When you wake up in a foreign land to an amnesiactic talking skull who tells you you’re now the new graveyard keeper, what do you do? You start getting paid to carve up bodies, that’s what!
Graveyard Keeper opens with a tragic beginning, one that drives the player to make a happy resolution. Your character is walking home to his loving wife and newborn on a miserable, rainy night when he is suddenly hit by a stray car. Instead of assuming a typical fate, our hero is told by an unknown entity that he is needed elsewhere for the time being, and transported to a strange world stuck in a medieval lifestyle. After meeting his new companions, Gerry the talking skull with amnesia and a communist donkey who regularly supplies you with fresh bodies, you begin your new role as the Graveyard Keeper. It is your job to care for the old cemetery, build up a dilapidated church, and make a modest living with your new profession of cadaver handling.
As a game inspired by Stardew Valley and other like simulation games, you will need to work on raising friendship levels for story and questlines, craft your way through life, and upgrade your various skills in order to survive and thrive.
With every good RPG Sim, there should be a healthy mix of farming, grinding, crafting and character interaction. Graveyard Keeper keeps this balance with easily accessible materials and well explained recipes, guides, quests, etc.
Instead of the typical farm life which we’re all used to in other simulation games, your main source of income will be coming from burial certificates collected upon either the burial or cremation of dead bodies. How you handle the bodies is up to you. However, your disposal methods will reflect either negatively or positively against an overall score used to track how well-kempt your graveyard is. This means tasteful decoration of graves, artful marble pieces, prayer stations, or even my favourite, the good ol’ stack em up crematory columbarium.
Characters in Graveyard Keeper run their own lives to the point where you need a bit of luck to fit in with their tight schedules. The game runs on a six-day week with some NPCs available only one day each week, making some questlines an ordeal to handle. Never fret, though! Your daily or ongoing tasks and grinding will keep you busy until you can go talk with your favourite person once again.
Graveyard Keeper uses a unique experience and skill tree leveling method. All the actions you perform will generate either red, green or blue experience points (XP) dependent on the type of work you are doing. Building things will get you red XP, doing things with nature will generate green XP and acknowledging your spiritual side pops out the heavily sought-after blue XP. You will need all three to gain more skills, bonuses and access to blueprints.
Ok, so there is some farming involved. That being said, it’s only real use is to make food for yourself so you can continue to work for five days straight instead of having to go to bed every four hours.
Crafting Gets Real:
The biggest drawback to Graveyard Keeper is the crafting situation, made worse by the monetary value of items. Crafting is essential to the game, as merchants and NPC shops not only contain very limited variety, but pricing makes it impossible to get what you need in the volume you need it in. That being said, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to make your essentials if it wasn’t for the unnecessary complications and tedium involved. Basic things require numerous items, items which are also created via numerous smaller parts. When you get more blueprints and advanced recipes, it can take over 100 components to make the station you need just to create one item, not including the dozens of parts needed to make the thing you were trying to get. This process will challenge your ability to focus, and you will face multiple occurrences of “What was I doing again? Why am I smelting so much iron? I’ve been making things for over 30 minutes and I can’t remember what I was trying to accomplish. I need more trees now….”. Frustrations could be offset if it weren’t for the fact that there isn’t a method of cart or backpack or such that would allow you to either A) expand your pack capacities or B) Allow you to carry more than 1 large item at a time. This makes gathering logs and large rocks an incessant and needless chore, and falsely adds the illusion of a longer game.
I would like to point out the silver lining in this flaw: It’s realistic.
While we typically play games to escape reality, Graveyard Keeper shows the realism in these everyday tasks. It would take tremendous effort, energy, resources, and tools, to accomplish what your keeper does. Other games will ask for some iron pieces and wood at a crafting bench and pop out a fully operational mechanism fit for processing all means of resources. Graveyard Keeper makes you earn that right, and shows you the effort involved in what everyday life would have been like in a far from modern setting. The game also brings to light how household commodities we take for granted used to be either expensive, rare or simply unavailable without you getting your handy on. You thought you wanted ink, but when you see the price and realise it’s ink or a week’s worth of food, suddenly making books isn’t such a high priority.
Graveyard Keeper truly is the dark version of Stardew Valley we didn’t know we needed. Farming organs instead of crops and watching witches burn with neighbors in lieu of that summer cookout shoves harsh realities in your face in the guise of entertainment. We play games for the fantasy, the thrills and excitement we normally don’t get in our day to day, but why do we play simulation games? Surely, we could go out and just do what we’re playing, right? Maybe we subconsciously want to see how hard life can be in order to bring our easier lives into perspective and appreciation. Or maybe we want to see how others can go through hell for a sliver of a chance at a happy ending in the hope we can find similar inspirations to reignite our individual purposes. Playing a character who is forced to live the life as a hermitted body carver and graveyard keeper in order to see your family is humbling, yet something I’m happy to have experienced.