Hey you! The one reading this. Did you like Stardew Valley? Enjoy the bucolic mix of farming, crafting and community fellowship? Love the cutesy graphics and steady progression? Did you feel it was missing the chance to render the villagers’ fat into tallow for candles, turn their meat into burgers, and raise their decaying corpses as zombies eternally shackled to your dark will?

If so, you’re uninvited to my birthday party. But you’re also the same kind of messed up as Lazy Bear Games, the creators of Graveyard Keeper – Harvest Moon meets Buffalo Bill.

Madoka Magica Graveyard BeBop

The game starts with your death. Probably. Like 99% of recent animés, your character is ‘killed’ in the real world and reawakens in a gothic medieval fantasy village, where they’re tasked to look after a graveyard. Returning to your home and your lost love means making the most of your unwilling situation, by slicing up bodies, growing cabbages, building a reputation for yourself, and meddling with dark forces beyond mortal ken.

Countdown to death in 5… 4…

No rush, though. Despite a fast-moving six-day cycle, the game eases you into the slavish clock-watching of standard farm sims slowly, introducing you to the many different things you can do to earn ye olde scratch without insisting on any hustle. These supports do fall away as you progress, to the point where I’d suggest unashamedly turning to the wiki for advice.

I love Comrade Donkey

Body farm simulator

And when you’re not busy yoinking the gooier body parts from the recently deceased for fun and profit, you’ll be interacting with an almost as colourful cast of characters at that genre-defining game. Their personalities aren’t as fleshed out, describable in a few words (timid wife, grumpy barkeep, greedy merchant, roguish… rogue…) but they’re entertaining enough, and helped by some decent dialogue. Not great dialogue, it falls a bit too much towards ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. It has its moments though – a donkey spouting ideas straight from the Communist manifesto, for example – and they do give their personality a little polish.

Dancing with the devil

Actual play revolves around improving your smallholding and churchyard while taking care of everyone else’s problems, with the hope they’ll help you return to your world. Quests will guide you towards (or unlock) new technology, new locations and new NPCs, which leads to a nice pace of progression. Completing these quests often needs you to find or craft a new item, which involves spending your scant stamina digging, chopping, fishing, farming, or fighting, much like other farm sims. These items are often locked behind a fairly expansive tech tree, requiring you to unlock them.

As is tradition, doing so requires spending XP. Gathering and crafting give three different types – red, green and blue, representing industry, nature and spirituality. Feel like channelling Shakespeare? Spend mostly blue XP in the Book Writing tree. Need wine for a quest? Splash some green xp in the Farming and Nature tree. It’s not quite as simple, with most tech needing multiple types, but you get the gist.

Can confirm, you are just big-boned

Often the game forces you to be a jack of all trades, locking you out of progression unless you pursue a different tech path for a certain item. You can often sidestep this by buying the item from merchants, but both finding the item and talking to the right person about progression can be a frustrating experience.

It does at least tell you the day they’ll arrive

Trouble in Zombieville

The wheels on this corpse wagon could do with a little oil. I spent too much time waiting on key characters, to either chat to or buy and sell to. While the innkeeper is around 24/6 and minor merchants have daily routines, important figures only turn up one day a week. This is explained away by them commuting from the nearby town (The Town) to the village (The Village… the game is nothing if not tropey). But this was totally subject to the writer’s whims – write a different reason. Have them stay long term. Make a quest tasking the keeper to recreate the creature comforts of The Town.

While Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon games also have scheduled characters, they don’t disappear, and it’s rare to have characters so consistently unaccessible. You could also learn where they would be and when, which felt extremely rewarding when you ambushed them during personal time to get your tasks ticked off. When nearly every story-critical NPC vanishes for 5/6 of the game, it just feels like padding to keep you locked in for longer.

Heart in the right place, but the leg’s fallen off

While I’m on a rant, some features feel like they need a little more polish. You can craft directly from storage – great! But each area has separate storage, meaning a long walk to your workshop to dig-out materials needed in your lab – bad! You can buy a teleportation stone at the inn that has unlimited uses and will take you to multiple key locations – yay! But you’re not told it exists or anything else about it before you drop what is, early game, quite a princely sum – boo! And it has a cooldown which I guess avoids spamming it… but it’s so short it’s functionally pointless… booyay? Why have it there at all?

One of many different crafting areas

And yet I hunger…

There’s so much to love about this game though. It fixes that familiar frustration of missing huge annual events by simply… not having them. Or a year. Everything is tied to that six-day cycle and your own progreess. Everything (except for rotting bodies) can wait until the next day, or next week. Or whenever baby, it doesn’t matter. It’s an odd mix of relaxing and aggravating. This mañana, mañana approach encurages you to do what you want, and not worry too much about missing out. Even the needless inconvenience of one-day-only merchants is really a minor one.

Making friends is easy with a full graveyard to choose from

Big spirit goth farm game

If a goth aesthetic Harvest Moon by way of budget Monty Python sounds like your thing, then you couldn’t do much better than this darkly comic corpse farming sim. I may have sounded critical in this review, but I had a hard time tearing myself away to write it. It may have room for improvement, but still has room in my heart.

Like the article?

Pick up Graveyard Keeper here. Or don’t. I’m not a cop.

Want to give me money? Donate on Patreon for exclusive access to the Discord, game server and posts, and vote on future content. Or just buy me a pint on Ko-Fi.

No cash? I’d be deeply indebted for a humble like, share and follow on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.