There’s a strong allure to task-management sim games, with the farming sub-genre at the forefront with titles like Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons, and Stardew Valley. As a player, you’ll find yourself navigating interweaving plots and repetitive task handling with a general sense of calmness and accomplishment as you progress through these games. The developers at Lazy Bear Games and Publisher tinyBuild took many cues and standards from these farming titles and then instead decided…let’s manage a graveyard. However, there’s more life here than one might expect!
With an untimely demise on the way home to visit his special someone, the hero of the game finds himself in a foreign land amongst a graveyard. Within minutes, the player is introduced to a floating skull named Gerry who talks and comes off as an alcoholic with memory loss problems. Welcome to playing Graveyard Keeper!
Gerry delivers several of your introductory quests and lightweight tutorials while denoting that you are officially the new graveyard keeper in this area. It won’t take but an hour or so of gameplay to start meeting many of the other village and town folks that are just as dark, quirky, paranormal, and absurd. From the witch-burning Inquisitor, to a talking donkey that delivers corpses to you, the game is full of a very colorful and lively bunch of dreary people.
Now being a graveyard keeper in an unfamiliar place certainly wasn’t in your plans for life…or death…or anywhere else, and so your main objective simply becomes getting back to your significant other and the love of your life by any means necessary. This you’ll find is a far more challenging prospect than would be expected, but might be possible through helping the right people and doing the right things in your time as a caretaker of the dead. And so, gameplay sets in for you.
Graveyard Keeper follows a very accustomed path as to how Stardew Valley was played for those familiar with that game, but it kicks up the complexity and mechanics several notches more, creating a myriad of systems with heavy crafting and management of various elements in the game to track and work with. My first hour of time spent in the game was actually rather overwhelming and a bit confusing, as there’s a lot of dependency mechanics that must be learned early on, furthered by trying to understand and learn how the quest/story systems function. It’s certainly not the easiest of onboarding I’ve had in a game, but through some post-intro experimentation I started getting the hang of some of the game’s devices well enough.
As a graveyard keeper, you’re tasked with several primary duties. As new deceased are delivered to you, you’ll most likely want to perform autopsies and potentially harvest a few things while you’re in there as the townsfolk have certain needs, and then you must dig a plot, bury the corpse, and decorate with headstones as needed. Maintaining a proper graveyard requires a lot out of you and is far from a small chore. Not only will you need to ensure you haven’t buried evil people, dealing with the upkeep of the yard is quite labor and resource intensive.
This is where the intricate crafting system comes into play. You’ll be forced to craft really every item you need to maintain your graveyard, as well as open locked areas, build new structures, and fulfill townspeople’s requests. This however does not mean simply going out and gathering some resources and then building whatever you want at a workbench. Instead you’ll find a sprawling craft-dependency unlock tree in the menus, where even the simplest of items such as nails and boards require several things to be constructed beforehand just for the ability to have these things. To unlock items from within the skill tree, you must first save up enough of the games 3 ‘currency’ icons. They are in the form of red, green and blue icons to purchase said sought after items, such as an anvil. These currencies are gained by everyday tasks such as clearing dead trees, breaking rocks, chopping down things, and more. Though due to a standard mechanic in the form of fatigue, once you run out of energy, you’ll need to rest before you can perform more laborious tasks.
Tackling this crafting system does take a good part of your daily time up, as you’ll be scouring around the map for the base resources you need, while doing enough manual labor or other tasks to net you proper currency thresholds to even unlock new items, and repeating this quite frequently especially in the early hours of the game to get some well-needed equipment up and running. That being said, you’ll see your small homestead with attached graveyard start to really expand with workbenches, anvils, log holders, furnaces and more as you build out your property.
Crafting is by no means the only complex-dependency related system in Graveyard Keeper though, as the game’s progression and stories follow tightly alongside as well. It didn’t take me more than 30 minutes into the game fresh to have several co-dependent quests started. This wouldn’t be so bad; however, these quests are often times complex and a bit of a mystery as to how they can be completed. While the NPC menu that acts a super high-level quest help menu offers some nuggets of information, it’s usually far from a complete picture of what you’re intended to do for any given villager. Usually it simply states something semi-vague such as “retrieve XYZ item” with very little clue how or where to do that.
There’s a map that you can view, yet it serves only as an actual traditional map that outlines in sketch form where most of the main locations are for your region. Unfortunately it doesn’t include a personal locator, objective markers, or any other sort of tracking. The developers definitely wanted you to explore, experiment, and for me, muddle around aimlessly trying to figure out if or how I could solve a certain NPC quest at any given time. Compared to other games of this ilk I felt the most lost in this game.
As days tick by, all of these complexities continue to increase, but some of them you’ll have a smoother understanding of. There’s a certain attraction to unlocking a new piece of tech, and then backpedaling to see how that can influence your homestead. Unlockable new regions, shortcuts, activities and even some traditional farming all happen after some decent time investment in the game, and I appreciate not having everything entirely all available at once or this would surely have become too overwhelming of a game. When you do start sinking in hours, just as these sim-management and task-based games go, time will drift away from you as you exclaim to yourself “Just one more thing”. It’s more than easy enough to get lost in the world of Graveyard Keeper.
Graveyard Keeper Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 6.5/106.5/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7.5/107.5/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Graveyard Keeper is the dark and twisted humorous companion to games like Stardew Valley. It boasts many similarities but delves particularly deep into crafting, exploration, and story intertwinement. For a more casual player, this game can easily feel overwhelming, somewhat confusing and definitely complicated though. Tending a cemetery ends up being far more enjoyable that one might expect with Graveyard Keeper and it’s a very reasonable to give this game a go for $20 on the Nintendo eShop.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.