"Bound only by the paper-thin wrapper of mortality, a soul here lies, struggling to be free... and so it shall, thanks to a bowl of bad gazpacho and a man named Calavera."
Manuel "Manny" Calavera is a travel agent with the Department of Death -- otherwise known as a Reaper. His job is to bring souls to the Land of the Dead, look over the deeds they have committed over the course of their life, and provide them with the best form of transportation possible for the long journey to the Ninth Underworld. The worst people must walk for four years, facing danger at every turn; the best receive tickets on the luxury train the Number Nine, which covers the same distance in four minutes.
Manny used to be the best in the business, but pickings have been slim for a long time. While the obnoxious Reaper Domino Hurley constantly brings in first-class commissions, Manny is stuck handing out walking sticks to first-rate scumbags, and since he needs to pay back his own misdeeds in life (the exact nature of which is unclear, even to him), he's getting desperate.
He concocts an ingenious scheme to steal one of Domino's clients, a saintly woman named Mercedes Colomar. But when she too comes up on his computer as morally bankrupt, Manny stumbles onto a plot to steal people's eternal rewards away from them. His quest to uncover the truth and save Mercedes takes him on a journey across the Eighth Underworld, spanning years, full of extraordinary places, bizarre characters and startling revelations.
This 1998 Adventure Game for the PC from Tim Schafer is a heady blend of noir, Mexican mythology and Schafer's own warped sensibilities. As with all adventure games by LucasArts, it contained no real action or danger, and no possibility of dying, focusing instead on solving the often tricky puzzles strewn throughout the game, as well as just wandering through the place talking to people. It differed from adventure games of the time in its simple interface; Manny could move in three dimensions in a stationary environment, and interacted with it through three keys -- an Examine key, a Use key and a Get key, which could be used when Manny turned his head to look at something or someone. Sometimes all three keys could be used on the same item to different effect; stand near the giant pit of kitty litter and hit Examine, then Use, then Get, and you will get an increasingly funny series of reactions from Manny. Also, except for one arm-in-a-coffee-grinder moment, the adventure game standard of combining items was absent.
The game was extremely well-received critically, even managing to win several Game Of The Year awards despite having some pretty stiff competition. It quickly quickly built up a cult following based in its engaging story, high-class voicework and original, immersive setting. However, the game didn't sell well becoming the first LucasArts game to lose money, and marking the company's shift out of the genre.
Grim Fandango went for a very long time without any rereleases (fortunately, it makes for a pretty good movie for those who don't have the game -- get your tickets here), but was remastered and released in 2015 by Double Fine Productions.
- Acid Trip Dimension: The World of the Living(!).
- Affably Evil: Domino Hurley comes across as this, at least at first.
- Afterlife Antechamber: The Land of the Dead. What lies beyond the entrance into the real afterlife is unknown and unknowable, and nobody who goes through ever comes back; the game ends when Manny goes through.
- Alas, Poor Yorick: In the end, with Salvador's head.
- Almost-Dead Guy: Played straight and subverted.
- Amazing Technicolor Population: Most of the human souls are white like regular skeletons. Some have strange colours, such as Lupe being purple, Raoul being blue and Chepito being blue-green (though he justifies it by walking in the ocean for so long).
- And This Is For: If you keep shooting your gun at the greenhouse during the final showdown, Manny will start saying this. The villain responds by asking who he's talking about.
- Manny decks Nick Virago, who wonders if it's for the camera girl he sprouted. Manny replies that it was just for Nick being Nick.
- Arc Words: "One year later.."
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The Double N Train and anyone who passes through the Tunnel. No one knows what really resides on the other end.
Manny: You know, sweetheart, if there's one thing I've learned, it's this: nobody knows what's gonna happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip.
- Balcony Escape: Manny does this from his Department of Death office twice, once in Year One and once in Year Four.
