Not to be confused with the recently released cemetery management sim Graveyard Keeper, Grave Keeper is a port of a mobile action-RPG that released in 2018. Casting players in the role of a brave – but often haplessly outnumbered – knight, you’ll work your way through various environments, fighting undead enemies of varying size, with some impressively huge bosses looking to take you down and put a stop to your heroic efforts.
You’re thrust deep into the action immediately, with the very first level seeing you quickly taking on what is presumably destined to be the final boss of the game – the Skeleton King – who is incredibly (and surprisingly) easy to dispatch. Once you’ve done so, however, he calls upon a number of other bosses, who kick you out and force you to work your way back to them – and eventually the Skeleton King – a level at a time. You start with a ranged weapon – a crossbow – but soon have a melee weapon added to your armoury, along with a special power that can be unleashed when fully charged. You’ll come across chests when completing levels – these will give you extra equipment and other items; all of your weapons and armour can be levelled up using coins you’re given as rewards for defeating enemies, as well as for fulfilling missions and completing daily tasks.
There’s a neat idea in that, when you’ve fulfilled a level’s mission requirement (often killing a certain number of enemies), you can spawn the boss whenever you’re ready by pressing A. This allows you to grind your way to a higher level before fighting the boss; however, it can backfire if you’re on a level with particularly challenging enemies; grinding is a risk, as dying will see you kicked back to an earlier checkpoint without any potions or currency that you may have used (though your level, as well as the levels of your equipment, will be intact). Being able to do this before facing the first boss of the game (post-tutorial stages) made Grave Keeper feel somewhat broken initially, given that you can very quickly grind your way to being very overpowered in comparison to the boss you’re about to face; however, there are difficulty spikes that pop up on certain stages, seemingly out of nowhere at times, that’ll make you simultaneously glad that you’re overpowered, but also render you unable to get much more grinding done until you progress to a less difficult stage. It’s perhaps a way to stop you from getting too overpowered as you battle your way through the game, but can lead to some frustrating situations.
When action-RPGs are done right, the core gameplay loop of hacking, slashing, loot collection and upgrading can be addictive and near-endlessly compelling. When done wrong, it can be a frustrating and repetitive experience. Grave Keeper sits closer to the addictive end of the scale, but a few issues prevent it from being an outright success – which is unfortunate.
The Switch version has been given a decent graphical upgrade over its mobile counterpart; everything looks much brighter and more crisp in comparison. The control scheme is a bit more simplified and forgiving on mobile, given that touchscreen controls are in place – you’ll have to manually aim your ranged weapon on Switch, for example, whereas there’s a fairly reliable auto-aim in place in the mobile version. There’s a Vs mode; however, at the time of writing I’ve yet to try this.
There’s some awkward writing and dialogue, mostly with the wobbly English translation – which, sadly, was also present in (and therefore has been carried over from) the mobile original. It’s unfortunate to see that this hasn’t been fixed in the transition between the two versions.
The microtransaction-powered economy of the mobile version has been changed for the Switch port (you seem to earn a lot more coins for dispatching enemies, from what I can tell), thankfully – but there’s some awkwardness here too, sadly. The mobile version will allow you to watch videos to gain free potions or other currency, but potions are far too expensive and hard to come by in the Switch version. All too often, one of the aforementioned difficulty spikes has occurred during play and – due to the checkpointing system in place – I’ve been unable to progress past levels containing enemies who fire very accurately at range – or ‘Elite’ bosses that make an appearance and can take me out in two hits. The stages these enormous bosses appear in are far too small to successfully manoeuvre around and avoid being hit, which is incredibly frustrating. Without the means to earn further currency to give myself either the upgrades or potions that I need to give me a fighting chance at survival, I’ve found it’s all too easy to run out of potions or ways to improve my character and his equipment, leaving to countless frustrating attempts at the exact same boss who’ll take you out after just two hits, often within a few seconds of restarting the level.
It’s a shame that this awkward, mobile-led design makes it across to the Switch version, because on the whole Grave Keeper is a pleasing and addictive action-RPG; its cartoony design, massively oversized bosses and slo-mo level intros, to name just a few aspects, give it a decent amount of aesthetic appeal too. However, with a little more polish, it could have been an essential indie; as it is, the difficulty spikes and frustrating implementation of the in-game economy don’t quite ruin the entire game, but do bring the experience down a few notches (I’d definitely advise grinding a lot on each level before progressing). Unfortunately, this does bring an element of repetition to the game that could have been avoided if a few tweaks had been made.
If you don’t mind the grinding, however, there’s a decent amount of game here for the price, with lots of equipment and special powers to collect and upgrade; it’s just a shame that Grave Keeper doesn’t quite fulfil the potential shown in the opening stages.
Many thanks to Forever Entertainment for providing the Grave Keeper review code.
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