games.

Hey, someone had to use that tired old line! Even so, it is utterly without any hyperbole that I make this statement. In pretty much every aspect as could conceivably be desired, Grim Fandango is a timeless masterpiece.

Conceived at the peak of Tim Schafer's creative potential, Grim Fandango effortlessly hits that ever-so-elusive middle ground between levity and seriousness, boasting one of the greatest scripts yet written in the medium. There are laughs to be had, oh yes, but an undercurrent of malice permeates every single scene and background. You'd think that being about the spirits of the dead would lessen any sense of danger. Not so much.

One of the most well-realized settings in video gaming, Schafer's Land of the Dead is a unique blend of various cultural beliefs regarding the afterlife. Every single location in the game is so rich and full of implied history, made all the more memorable by truly fantastic art design, based heavily around Art Deco. The icing on the cake is Peter McConnell's eclectic soundtrack, which surely inundated me with a love for jazz from an early age. Oh, and swing, mariachi, and Bernard Herrmann scores, while we're at it.

And these are just the quasi-subjective criticisms; though I'm pretty much choosing to ignore letting my nostalgia cloud my judgment (as a side effect, enhancing the superlatives of the quasi-subjectives), I've gotta say that Grim Fandango was more or less my first foray into more adult-oriented fiction. The darkest thing I'd ever experienced before that was Return to Oz, I guess. Um, I suppose that don't count, anyway. And look at me now! Living with a good balance of childish innocence and adult responsibilities, me! It also taught me 90% of all the English I know, proving decisively that we should just replace schools with video games already.

As a ambitious artistic vision, it excels on nearly every level, only mildly held back by its admittedly hellishly opaque puzzle solutions; no doubt, an unfortunate victim of the Fake Longevity mindset that (ironically enough) played no small part in the decline of the adventure genre at the close of the millennium. But, ya know, going out after the apex of your art form has been reached ain't bad at all. You done good, Tim. You done good.