- Beat Still My Heart: Glottis literally tears out his heart and throws it away. Manny has to get it back from a spider-web, and it still beats.
- The Big Guy: Glottis the demon mechanic.
- Bittersweet Ending: Manny finally reaches the Ninth Underworld, yet has to leave behind his best friend Glottis as he goes into the unknown.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Nope:
Manny: Is this where you tell me all about your secret plan, Hector? How you stole Double N tickets from innocent souls, pretended to sell them but really hoarded them all for yourself in a desperate attempt to get out of the Land of the Dead?
Hector: No. <BANG>
- Book Ends: The game opens on an ashtray with four mariachi dolls. The game ends on four mariachi playing around the pool, shaped like the ashtray. Also, the gorgeous Aztec relief on the menu depicting the major events of the game (that acts as the progress bar for your game save) is present in the final room of the game.
- Break the Cutie: Meche is a lot harder and colder after a year working for Domino.
- Celestial Bureaucracy: The Department of Death.
- Chekhov's Gun: Certain information from earlier years--some of which is missable--doesn't become relevant until you encounter certain puzzles in the final year.
- One of the more extreme examples is a cutscene in Year One where a demon's shirt catches fire, and the demon later scolds Manny for trying to put him out with a magnesium compound fire extinguisher in a room rilled with chemical packing materials because the chemical reaction would have caused a massive explosion. Much, much later in Year Four, you finally encounter a puzzle where you have to combine the two elements to create makeshift rocket fuel.
- Related to that very puzzle, the mug you give Bruno in year 1 comes back in year 4 as he, raging with madness slams the mug at you, complaining that he could at least have been given a magazine. It becomes useful in the same puzzle as described above.
- Claustrophobia: Raoul the waiter suffers from it; a puzzle consists of locking him inside a closet so that he panics and accidentally knocks himself out.
- Compressed Vice: Glottis' gambling addiction.
Glottis: (drunk) Wassssat, little kitty? Don't talk, just RUN, BABY RUN!!!
- Continuity Nod/Call Back: Many. Manny mentions he couldn't be on a ship without trying to be captain; at the end of the year, he gets a minor job on a ship. One year later...
- Controllable Helplessness: A puzzle near the end of the game is based on this, where Manny is shot up with Sproutella, which is slowly filling his insides with flowers, and has to find a way to kill the plant while writhing in agony on the ground.
- Cool Car: The Bone Wagon is the product of Glottis' mad compulsion to make all things with engines harder, better, faster, stronger...
Manny: What a relief. I was getting concerned that our transportation wasn't ostentatious enough.
- Cool Shades: Domino Hurley wears these when at the island near the giant waterfall.
- Creator Cameo: The LucasArts man-holding-a-bow appears on the leftmost part of the Aztec relief.
- Cyanide Pill: Sal has one, that sprays Sproutella in a cloud.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: When confronting Big Bad Hector LeMans, Manny attempts to illustrate his own Genre Savvy. Manny asks if this is the part where LeMans tells Manny his plans, and he, Manny, proceeds to spell them out in elaborate detail. Responding with a simple "No", Hector shoots Manny, stating that this is the part where he dies painfully.
- Deader Than Dead: In the Eighth Underworld, you can survive being pulled apart and losing limbs (or your head), but it seems to require extreme willpower the more parts you lose. There are ways to die again, however: they mostly involve having one's skeletal "body" completely destroyed, by being smashed, ground up, consumed by flowers (in-game called being "sprouted"), crushed and similar. Nobody knows where you go after that, but you're effectively forever denied entry into the Ninth Underworld.
- Deadpan Snarker: Manny's pretty good at it.
- Looking at his office door:
Manny: Wasn't too long ago the name on that door was "Supply Closet".
- After Glottis installed hydraulic stilts on the Bonewagon:
Manny: What a relief. I was getting concerned that our transportation wasn't ostentatious enough.
- Looking at a boobytrapped Bonewagon:
Manny: Soon to be known as "the Blownwagon".
