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    Grim Fandango Remastered PS Vita Review

    The year 1998 saw the release of several video games now considered by many to be among the best or most iconic that the industry has produced to date, including The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Pokémon Red and Blue, and Half-Life. Released before some of these and after others was Grim Fandango. One of the last adventure titles released by LucasArts, it received several awards but was deemed a failure commercially, contributing to a decline in popularity of the adventure genre. Over the years, the game faded into obscurity as hardware improved and developers went their separate ways, and it became inaccessible and unplayable by all but the most devoted.

    That changed at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in June, when it was announced during Sony’s press conference that a remastered version of Grim Fandango, appropriately titled Grim Fandango Remastered, was in development for the PS4 and the Vita. Seven months later, the game was released on these platforms as well as on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, introducing the game to audiences new and old. For the most part, it has been worth the wait, though certain elements might have people used to modern games wishing this adventure in the Land of the Dead had stayed there.

    Story- 9/10
    When a person dies, eternal rest is not a given. He or she must earn it by embarking upon the “Four-Year Journey of the Soul” to reach the Ninth Underworld. However, depending on how good of a life one lived, he or she may shorten that journey by qualifying for and purchasing travel packages from agents of the Department of Death (DOD). Manuel “Manny” Calavera is one such agent. Unable to benefit from these packages himself, his job is to sell enough “premium” packages (i.e. tickets on the Number Nine, a bullet train that transports someone to the Ninth Underworld in four minutes) to earn the right to leave the DOD. Unfortunately, most of the clients that qualify for these packages get assigned to another employee, Domino Hurley. To make matters worse, the clients Manny does receive do not seem to qualify for the packages their files indicate they should.

    Threatened with the loss of his job if he does not make a premium sale, Manny decides to steal one of Domino’s clients, Mercedes “Meche” Colomar, whose record is spotless. Despite this, she does not qualify for a ticket on the Number Nine, and when a dejected Manny tries to “straighten this mess out,” he is reprimanded and then locked in a mechanic's workshop in the garage beneath his office as Meche leaves to journey to the Ninth Underworld on her own. Manny soon meets Salvador “Sal” Limones, a former DOD agent turned revolutionary who tells him that the DOD is corrupt, and that clients are intentionally being deprived of the packages they deserve. With his help and with the help of an overweight demon mechanic named Glottis, Manny escapes from the DOD and embarks on a four-year journey of his own to find the source of the corruption and, more importantly, to find Meche, who he sees as his only chance of reaching paradise.

    This journey is humorous at times and serious at others, but it is always engaging. Combining elements from film noir classics such as Casablanca with a motif based on the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday focusing on the celebration and remembrance of the deceased, the world of Grim Fandango is home to a varied cast of characters ranging from secretaries to mob bosses to disgruntled workers, each with unique voices and personalities, and Manny’s conversations and interactions with them drive the plot forward. Some characters are more complex than others, but they are all developed to the point that players will remember them long after the game is over.

    Gameplay- 7/10
    Adventure games are based around puzzle-solving and exploration of the game environment, and Grim Fandango has both in abundance. During any given year, players move between several areas, pick up and interact with several objects, and talk to several characters in order to solve puzzles. Movement is handled either by the Vita’s left stick or the D-pad, and there are two different control schemes: tank controls and camera-relative. Using tank controls (the game’s original controls), Manny is unable to move and turn simultaneously. Pushing the stick up and down moves him forward and backward, while pushing the stick left and right turns him to the left and right, respectively. Using camera-relative controls, Manny moves in the direction in which the stick is pushed, as is done in most modern games.

    The tank controls are, by nature, clunkier than the other control scheme and thus can be difficult to use at times, but unless players are concerned with getting all trophies (one requires using tank controls for the entire game), they are not an issue. However, players frustrated with them can tap areas of the screen to make Manny walk to them automatically, effectively making the game point-and-click, though this is not explicitly mentioned.

    As Manny moves, he will tilt his head to look at objects of interest. Pressing the square button will make him comment on them, and pressing either the circle button or the X button will make him pick the object up. The X button also initiates conversations with characters and makes Manny use something he has picked up on a character or object. All objects are stored inside of his suit jacket and/or robe, and this serves as his inventory, opened with the triangle button and closed with the circle button. All of these also have touch-based equivalents, though these also are not explicitly mentioned. Manny only has access to a certain number of objects at any point during the game, with the scythe being the only object he has at all times.

