To be honest, when I first saw Graveyard Keeper announced, my reaction was one with a shrug and a dismissive tone. I had most recently played Stardew Valley and I believed that Graveyard Keeper was just trying to ride the successful pixel art train at the moment. I let it fall into my backlog of games I may try eventually and moved on. Finally, with some time to play something out of the ordinary, I re-stumbled across Graveyard Keeper with the announcement of their new DLC ‘Game of Crones’. Even though I had not played the title yet to even think about diving into the DLC, I wanted to see if I had missed anything from not playing the game back in 2018 when it was released.
Let me tell you one very important thing and this is going to sound very cliche – never judge a book by its cover. In this instance it is – never judge a game by a single trailer. Of course, it is hard to do this because we all determine the games we play by when they are announced but I can tell you, without any doubt, that this game is worth playing and I am so happy that I was able to convince myself it was worth the look.
Graveyard Keeper is, as plainly as I can put it, a medieval cemetery management simulation game set with a gorgeous pixel art style that will have you engulfed in its world for hours without even blinking an eye. I honestly lost myself for hours at a time just by either discovering characters with outrageously comedic outcomes or managing the various areas in the game that extended the play time further than I would have originally imagined.
The game is by no means accurate in any sense of the word but that is what gives it such a charm. The story begins with your character grabbing groceries and heading home for the night. You receive a text from your supposed love interest while you are walking and while reading the text you are hit by a car. You are sent into a world unknown to you and your sole purpose is to discover if it is possible to escape this new world and get back to the real world. To do this, you must become the Graveyard Keeper of a small rural town, gain the trust of the locals, and stay alive (even though you are seemingly already dead).
You are introduced to the game’s main mechanics by a talking skull who walks you through the idea that you are going to be doing what people say for a majority of the game. Build this, maintain this, salvage this, gather this, and watch the trust meter go up. The element that sets this game apart from other games like it is the fact that you can do everything and anything at your own pace without actually missing any part of the game. Other games have you maintaining your calendar by remembering important days or months and if you miss a specific day, you have to wait an entire year to possibly return to that part of the game. Thankfully, in Graveyard Keeper, the calendar is replaced with a wheel of symbols that represent when specific characters can be interacted with. Every day/night cycle rotates the wheel one slot and the symbol changes. There are not a lot of symbols so it is less of a frustration to miss one by accident.
Your main focus is the graveyard and you learn very early on that you have no choice but to maintain this graveyard. The area is a complete mess so you craft a shovel, pickaxe, and hatchet to aid in the recovery. You will be doing a lot of digging – you are the keeper of the graveyard so this is an obvious responsibility. An early comedic scene is you digging up an evil body that already exists in the ground of the graveyard that some random local tells you to dig up and you throw it in the river to dispose of it. You don’t know why you are doing this and you don’t care because all you want to do it find some answers. This is going to be your home for quite some time now so you might as well do as your told and make the graveyard look and feel nice while you are at it. So that is just what you do – repair the graveyard and add new bodies to it as they become available.
A donkey will drop off dead bodies to you every once and a while for you to eventually bury in the ground but it is your job to discern whether the body is good enough for your graveyard or if it is too evil to stay. This is all done by doing your own autopsy on the bodies – yes, you are that person as well because obviously you can do it all. Scavenging skin, fat, meat, brain, bones, and other parts of the body can remove evil from the body but it can also remove good so you have to ensure your technology tree is updated so that you don’t accidentally make the bodies worse before burying them.
Speaking of a technology tree – there are massive amounts of technologies, also known as skills, to gain in this game but there are more than just the basics here. As you do tasks around the game you will gain tech points that come as the colors red, green, and purple. Depending on what you do in the world, you gain experience in a specific color and then you spend those points in the skill trees to unlock elements such as blueprints for farming, smithing, book writing, theology, anatomy, alchemy, building, and cooking. There really is so much in this game to discover and manage that you will sometimes have a hard time deciding what to do but the game does an amazing job of allowing you to complete this at your own pace as I had stated before.
Gaining the trust of the locals is a main mechanic of the game and in order to do so you must complete quests given to you by them that eventually connect to the reasoning behind you being there and what you need to do to hopefully escape – if that is even possible. Individuals such as the property owner of the graveyard and church, the tavern barkeep, the blacksmith, and even a vampire, help you along your journey by getting you started with each mechanic that eventually leads to you being able to do a majority of the tasks on your own but, of course, there are always easier ways to obtain items – by spending money on the NPCs to purchase your goods. The fun part of all this is that the locals actually help you understand how items work and why they are useful before just giving them to you. You must do the leg work to appreciate it before unlocking the ability to just obtain it with ease – and when I say ‘ease’ I mean at a steep price. The locals all have specific times that they can be interacted with and this is where the symbol wheel comes into play that I previously talked about. You go to an NPC on specific days and they will further the story for you if you complete their quests. It actually organizes the task list for you so that you don’t feel like you need to complete everything all at once, which you never have to complete anything to be honest but it helps if you want to complete the game.
I haven’t even said a single bad thing about this but of course there are some issues with it, just like any game. One of my biggest gripes in the inability to move buildings in your yard. I initially would place buildings sporadically but then later find out I can’t fit another building because I spaced some of the first ones out too much. Luckily you have the ability to buy more space in your yard but it is still unfortunate when you want your area to have a specific organizational look. Having to memorize where a specific item was sold can be frustrating when you don’t want to look anything up and you remember it was sold somewhere on the map. It would be nice if there was a way to add a specific item I want crafted to a global list to show items I need to craft for it. See, there are still issues that exist but they don’t detract from the overall experience I had.
So, what sets this game apart from games like Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, or My Time at Portia? It is all about pacing. Want to spend the day farming? Want to spend the day maintaining your graves, exploring, cooking, fishing, crafting new items that you unlocked from your technology tree? You do everything and anything you want at the pace you want to do it and you won’t miss much. You feel accomplished because you are finishing everything and you feel in control of that. Sure, in the end this is a game about capitalism and everyone wants to make the most money possible but there are ways to do it that are either ethical or immoral. You definitely have choices to make and the game gives you options but, in the end, you are driving down the same path as everyone else. Graveyard Keeper is a beautiful game with lots to do and even more with the various pieces of added DLC, which includes building your own tavern in Stranger Sins and helping escaped prisoners survive the wilderness in Game of Crones. If you are looking for the next management simulation to burn up some time in your life, this one is worth checking out and trust me – don’t shove it to the side like I did.