Glottis: Hey! That's not funny!!
- Confronting Hector LeMans:
Hector Le Mans: Oh Manny... so cynical... What happened to you, Manny, that caused you to lose your sense of hope, your love of life?
Manny: I died.
Manny: *looking at Eva* It's my boss's secretary, Eva.
Eva: It's my boss's whipping boy, Manny.
- Or this one:
Manny: *looking at Dockmaster Velasco* That Dockmaster Velasco is one salty old bag of rope.
Velasco: *laughs* You should see his wife!
- Defensive Failure: When Meche takes Manny as hostage to make Domino free them, she ends up threatening him with her gun, but he knows he has nothing to fear because she is too good to shoot him. And he is right despite her protesting.
- Dem Bones: Every human soul takes this form in death. Contrasted with the briefly-seen living humans... well, you have to see it, but the dead are more relatable. They also gain "breast-bones" (the women) and "belly-bones" (the fat). That's because they're not skeletons per se, but calaca dolls.
- The Dev Team Thinks of Everything
- Dialogue Tree
- Dissimile, Metaphorgotten, or something of that ilk: "Manny, until now we scraped along the ground like rats. But from now on, we soar! Like eagles. Like eagles on... POGO STICKS!"
- The Dragon: Domino Hurley.
- Driven to Suicide: Glottis implies that this will happen to any spirit of the land that is no longer able to do the job which it was created for. The Maintenance Demon is able to avoid this by basically making a weak connection between maintenance and his new job of being a bodyguard. Glottis himself was created "TO DRIVE!!!!," but since he wasn't allowed to drive cars, being an auto mechanic was close enough.
- Everybody Smokes: Of course, since they're already dead, it doesn't do anything to them. The manual has the following footnote on one page:
"For those who are disturbed by the amount of smoking in Grim Fandango, we offer two reasons: 1) we wanted to be true to the Film Noir atmosphere, and 2) everybody in the game who smokes is DEAD. Think about it."
- Eye Scream: Use your scythe on the octopus.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Sure, he was a jerk. Sure, he was already dead. But there's no denying that what happens to Domino is a nasty way to go.
- Famous Last Words: In full keeping with Domino's Karmic Death:
- Fat Bastard: The Big Bad. Impressive, since he's also a skeleton.
- Fate Worse Than Death: There are a number of unpleasant things that can happen to a soul in the Underworld, from being turned into a bone dam by demonic beavers to being ground into powder to being "sprouted".
- Femme Fatale: Olivia Ofrenda.
- The Fifties: True to its Film Noir roots, the game is set in the 1950's - except with modern (circa 1998) conveniences like computers.
- Film Noir: Tim Schafer said that the inspiration of the story was from 1944 film Double Indemnity.
- First-Person Smartass: Manny, obviously, in the classic hardboiled style.
- Flower Motifs: One of the only ways to make someone Deader Than Dead is to shoot them with a Sproutella gun that make flowers grow on their bones. Membrillo the undertaker specifies to Manny that flowers are a negative symbol in the Land of the Dead, and Manny tells him that from now on, he'll use balloons as gifts.
- Genius Bonus: To the Aztecs, flowers were a metaphor for blood, as in the vital fluid of the living.
- For the Evulz: Manny loves to reveal himself oh-so-briefly to living people.
Manny: Pssst. It's me, Death. I'll see you soon, okay?
- French Jerk: Raoul the waiter.
- Genki Girl: Lupe.
- The Grim Reaper: It's one of many jobs the sinful are forced to take on to pay off moral debt.
- Guide Dang It: For an adventure game, there is surprisingly little. Unlike something by Sierra, it is physically impossible to move on without having everything you need to complete the game. However, the betting stub puzzle from Year 2 can frustrate even if you know what you have to do.
- Guile Hero: Manny.
