People are just dying to play it.
Surprise—you’re dead! Welcome to your new job, Graveyard Keeper, but don’t get too excited; it’s not as cushy as just mowing grass and cleaning headstones. In this game, you will have to do much more (but don’t forget to take care of the headstones as well).
Graveyard Keeper left me with mixed feelings, so let’s start with the good news. It seems at first like a simple game with limited objectives, but this is not really the case. The game has an actual plot (limited, but it’s there), characters, places to go, side quests to complete, skills to attain, and a goal—get back to your life. Its open format allows you to explore your environs, learn new skills, dig up some shrubs, chop down some trees, fix up some graves, etc. as you see fit, just don’t forget your first responsibility is to bury the dead bodies which get dropped off at the door to the morgue.
You can work any time of day or night as long as you have the energy to keep going. There is a handy energy meter at the top of the screen so you will know when you need to head back to your new home and get some sleep. An odd perk you have as the main character is you don’t really have to eat. If you do eat something you can regain some energy, but I played my character for a couple of in-game weeks and never ate anything, so you won’t die if you go on the breatharian diet.
The game control is not too bad; getting around is simple 2D, joystick-controlled stuff. Your character doesn’t have a “run” mode, but you do walk faster than the NPCs. You can talk to some of the NPCs if they are in the mood and learn something about the world in which you find yourself. There are even little jelly monsters and bats you can whack with your sword. Be careful with combat; it takes energy, and if you run out of energy all you can do is try to run—that is, walk quickly away. If you don’t get away the monsters will continue their attacks and you will “die.” Since you are already dead, this shouldn’t bother you too much—you will just respawn in your bed.
With all the different tasks and quests going on and skills available, this game will keep you busy for a long time. Some of the chores, like maintaining and improving the graveyard, can be strangely satisfying. Other tasks are a bit mundane but handy, like learning how to fish. Other aspects of the game are downright creepy, like selling human flesh as animal meat or turning your neighbors into unwitting cannibals just so you can make some coin (yes, this is an actual goal in the game).
Graveyard Keeper was released for PC in 2018 but made to look like it’s from 1998, and while I’ve grown weary of “retro cool,” the look does suit the game fairly well.
Now that all the happy stuff is out of the way, it’s time for the gamer griping. The aforementioned goal of selling human flesh as consumable meat is disgusting as a game objective and, to me, puts this game firmly in the “older teens and up” category. There is a difference between Medieval and just plain evil. When you arrive in your new world you have to dig up your fist friend, a talking skull. Like the other NPCs, the skull makes a series of babbling noises to represent speech. This saves on dialogue recordings, but the sound is a bit annoying; I would rather just read the text. Besides, your new ossiferous friend is not really all that helpful. While there are a scant few tips you can get from the talking skull and from other NPCs, there isn’t much in the way of help on what you really need next or how to do it. If you want to know what your current side quests are, you need to go to a menu option and scroll through all the characters you have met. Each one will have a note next to him/her to tell you what you need to do. This seems to be an odd path compared to a simple journal you can read.
If you want to chop down a small, live tree, great—you can do that with your ax. If you want to chop down either a large tree or a dead tree, the game will tell you that you need a “technology.” Good luck figuring out which of the numerous technologies you need to learn. Each technology costs points, and usually in more than one category. There are red, green, and blue points you can earn by doing certain things, and these color-coded points can be used to buy new tech. Some skills start to feel like the old Catch 22; you can’t get the skill unless you have the right color points and you can’t get the right color points without doing something related to the skill you don’t have yet.
Also, you might not want to start fixing the graveyard too soon. Some of the materials used to fix up the graveyard are needed to fix up other areas. If you use them on the grave markers you may not be able to clear away some rubble or build something you need to make more of the repair parts or to advance the story. You might be able to buy parts in the village, but you have no money and the game does a stellar job of not telling you where you can get anything. There is just a bit too much wandering around aimlessly hoping you can stumble on something which is a net gain for you.
While Graveyard Keeper does provide plenty to do and a lot of playtime, it just doesn’t really make for a great gaming experience. If there were better tutorials or a good way to get guidance or help in the game, it would be a vast improvement. It isn’t that much fun to have to do web research to figure out five layers of what you need to do to get a simple thing done.
Review: Graveyard Keeper (Nintendo Switch)
Graveyard Keeper’s limitations and shortcomings come real close to outweighing the fun that can be had from playing a new game. When I got the game and read the premise, it sounded quirky and fun. As I played, it seemed more awkward and vexing.