First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me.
– Steve Martin
“The following is a guest post by The Midnight Mystic Mage.”
I’ve been on a hiatus and am having some trouble getting back into the swing of writing. I believe I’ve finally found the game that’s given me the spark I needed to feel rejuvenated and continue on this blogging adventure: this game, which is published by TinyBuild (publishers of: The Final Station, Punch Club, and Hello Neighbor, among others) & developed by Lazy Bear (creators of the Punch Club games and Swag & Sorcery). This game scratches an itch that hasn’t been scratched for me since Stardew Valley first came out. You get to grind away and gather necessary resources while slowly increasing your ability to produce more and more valuable and important items.
So obviously, judging by the occupation you have in this game, you might have been able to foresee it’s pretty dark and full of gloriously morbid humor. What you gonna do with all that meat on the dead bodies you keep on getting? Well, it would be a shame to let it go to waste when you just received a stamp that will make it pass suitably, as if approved by the royal standard. As gruesome as that may sound, the game is very lighthearted and does not come off in an overtly disturbing way. Think of it as Stardew Valley for those of you who could not stop thinking: “Man, this game needs more corpses!” That’s right, your voices have been heard, you incredibly disturbed lost souls.
There’s so much to do in this game. It can be quite easy to find yourself hooked on improving your graveyard or stats and skills. The farming system works really great but isn’t as essentially vital to the gameplay as it is in Stardew Valley and other farming simulator games — not to say it’s not an incredibly useful or important part of the game. You’re able to: grow your crops, harvest, and choose from plenty of options of what to do next. You can cook the food you grow — which is very helpful when you’re running low on energy but don’t want any of those pesky bodies to start decomposing. You can sell the food in town or even pass the carrots along to the communist talking donkey who decides to go on strike and not put up with your greedy capitalism anymore! Those bodies aren’t going to drag themselves to your crypt.
The crafting system is very complex while still remaining simple to understand at the same time. You gather resources by: chopping down trees, pulling up sticks, digging up clay and gathering ore and stones, etc. There’s a workspace you’re able to build up in your front yard that adds so many elements to what you’re able to do with your crafting. You can: smelt iron bars in the furnace, turn those bars into iron parts or nails on the anvil, chop up firewood to use in your cooking areas and furnace, and are also able to turn the wood you chop down into many different types of parts for crafting. There’s always another skill you’ll be itching to learn and more areas and tools you’ll be eager to unlock or create.
Speaking of the skills you’re able to learn, there’s a system of gathering XP that you’re able to use to level up your keeper in the areas you’re finding yourself using the most. There are: green, red, and blue points you earn, and the hardest to earn of these, by far, are the blue. The red and green points are gathered bountifully, just with your basic crafting and resource gathering. It’s not until you unlock the church and start giving sermons and researching items that you’re able to really start getting any blue points. There’s still plenty to unlock without the blue points but most of the major unlockables will take at least a handful of them. There’s no shortage of things to do in the meantime. It’s best to just focus on levelling up in other areas until you reach this point. There are plenty of red and green points to gather once you need them so don’t worry about spending them or trying to hang on to way too many.
The fishing system’s also very reminiscent of Stardew Valley. After you decide where to toss your lure, the mini-game’s virtually exactly the same. I didn’t mention this earlier but the art style’s another huge factor in what makes Graveyard Keeper so Stardew Valley-esque — but I’m sure you’ve picked up on that by this point with the screenshots. So as I mentioned, there’s a part when, as you’re about to toss your line out, you must choose between three sections, each of which displays a different fish with the odds of catching it. After this is a bar that moves up and down following the fish animation until you catch or don’t catch the fish. This activity, much like everything else in the game, takes up some of your precious energy, lower level rods taking away more than their better-made counterparts.
The energy and health systems are pretty basic and simple to understand. Every action requires energy and if you don’t have the energy you can’t do the action. You can replenish energy in a few different ways. The main way to replenish life and health is to go home and go to bed, allowing you to save the game and bring your bars back to full at the same time. Something worth noting is that the time of day or night makes no difference — you won’t fall asleep just because it’s past a certain time of day or you run out of energy. The other ways you can fill those meters without taking a snooze are by eating some grub or chugging some potions. This can be very handy if you’re in a bind and have something you’d like to finish before spending a bunch of time sleeping. You can also stave off this energy drain by levelling up your tools so they don’t require as much energy to use.
On to the section where we Mages break down what it is that really makes a game tick. I’m speaking of course about the 8-Bit Review. This has always helped me develop a deeper appreciation for what it is that I truly love or don’t love so much about a game. Hopefully, it will do the same for you, the reader, with this absolutely incredible and addicting game.