- Heroic Sacrifice: End of the game: Salvador.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Hector's penchant for keeping trophies of his sprouted victims comes back to bite him when the water supply used to maintain them becomes the vehicle for his demise.
- Hopeless Boss Fight: Domino Hurley and Hector LeMans will go on forever til you Take a Third Option.
- Horse of a Different Color: Giant multicolored demon cats are the racehorses of choice in the Land of the Dead.
- Ice Cream Koan:
[Manny looks at the domino booby trap trapped in a frozen gel]
Manny: A parade of bones, trapped in a suspended state... Kind of a metaphor for all of us if you really think--
Glottis: JUST DEFUSE THE BOMB, MANNY!
- Identification by Dental Records: Yhe computer terminals at the Department of Death scan the user's teeth to give them access, which makes sense seeing as a person's chompers are one of the few identifying physical features one can carry over from the Land of the Living. This is used in a puzzle early on in the game, where Manny has to make a mold so that a local resistance group can make a replica of his teeth and access the Department of Death's computer network.
- Informed Deformity: Celso's wife is ugly according to Manny. She looks like just any other female human soul except with a pair of lines on her face.
- Instant Messenger Pigeon: They can find anyone based on just a photograph! And the bad guys engineer big talking messenger birds with human skull-heads.
- Insurmountable Waist High Fence: Manny can't get to the Day of the Dead festival in El Marrow because of several performer huts blocking the road. There is a stack of crates on the side, but he doesn't want to climb it. In Year Two, Manny needs to get on a boat which is blocked by a chain-link fence, and blames his stubby legs for being the reason he was never good at the high jump.
- It's All About Me: Domino, oh so very much.
- Join or Die: This exchange between Manny and Eva.
Manny: Any messages for me?
Eva: One: join, or die!
Manny: But I'm already...
- Karmic Death: Domino Hurley, Nick Virago and Hector (see Hoist by His Own Petard above).
- La Résistance: The L.S.A.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Anyone who bought Double-N tickets that were not rightfully theirs.
The Gatekeeper: Your destiny... cannot be purchased.
- Let's Play:
- Lighthouse Point: An important one in Rubacava.
- Magic A Is Magic A: So, when is a skeleton soul considered "dead"? They are technically all dead, yet they can be "killed" again (the text in the sequences' titles even describes them as "dying"!). This gets a slight Lampshade Hanging: in the Petrified Forest, Manny and Glottis have to cross a barrier of soul bones, and Glottis says that he feels guilty about rolling on them. Manny replies they won't feel anything because they are dead. Glottis reminds Manny is dead as well, and that is not a reason for him to roll on him. Manny then says that is because they "are friends".
- Manny cannot blow inside a deflated balloon because he doesn't "have the lungs for that", and yet, he is shown several times blowing smoke when smoking, and the Angelitos blow too on crystals when they are working.
- The human souls are described as not needing to breathe (which is the reason why they can stay underwater indefinitely). And yet when Meche and Manny are locked in a vault-like area, she tells him to use up the oxygen in another room. Maybe she just wanted to get Manny out of her face.
- Meaningful Name:
- Calavera means skull, and refers to sugar treats made for the Day of the Dead as well as other associated art.
- Salvador's name means "savior".
- Domino ("God") Hurley -- he who would overthrow ("hurl") God.
- "Ofrenda" -- "offering".
- Mega Neko: In Rubacava, there is a "cat track" that is just like a horse racing course, except the horses are replaced by giant cats. Of multiple colors. And they have a large swimming pool filled with cat litter. And huge cans of gelatinous mystery meat to feed them.
- Metal Detector Puzzle:
- Near the endgame, the player is required to find Salvador Limones' buried body in a field of flowers by using a Number 9 Ticket which is magnetically drawn to him.
- An earlier one in Rubacava, where you have to find a metal detector in a giant pool of kitty litter.
- An even earlier one in the Petrified Forest, where you have to use a road sign that magically points the way to Rubacava to find a hidden trap door.
