#7: Grim Fandango
"Sorry for the wait, Mr. Flores. I am ready to take you now."
I have spent most of this countdown justifying why a certain game ranks as high as it does. Somehow I have a feeling that with Grim Fandango, I'm going to be justifying how I could possible rank it so low.
The adventure game had been basically pronounced dead in 1998. Sierra had all but given up and most companies were either hybridizing or ditching adventures altogether. There remained one hope for the resuscitation of our beloved genre: a quirky, but promising game from LucasArts called Grim Fandango with a story as original and bizarre as any ever found in an adventure game, equal parts noir and Mexican folklore.
When the game was released, it received unanimous critical adoration, so much so that GameSpot (yes, the same GameSpot that lists Grand Theft Auto 3 as an adventure game) awarded Grim Fandango their very-prestigious Game of the Year award. That critical acclaim did not translate, unfortunately, into commercial success. Grim Fandango was marketed in a manner that can kindly be described as "inept" and could not break into the mainstream of gaming, despite the critical acclaim. Part of it can be attributed to the clumsy marketing, but part can also be attributed to the rather inaccessible story, which probably scared off more than a few non-adventure fans.
Millions of gamers will never know what they missed. Grim Fandango elevated the concept of a cinematic adventure to a whole other level, with brilliantly beautiful cut-scenes framing an incredible story, superb voice acting, and some of the most beloved and classic characters ever created. The game is also deviously educational; how many people who play it have at some point wondered what "grim fandango" really means? There's much to learn about Mexican folklore here.
Grim Fandango was to be the last LucasArts effort from the man many call the greatest adventure designer ever, Tim Schafer. With Full Throttle and then Grim Fandango, Schafer rewrote the book on what a cinematic adventure game is, and no one short of Tim himself may ever be able to top this effort.
Now, here's where the justifying begins. The remaining six games on this countdown, I see as virtually flawless five-star games. Grim Fandango is the highest-ranked game on these charts that I would give a 4.5/5 score to; I think that alone should dispel rumors that I hate this game. But this game has a tragic flaw, and that is the interface. The attempt to create a sense of immersion is admirable, but the keyboard interface (introduced ten years after LucasArts made point & click the standard) instead led to a sense of clumsiness, and frustration in control. How immersed can you really get in a game when you can't even get your character to look at the right item? While a noble attempt at innovation, the interface is a misconception. If Grim Fandango had been point & click, I can't honestly say it wouldn't be ranked at #1. I recognize this is only my opinion, and pray that the Christmas spirit will help stem the torrent of hate mail.
Make no mistake, I certainly believe this game is a brilliant work of art, a moving cinematic experience with probably the single best ending ever in adventure games. The graphics made full use of available technology, the sounds lent to the noir ambience, and the writing and characterization can only be what many describe as "pure Schafer." This is one of the few must-play adventure games for anyone, and once you can get past the quirky offbeat nature of the story, it casts a spell few games can compare to. Grim Fandango is the #7 adventure game of all-time.
Last time: As I've admitted, I do have a bit of bias against newer games because it's hard to see how a game holds up over time, and therefore rated Grim at #13 last time. The response was nearly unanimous that I was an idiot. Three years have proven that the game will hold up much better than I originally estimated, and who knows how my thoughts will change three years from now?