The gameplay in Graveyard Keeper really flows seamlessly and doesn’t have many, if any, gaping flaws to speak of. They really learned from what made Stardew Valley great and took it in a dark and twisted yet humorous direction and ran with it. You’re constantly given incentives to want to stay involved and can continually make your own area better while doing missions about the town or finding new areas to make your own as well. It also takes another thing from Stardew Valley that I really like: the method of not holding your hand and walking through every little thing to the point of exhaustion. It does have some funny introductory dialogue that explains various things but not to the point where you feel like you’ve wasted your entire first session on boring tutorials.
I really enjoy the visual appeal of this game. It’s 2D and pixelated which is definitely a huge plus for me when done correctly. Although it did not stand out as the shining feature of the game, to me personally, it was done quite well (as you can see in the images). The best feature, to me, is how smooth the gameplay runs and just really works in the hilarious setting they’ve chosen. I found myself having to check out people on YouTube doing playthroughs, in order to grasp different concepts, but that’s something I tend to like in a game. It means there’s depth and that you can do so much more than you may be able to grasp yourself. Back to the topic at hand though… The graphics fidelity is impressive, especially for a game by a smaller developer.
My opinion on this may change as I get deeper and deeper into the game, but for the time being, it just seems that there are so many possibilities on how you can play and what you can do to achieve your goals. The grinding and simulation type atmosphere of the game gives it that calming, relaxed vibe while you play that will just always be worth going back to when you need to blow off some steam or just kick back for a few hours. It seems at this point you’ll be working to some sort of an endgame but it’s very distant and I’m sure will take a ton of hours to reach. I’ve two games going — one on my laptop and one on my desktop — and could see, one day, maybe, even having one going on my phone or Switch if the game ever makes it there. It’s a blast to play and gives you plenty of reason to keep coming back.
This isn’t a game like Guacamelee where you have to make attempt after attempt at intensely difficult bosses before finally breaking through and achieving the satisfaction of knowing you just did something special and earned that crap. It does have challenges in its own way, however, that you’ll run into. There’s a cavern of doom underneath your house in the graveyard area, that’s filled with monsters. This can be a bit of a challenge at times as you try to balance the amount of food and supplies you’ll need to make it through. Finding the correct way to lay everything out, and preparing to be the most efficient keeper you can be, is also be a bit of a challenge.
They boast that Graveyard Keeper is: “the most inaccurate medieval cemetery management sim of the year”, which is true in a way. Like when your parents tell you that you’re their favorite son because you are in fact their only son. It’s quirky, and explores territory I never thought any video game would dare visit. When you’re literally taking the fat out of, and making candles from, the bodies coming to your cemetery, and saving the skin from the bad ones to later turn into paper, I’ve got to say you’re doing something you — in my experience — won’t be doing in any other game currently available. It sounds morbid when you’re just hearing about it but it has a charm to it that just makes all those things seem funny and okay for some reason, but that could also just be that I’m a terrible person (also, both could be true but I digress).
Everything makes sense — especially for fans of this simulation genre who are used to the structure of farming for materials and levelling up in order to use those materials with different abilities and so on… For me personally, you can’t beat unwinding with a game where all you do is grind for different materials while levelling up your character and area in order to produce more cash and products in the long run. It’s a genre that bores almost everybody I know but I, for some reason, just can’t get enough of games in that vein. With Graveyard Keeper, everything clicks, and the only thing you may be wondering about or needing help with is the more complex ideas you may reach further into the game. Luckily, in this day and age, information on things of that sort are just a click away.
The narrative here’s secondary to the gameplay, requiring long hours of grinding with, really, not much story involved most of the time. I do think the story present is pretty funny and enjoyable if not a bit wacky and out of left field at times. Taking instructions from a talking skull, you start off stuck in the medieval times but are actually someone who’s time travelled from the future doing everything you can to try and make your way back to the life you know. They do a good job of introducing a number of characters who introduce paths that will aid you in your journey. While it doesn’t stick out as an area the game really excels in, it doesn’t bring the game down in any way and is actually quite entertaining at times.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Would you have guessed that I like it? This is one of my favorite games I’ve played this year and will stick with me for some time to come. It will most likely be one I continue to go back to randomly, even after I finish it, just because of how well all the different systems and levelling mechanics are executed. For anybody who’s a fan of: Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, Terraria, Animal Crossing, or any other game like these, but also has a twisted sense of humor and can appreciate a bit of darkness, this game’s a must-play. It was made just for that black icy void you call a heart.
Aggregated score: 8.5
The Midnight Mystic Mage is the resident writer of sublimereviews.wordpress.com, a reviewer of games, books, and film, and a fan of all things horror and spooky. Follow the link… if you dare!
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to entertainment journalism. We specialize in long-form, analytical reviews and we aim to expand into a podcast and webzine with paid contributors! See our Patreon page for more info!