- Mundane Utility: Manny's scythe is used for a vast number of different things. He uses its long handle as a quarterstaff for self-defense and to bar doors, its great reach to hook faraway objects and bring them closer, its pointed tip as a knife to cut open a package, the metal of the blade to conduct electricity through a circuit, and the great force with which it can be swung to break ceiling fixtures, among other things; as for its intended use, never, ever does it reap.
- Mysterious Past: Manny won't tell anybody what he did to become a reaper, and claims he doesn't know or remember. He is not unique in this; it seems no one in the Department of Death is supposed to reveal.
Eva: "What I did back in the fat days is none of your business. You know the rules."
- Nice Hat: All the female souls wear hats (considering they don't have hair). Lola has an especially nice hat: a top hat in the shape of a stack of buildings.
- Noodle Incident: The office Christmas party. Apparently, he got drunk and punched someone he hated. Like every good Christmas Party ever. The nature of the game's story dumps plenty of these into the game, given an entire year passes in between chapters.
- Once Per Episode: Manny has a habit of falling into the Sea of Lament at least once per year, which Captain Velasco notices the second time it happens.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish: Trying to access Domino's computer results in Manny guessing key words as the password. It isn't "GOLDEN BOY", "MR. D", "DOMMY", "ARROGANT FRAUD", "BOXING", "GREED", "VANITY" or "SLEAZE".
Manny: Whew. I was scared it might be "EVA".
Manny: Hey, Dom. What's your screen-saver password?
Domino: Get away from my computer, Manny.
- Puzzle Boss: It's an Adventure Game, what other kind is there? There are only two bosses in total, anyway.
- Rebel Leader: Sal Limones.
- Road Apples: In Rubaca, Manny finds a pool filled with dirty cat litter. Giant cat litter. Manny says that it is "tempting" to jump in this dirty litter, and he will explode in a long burst of laughter if you try to have him pick up some of it.
- Running Gag: It's never explained how Manny manages to do so well between chapters:
- At the end of Chapter 1, he's mopping the floor in a cheap diner; at the beginning of Chapter 2 (one year later), he's transformed it into a fancy gambling joint.
- At the end of Chapter 2, he's mopping the deck on a ship; at the beginning of Chapter 3 (one year later), he's captain.
- Given a Foreshadowing, and possibly an explaination, in Chapter 1. When looking at a picture of a ship, Manny mentions how he's so competitive, he wouldn't be able to rest until he was Captain.
- The lengthy trek between Chapters 3 and 4 goes unexplained as well.
- Manny somehow manages to end up dunked in the drink every year on the Day of the Dead (at the Rubacava docks in 3 of the 4 years). This is actually pointed out by Captain Velasco, who asks Manny if it's "going to be an annual thing."
- The tool that sees the most use in the game, Manny's scythe, is used in an ingenious number of ways, but not to reap, ever. It sees more use as a circuit component than as a scythe, and the closest thing to reaping Manny does with it is use it as a boxcutter; the one time he looks like he might reap, he uses it like a mining pick.
- Sassy Secretary: Eva.
Manny: Any messages for me?
Eva: No, calls stopped coming for you the day you left. They're STILL sending you that lingerie catalog though.
- Scooby-Dooby Doors: The tunnels in the Petrified Forest clearing. Glottis takes notice the first time you try driving into one.
- Self-Inflicted Hell: Membrillo, the tall, dour coroner in Rubacava, believes that the Land of Eternal Rest does not exist, and that all the denizens of the Land of the Dead are actually in Hell, condemned to this half-life for all eternity. For this reason, he won't complete his journey and leave the Land of the Dead, trapping himself forever.
- Shout-Out: In contrast with other Lucas Arts adventure games, Grim Fandango has a remarkably very low amount of shout outs, but there are still some:
- Examine the dark tunnel in Year 4, and Manny will describe it as "a tunnel that leads into a system of catacombs."
