The final year of Grim Fandango was my favorite. Plot-wise, it drew things together nicely, letting you visit some of your old haunts in the bargain. It was perhaps not quite as interesting in that regard as year two (though, now that I think about it a bit more, I’m not so sure – year two had you spending time with people who don’t, in general, advance the overall plot), but it more than made up for that deficit by having localized puzzles.
The year sets its tone right from the start with its first puzzle: it’s centered on Glottis, introducing you to a bit more of how the world works, but without making you wander all over the map in the process. And the solution was something that you’d been given a hint of in year one; I happened to remember the hint once I’d solved the puzzle (partly because the hint led me down a false path back in year one), but remembering it certainly wasn’t necessary for finding the solution. The solution of that puzzle brings you to Rubacava again (though, mercifully, a restricted subset of Rubacava), and you’re off and running.
I only had to go to gamefaqs once; I think some of that was just dumb luck, but in general the puzzle design seemed pretty good to me. Though the one place where I needed help was pretty annoying: in every single other place in the game, you can pick up objects by doing keypad-enter, but there’s one place in this level where keypad-enter activates something without picking it up while you need to do keypad-plus instead to pick it up.
So: what have I learned from playing through the game? I certainly enjoyed the time I spent with the game: it has a better sense of style than most games I’ve played recently, and its specific choice of imagery (death in Latin American traditions, mixed with a hefty dose of film noir) was something that I hadn’t seen before in a video game. The voice acting was great, and the plot was pretty good for a video game; it also managed to not veer too far in the “save the world” direction that is the default for narrative video games. (There was a bit more heroism as the game went on, but Manny’s motivation remained mostly focused on a rather more individual level.)
What was more interesting to me, though, was what I learned about what kinds of adventure game gameplay I enjoy. In the abstract, the idea of having multiple puzzles to solve at once over a large area attracts me, but in practice I enjoyed the parts of the game where you had one thing to do and few areas (or items) to do it. I’m still not entirely sure how much that has to do with my tastes and how much it has to do with the occasional bad design of the puzzles, but I think at least some of it has to do with the former. (The Phoenix Wright games are quite restrictive in terms of what to do next, and I both enjoy those and am rarely stuck in them.)
I’m still not sure what style of environmental interaction I prefer in graphical adventure games. Having your character wander around individual screens looking at things has its advantages; but the invisible walls were a bit much, and Manny was really small in large environments, making it a bit hard to see if he’s looking at something. So I’m really not sure if I prefer avatar manipulation to a point and click style; I’ll need to think about/experience that a bit more.
(Hmm, what that really boils down to for me is which interaction style make it easier to not accidentally miss key parts of the environment, or methods for interacting with the environment. Which makes me wonder: would I prefer an adventure game where there was a mode that highlighted all the areas of the screen you can interact with? I certainly didn’t appreciate having to find the item in the tailpipe of the car in one of the Phoenix Wright games.)
I also preferred the years where you have a relatively limited inventory, but need to use the same item in multiple situations. In retrospect, the different uses of your scythe were rather cleverly done, though I got frustrated by a couple of them at a time; maybe they game should have had a few more easy scythe puzzles first? (Or maybe I’m just slow.)
The most fun, though, was having other people to play through the game with. On a self-centered level, that gave me an excuse to think/write about the game a bit more than I normally do when playing through a game, and I learned a few things as a result. But it was also a real pleasure reading what other people had to say about the game, sharing our triumphs, frustrations, pleasures, insights.
Many thanks to Michael and Dan for getting this going (and in particular to Michael for doing the actual work of getting the forum going – Dan and I just sent e-mails!), and to all of the people who participated in the forum for their many delightful conversations! I’m definitely looking forward to the next Vintage Game Club playthrough; I’ll give a heads-up when we kick off the forum discussion of what the next game should be, in case anybody reading this wishes to have a say.
This post has not been revised since publication.