- Developer: Lazy Bear Games
- Publisher: Tiny Build
- Release Date: 27/06/2019
- Price: £17.99 / $19.99
- Rating: PEGI 12 / E 10+ Comic Mischief, Mild Language, Mild Violence, Use of Alcohol
- Review Code provided by Tiny Build
Do you have what takes to take care of the dead?
Graveyard Keeper starts off with the main character getting hit by a car and being transported to an unknown world where a mysterious death-like figure assigns him the task of being the graveyard keeper. The mysterious figure hints that there “is always a way to get home” when asked, hinting that the main goal of the game is to figure out how to return to your own world and reunite yourself with your love seen on your cell phone right before the car accident.
Graveyard Keeper is a game akin to Stardew Valley, Rune Factory, or Harvest Moon. The beauty of this game is how it separates itself from those previous similar games, but still feels familiar. For being a game, whose main premise is to tend and improve a graveyard, Graveyard Keeper is very light-hearted and humorous. The PEGI 12/E10 rating is a good indication that even with the harvesting of body parts from corpses the game is not grotesque or overly bloody.
The core game play mechanics in Graveyard Keeper are very similar to the before mentioned games that fall into the farming/crafting/relationship genre. The obvious unique mechanic is maintaining the graveyard itself. Very early in the game you’re introduced to most of these different mechanics like graveyard management, harvesting, fighting, and interacting with the town’s residents.
The graveyard mechanic is self-explanatory, your yard has an overall score which is affected by the condition of the graves themselves as well as the condition of the bodies (more on this later) themselves. The graveyard you take over is in very poor shape, destroyed markers, dead trees everywhere. Your boss, tasks you with cleaning up the graveyard and getting it to an acceptable score, you can repair the fences and headstones using either wood or stone repair kit, and later on you can craft your own to further improve it, also cutting down the dead trees will improve the score a little bit as well. In addition to just filling up the graveyard corpses can also provide many other resources. In the morgue you’re allowed to collect various body parts for crafting or selling. Now this might seem like a great way to get unlimited resources like meat, skulls, and skin, but the more you harvest from a corpse the worse its quality will degrade to so if you bury it there will be a good chance it will reduce your graveyard’s score. So how do you get rid of the bloody mess of a corpse? If only there was a large flowing body of water nearby…
The other mechanics are easy to pick-up. Harvesting is completed by using a shovel, ax, or pick-ax. All your tools have durability and as you progress through the game you will learn recipes for stronger and more durable items. In addition your tools can be repaired using whetstones which can be bought or crafted, so it’s highly unlikely that tools breaking will ever be much of an issue. Your harvesting skills will also need to be updated, in the beginning you can only collect the most basic of materials from small trees and basic rocks. In the skill tree you can unlock the ability to cut down larger trees and mine better ores, you can also get skills to get higher yields from harvests.
Combat and fighting takes a much smaller role in the beginning of the game, you’re introduced to it by the Blacksmith who gives you a sword and has you kill a few slimes. Early on you will only find the occasional critter if you’re outside at nighttime. Later in the game there’s more robust areas where combat is much more important. Fighting critters is a great way to get different materials than what would normally be available.
Farming in this game takes a back seat to the other mechanics and it’s not the focal point like in Stardew Valley, you gain access to the field very early on and food grown can be sold or used ingredients to make energy restoring food.
The other mechanic that isn’t as integral to Graveyard Keeper is the relationships, the townsfolk have a friendship level or relationship meter that goes up as you perform tasks for them. Usually talking to them about an important or story quest will be locked behind a certain friendship level. For example, an early quest has you looking for ink and paper, one option to complete it is to buy it from the Astrologer NPC, but to open up the trade option you need to have 10 friendship points with him which can be obtained by completing his first quest. It’s a simple system but it keeps you performing tasks and quests in order.
How to become a better keeper
I’ve mentioned that there are ways to craft better tools and improve your harvesting, so how exactly do you get better and make progress in this game? Whenever you perform and action you will get experience points in one of three categories (some actions provide in multiple areas as well), green (food, drink, and agriculture), red (building machines, collecting stone and ore, and making weapons), and blue (church, and magic). Later on, you can get the 4th type of point, science, which can be applied to any of the other three areas. Red and Green points are very easy to obtain in the early game, while blue is significantly trickier as none of your beginning activities earn them.