- There's the Corley Motors insignia that appears in the Nuevo Marrow skyline.
- The logo for Corley Motors, as well as Sam and Max, are on a poster in Toto's Tattoo Parlor.
- In Year 2, crossing under the blimp on the bridge causes you to hear the theme for "Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe" - a LucasArts flight sim.
- There is a certain similarity to the poison tooth scene in Dune.
- Shut Up, Kirk: In a moment that subverts Just Between You and Me, Bond Villain Stupidity and Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?:
Manny: Is this where you tell me all about your secret plan, Hector? How you stole Double N tickets from innocent souls, pretended to sell them but secretly hoarded them all to yourself in a desperate attempt to get out of the Land of the Dead?
Hector: This is where you writhe around in excruciating pain because that idiot Bowsley ran off with the quick-acting sproutella. This slow stuff will sprout you, but it'll take a long time, I'm sorry to say.
- Smoking Is Cool: Many characters smoke in the game for the Film Noir feel. The manual says that the game doesn't promote smoking though, as the characters are already dead.
- Stealth Pun:
- "The deadbolt is set. But with what?" A skeleton key, perhaps?
- Glottis has but one purpose, a solitary reason, for being summoned: to drive or ride some manner of transportation at high speeds. He's a speed demon.
- Super Not-Drowning Skills: This is justified for Manny and the other human souls, as they are dead and don't need to breathe, so they can stay underwater forever. Glottis does have lungs though, and he even points this out when he and Manny are stuck underwater. Manny handwaves this by saying: "You survived without a heart, you can live without air for a while."
- Subsequent observations of Glottis let us know how he's holding up: "Still not blue", "A little blue around the eyes"... Eventually, Glottis emerges of his own accord... because his skin was getting pruney.
- The Three Trials: Year 2 revolves around this, being the only chapter set in a single expansive location. Manny needs a Maritime union membership, tools for Glottis, and to prevent a sailor from showing up so he can take over his job.
- Time Skip: Three of them. The game has four chapters, each a year apart, each on the Mexican Day of the Dead -- when most of the dead celebrate by visiting the Land of the Living. No one seems to notice that important, (after)life-changing things happen to Manny on the same holiday four years in a row: first skip, he finds what he's looking for exactly one year after he started looking; then two different lengthy treks take exactly one year each.
- Title Drop: One of Olivia's poems, which seems to be based on Procol Harum's song "A Whiter Shade of Pale".
- Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer shows part of the death scenes of Don and Lola.
- Try Everything: There's one puzzle in Year Two which maddeningly requires you figure out what to do with a slip of paper reading "Rusty Anchor". The only solution is to show it to everyone in the city to figure out what it means - and this being a Tim Schafer game, everyone has a unique answer, up to and including a catchy little piano ballad (see below). Of course, when you finally find the right person to ask, he begins his answer with "You mean, besides the song, and the poem, and the bar, and the statue by that name?".
- Wasted Song: One part of the game has Glottis singing a song called Rusty Anchor. Sadly enough despite it being catchy, it's not on the game's soundtrack.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Lupe kind of just vanishes into the ether after Manny gets the police to raid his casino.
- What You Are in the Dark: When Manny approaches the Tunnel to the Ninth Underworld, he wrestles with temptation. He could actually walk through the Tunnel... forget everything and just leave this world and Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. After all, he did make the four year trek as any Lost Soul must. However, he passes up freedom because he has to be a Big Damn Hero and save everyone.
- Who Would Be Stupid Enough...?: Manny gives to Membrillo the undertaker a metal detector so he can find out the identity of the corpses better. Membrillo says that he could find initials of the person on a belt buckle. Manny laughs, asking who the heck would keep his initials on his belt buckle... until Membrillo points the detector to Manny's own belt buckle, which obviously has his initials on it.
- You Have Failed Me...: In the first year, your boss Don's death.