If you've been around gaming for awhile, Grim Fandango is one of those old classics that you've likely heard referred to as "one of the greatest games ever" The game uniquely renders characters as “calaca” figures, which is a Mexican Spanish name for skeleton, and was highly lauded for its art direction. The story is compelling with a theme built around the Land of the Dead, where souls go to be processed through to their final destination.
The game is broken up into chapters which are divided into yearly periods that span over five years. Our protagonist, Manny Calavera, works as one of the grim reaper salesmen in the Department of Death, which determines the length of processing time a soul must endure based their good or bad deeds in life. Like any salesman, he is in competition for the best souls to process as this will lead to earning a faster ticket out of there for his own soul. Unfortunately, another salesman always beats him to the punch and Manny is left with only the "bad" souls, which means it will take much longer to work off his own debts. When a good soul is mistakenly sent on the bad path, Manny follows her into the Land of the Dead.
Grim Fandango is a love story with a hero and a damsel in distress theme. However, due to its age, it still suffers from the old traditional adventure game formula, which is traversing the same ground over and over and brain-twisting puzzles. Although it is universally praised by critics and enjoys a very positive rating on Steam, there is some dissension in the ranks regarding the old-school puzzles. Some people have quit playing because so many solutions require consulting a walkthrough due to the ambiguity of the clues.
By the end of it, I can honestly say I enjoyed Grim Fandango for the story, the characters, and the unique environment, but there's no denying it can be quite frustrating at times.
Although Grim Fandango received universal acclaim at the time of release in 1998, it was considered a commercial failure that likely contributed to Lucas Arts quitting the adventure game development business. It's ironical that Grim Fandango was an attempt to stimulate a genre that was in a severe downturn, but instead led to its further decline.
This was a period in which the Adventure game genre was in severe decline and Lucas Arts ended up cancelling development of sequels to some of their other projects. Some people who were dismissed from the studio went on to form Telltale Games and Tim Schafer, Grim Fandango's project leader, left to form Double Fine Productions.
Lucasfilm Games was founded by George Lucas in 1982 and later renamed LucasArts. They were purchased by the Walt Disney Company in 2012, which proceeded to halt all internal development and lay-off most of the staff. It remained open, however, in order to retain its function as a licensor. It then proceeded to license some of its properties to outside developers.
Double Fine was able to acquire the rights to Grim Fandango with financial assistance from Sony on went on to develop the Remastered version, which was released in 2015. Prior to that, Double Fine's first completed project was Psychonauts, which received high praise, but did not do so well commercially. However, it has since gained a cult following and received several awards leading to the development of the successfully crowd-funded Psychonauts 2.