    Puzzles are solved by using objects on other objects in the environment or by incorporating them into interactions with characters. These puzzles often consist of sequences of events, and while the objective is made clear by context (it’s either mentioned in a cutscene or in a conversation), the sequence of events required to reach that objective is not always clear. For example, early in the game, Manny needs to get to a poisoning in the Land of the Living, but he has no transportation. Getting new transportation requires getting a special work order signed. In order to get the work order signed, he has to climb up the side of the building, climb into the open window of his boss’s empty office, and change the automatic answering system on his boss’s computer so that when the person at the front desk tries to reach the boss via intercom (which she only does after Manny tells her he needs the work order signed), she is told to sign it herself.

    If that sounds unintuitive, it is. The game has no hint system beyond what little players can glean from talking to characters (there is a complete dialogue transcript should players forget what was said) and interacting with objects, and there is no tutorial. This is not a fault of Grim Fandango in particular, as this design is common in adventure games of the time, but just because it is not a fault does not mean that it is not occasionally frustrating. Playing this game without constantly referring to a guide requires a lot of patience the first time around, but because of Manny's aforementioned limited access to objects, the occasional frustration associated with solving most of the puzzles is more bearable than it would be if the game gave Manny access to every needed object in the game from the get-go.

    Replay - 6/10
    There are no difficulty settings, there are no modes, and there is no New Game Plus, so what reasons do players have to replay the game after finishing it? Aside from experiencing the story again or trying out a different control scheme, the answer to this depends on how diligent players are while playing the game. Grim Fandango Remastered has 48 trophies, 42 of which are hidden. Of these 42, 14 are associated with Year 1, 15 with Year 2, six with Year 3, and seven with Year 4. This means that if players haven’t done everything in a given year before the game progresses to the next one, then those trophies are unobtainable in that playthrough unless an earlier save is loaded (saving the game must be done manually because there is no autosave). Some of these are obtainable by simply selecting certain dialogue options in conversations with characters. Others are like puzzles in themselves, only obtainable if players do things in a certain order or revisit areas after certain events, for example.

    Regardless of how the trophies are obtained, fulfilling their requirements adds charm to the game that players might otherwise miss. Whether it’s hearing Glottis sing a special song or learning why a skeletal ship captain wears an eyepatch, none of the trophies feels like a waste of time, and neither does listening to the included developer commentary. Once turned on, at certain points of the game, an icon will appear in the top left of the screen. The presence of this icon means that there is commentary about that part of the game that can be heard by pressing the L button. Covering topics ranging from the game’s inspiration to the thought process behind certain puzzles, it is better appreciated after the first playthrough.

    Graphics/Sound- 8/10
    Compared to the original, the game features improved lighting effects, high-resolution character textures, and a fully orchestrated soundtrack. There is also an option to toggle the aspect ratio between the original 4:3 (with or without themed borders) and 16:9 widescreen (this is what has been “remastered” in Grim Fandango Remastered). All of the characters are 3D models and move in 3D space, but the backgrounds are pre-rendered 2D images. Cutscenes are also pre-rendered, and neither they nor the backgrounds have been updated. This might be a problem for some players, since remastered versions of other games have included updated backgrounds, but people new to the game most likely will not be bothered. The backgrounds don’t feel two-dimensional, and the cutscenes are far from ugly. The character models themselves, mostly skeletons, are somewhat blocky, but this is slightly excusable because of their cartoony designs. However, the contrast between the remastered textures on the models and the backgrounds can be jarring, so there is an option to use the original assets and effects. In any case, there are certainly better looking games on the Vita, but this isn’t a terrible looking one. Regarding sound, the soundtrack combines several different instruments and musical styles, including band instruments, jazz, and charango folk music. It doesn’t get stuck in the player’s head like, say, the Tearaway soundtrack, but it does a good job of setting the mood throughout the game.

    It goes without saying that fans of adventure games will enjoy Grim Fandango Remastered, as will people who played and enjoyed the original game (who may better appreciate the collection of used and unused concept art, some of which is admittedly hard to see on the Vita’s screen). People new to adventure games or to Grim Fandango may not, but it is worth at least one playthrough for its art, characters, plot, and writing, if not for its potentially divisive gameplay.

    Story- 9/10
    Gameplay - 7/10
    Replay - 6/10
    Graphics/Sound- 8/10
    Overall - 8/10
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    Item Reviewed: Grim Fandango Remastered PS Vita Review Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kenny Gagne
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