Review: Graveyard Keeper’s Real Dilemma isn’t Ethical it’s Comparison

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By Tan Montana on April 23rd, 2021

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I picked up a copy of Graveyard Keeper a couple months back, intending to experience another farm simulator game. I’m rather fond of the genre and generally enjoy them all to one degree or another. While nostalgia-soaked fans may balk at the idea of Stardew Valley being as popular as it is, I appreciate it for its technical strength. I mean, the game is made by one long-suffering and kind-hearted developer with more content than several other of its peers combined. However, it’s Rune Factory 4 that formerly really stole my heart. With its impressive voice acting cast, trope-tight JRPG plots, and decent dungeon-crawling, it’s almost hard to call it a farm simulator game.

Suffice to say, I have pretty flexible tastes as long as at some point I’m swinging a hoe and tearing a fresh turnip from the earth. So when Graveyard Keeper was pitched to me as a morally ambiguous sim game about harvesting corpses, fighting with the church and state, and in general Sweeney Toddesque debauchery, I was interested.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it was introduced to me. Not just by friends but by Steam itself, the game was served up for my attention as being “like Stardew Valley but with dead people” or some other variation of that. The comparison had been cast. And while I understand things are not created without the influence of their surroundings, it’s hard not to make the comparisons, even when they’re not really suitable. Graveyard Keeper is very much its own game with its own identity in the genre.

Graveyard Keeping Isn’t Farming

While yes, technically there is farming, the vast majority of my first-week funds came from burying the dead. I mean, I learned how to extract flesh to sell back to the town as person-burgers, but I couldn’t easily get through the quests that got me a meat license. A meat license is entirely necessary for a world where the graveyard keeper shows up with tons of meat to sell every day despite having no cattle.

The initial game loop consisted of gathering supplies which in turn unlocked craftables on a labyrinthine tree of things that better helped me gather supplies to continuously unlock more things. Graveyard Keeper is a game about grinding more than anything else. If you like building and tiers of axes for levels of axe-resistant trees, then more than likely, you’ll have a good time. 

Gritty Graveyard Humor

The morally grey (somewhat villainous) side quests don’t really stand out since your character is generally willing to turn John Doe into a sandwich for money right off the bat. I found a lot of the writing typical of that you would see in an irreverent humor game aimed at adults that lends itself to be upsetting for the purpose of being upsetting alone. In the end, Graveyard Keeper doesn’t really commit to being a comedy or that dark and sort of falls uncomfortably flat in both regards. It’s really just a game about grinding resources in a graveyard while ignoring every health (and moral) code you possibly can.

There are a few mechanics with grave upkeep and beauty in correspondence with the spirit laid to rest that seem pretty neat. Those mechanics end up just funnelling back into the game’s grind, and that’s ok if you bought the game with that in mind.

I don’t really have a lot to say about the soundtrack. It’s there and forgettable, but if you want some lutes and flutes to loop while you lug corpses to the river, then it’s serviceable.

Graveyard Keeper on its own

The game isn’t Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon. Actually, much like most the games in the genre, it does its own thing, some things better than others. If you like gathering resources and watching experience points stack and don’t mind the humor, you might have a great time with it. Going into the game expecting it to be one of its peers doesn’t lend itself to Graveyard Keeper’s strengths. While comparisons can give us an idea of what to expect, that doesn’t mean that every game with a hoe is Stardew Valley. Every game with rolling is, however, Dark Souls. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

6
Okay
Graveyard Keeper is a serviceable entry into the genre. Fans of resource grinding and milestone gameplay will enjoy the extensive list of tasks. If you’re looking for more you might find it lacking.

Tan is a Tabletop RPG writer with a deep love for give-'em-a-chance indie games and music made on a ten-year-old laptop in Audacity. They drink their seltzer warm.

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