There are seven different skill trees in which to improve and each skill has a required number of points to obtain. Typically, the category of the skill will indicate which points are needed, farming skills will use more green than others and construction skills will usually require more red points. The advanced skills must be unlocked by first unlocking their predecessors.
The story is pushed along via requests from the various NPCs in the town and surrounding areas. Most of the quests are requesting a specific item, or to fight off a specific enemy. Graveyard Keeper gives the player the freedom to complete a request in any way they see fit. Using the before mentioned quest to acquire ink and paper you could easily buy the required materials from a different NPC, or if you are focusing more on crafting you can craft the items. Occasionally this causes a little bit of ambiguity and it might be difficult to track down a specific item but overall the freedom is nice. A negative side to the NPC based quests is that there’s a number of NPCs that only show up on a single day out of the week, an example is the astrologer (where you buy the ink and paper from), I was hoping to buy the items the first day he showed up to finish the request, but I needed to give him a skull so that meant unlocking the skill to harvest the skull, going back to the morgue and hoping a body was there and bringing the skull back. This was too much traveling to make it back the first day, so I had to wait a whole week to turn in the skull, and then it finally unlocked the ability to trade with him.
Your Work Environment
Graphically Graveyard Keeper is a very beautiful looking game, the pixelated graphics are wonderfully done. The lighting in the game is exceptionally well done for this style of game and provides a nice balance between keeping the graveyard dreary and dim but also providing lighting changes between day, night but also during dawn and dusk. Lighting from man-made sources is also very nice and provides an appropriate level of glow around the torch or lantern. In addition to the lighting effects, the wind and disturbance (when the character walks through grass) effects are very simply done, but also add a nice sense of life to the environment. Adding to the life are weather effects like rain and the wind, it felt very nice to exist in a living environment and not one that just felt static and dull.
The game’s soundtrack was composed by Hamza El Hamri (also the composer of Tiny Build’s newer game Swag and Sorcery) features very pleasant simple melodies that provide great accents to the game’s different areas. The town and the tavern have more upbeat songs to add life to the populated areas. The soundtrack itself brought me back to the SNES era and induced a sense of nostalgia. The tracks reminded me a lot of the Chrono Trigger or SNES Final Fantasy soundtracks which helped match the graphical style of the game. To me a great game soundtrack exists, you don’t necessarily have to notice it all the time, but you notice when it’s not there. It should help add the appropriate emotion to the situation without overwhelming the player, Hamza’s score fulfills this very well.
Your Benefits Package
Graveyard Keeper is not bug-free, but the Nintendo Switch port is quite well done. During my review playthrough the only bug that was noticeable was a small glitch when you talk to NPCs. Occasionally the top dialogue choice would be selected by default but would not be highlighted. If the cursor was moved the highlighted option would show up just fine. There were no major bugs encountered during the review playthrough which is certainly always expected but not always achieved.
There also is a DLC pack available – Breaking Dead that introduces zombies that you can have automate your tasks such as collecting materials, tending the garden, and selling goods. The DLC was not reviewed for this review as only the base game was provided by Tiny Build. This DLC is also free to download and use on PC, but like other consoles costs an additional £4.49 / $4.99 to purchase. When I started the review playthrough I initially thought that the DLC was included because of the Breaking Dead logo on the title screen but that is not the case.
- Great humor and sense of atmosphere without being grotesque or crude
- Very clean and crisp graphics and soundtrack to accompany the game
- Freedom to complete requests how you choose and to develop the skills you choose
- Collecting skill points can be grindy and un-intuitive at times – difficult to get all 3 equally
- Repeated usage of sprites for trees, wheat, bushes makes the environments not quite as lush as possible
- Breaking Dead DLC not included – this was a free DLC on PC but a $4.99 USD separate purchase
Overall Graveyard Keeper is a very solid addition to the simulation genre on the Nintendo Switch. It’s very hard not to compare a game like this to Stardew Valley or similar games, but Graveyard Keeper definitely can stand on its own and would be a great addition to your Switch library especially if you’re a fan of the genre and need a thematic change from your regular farming.