TL;DR: Cool grimdark dungeon building story with some neat twists on the usual litrpg tropes
Grimm’s journey to take over and defend a dungeon so he can shake the Guild that’s kept him in chains of debt and running murderous errands for them for most of his life is pretty engrossing. The story’s also a cool blend of epic fantasy elements with gamer technology left behind by “the Ancients”, which makes the litRPG aspect of Grimm’s world feel natural to the story instead of shoehorned in. The dungeon lord was kind of the standard villain until Grimm finally got to his boss level and beyond, then things really took off in a dark, dark way.
That said, we were warned right in the description that this is a grimdark story, so if that’s not your cup of tea, don’t read it.
Grammar: I can’t find any issues. The storytelling reads really naturally, which is to say that most of the time I just felt like I was watching the story unfold in front of me instead of reading words on a page, which is pretty impressive because who doesn’t like mind movies?
Character: Grimm’s a dark antihero type, who genuinely enjoys the results of killing, namely leveling up, though he might also be having some glimmers of wanting out of the murder hobo game. The cast of characters isn’t huge yet, but the ones who have shown up so far are entertaining—Cinza the psycho fire wizard, Jia the most annoying member of the guild, at least to Grimm. My favorite character started out as Leese with her and Grimm’s hate-hate-but maybe not 100% hate relationship. I still don’t understand all of it, but there have been flashbacks that explain some, so I’m looking forward to finding out more.
Magic or game system: It’s a litRPG, so you’ve got all the usual notifications and boxes, and with the dungeon lord element, there’s also a lot of eldritch dungeon building, which was fun. I will say, the flavor text in this story is hilarious at times, so you might not want to skim past without reading it. There’s also an intriguing mechanic going on with the dungeon creatures’ leveling becoming addicting, which adds an element of tension to Grimm’s hero-killing that was a cool twist on the usual litrpg dungeon leveling systems.
There’s a couple chapters of setup giving us the backstory on these characters and their world, but this turns into a magical academy story pretty fast. Xan isn’t your typical OP protagonist who gets everything right his first try, which made it cool to watch him learn and grow, and the magical academy setting was great for building up the elemental magic system and friends and enemies he’s making along the way.
TL;DR: I’m really enjoying the testing and crafting, and I hope the author keeps more chapters coming.
Characters: There’s a huge cast of characters slow-introduced in a way that you can keep them straight, which is no mean feat, but for me the center of the story is Xan and Cho’s friendship, the way they interact and feed off each other, and I liked the hint at a coming darkness between them in spite of having each other’s backs. Neither one is a cookie-cutter stand in to worship a Gary Sue and tell you how great the other is. They feel like real people and they deal with their issues in a realistic way that also separates them as individual characters.
There’s a bit of a tsundere at the beginning, but it doesn’t work the same way as the usual cliché of girl or harem of girls falling inexplicably for the uninteresting-turned-overpowered MC. I won’t spoil it, but it plays into the story in a sometimes frustrating, sometimes unexpectedly heart-wrenching way.
Magic system: From all the mushroom and elixir talk in the beginning, I thought this was going to be focused mainly on crafting, which I like in a litrpg or cultivation story, so I was down for it. The shift to the elemental fighting was well done but abrupt, which I think was intentional on the author’s part. Like showing that Xan’s path of peace couldn’t last. The dark qi element is especially interesting to me, and I’m excited to learn more about it as Xan does. But by the time they’re in the academy, it becomes a mix of different styles of crafting and mystical martial arts, so something for everybody.
Academy: There are a fun mix of classes like calligraphy, crafting, and martial magic, doing the Harry Potter thing of filling you in on world building while also fleshing out the magic system, but staying interesting at the same time. There’s even a cooking class, which was unexpected and cool. The progression through the different elements was in awesome and the training and testing for each one felt appropriate for its namesake. It felt like there was a lot of depth without get bogged down in minute details and repetition like some cultivating stories do.
Readability: This is an epic fantasy style cultivation, so obviously the description of scene and setting is a lot more filled in and the action isn’t as conversational as you’d get from a modern narrator. In spite of that, though, this seemed like a surprisingly fast read. Before I realized it, I’d read the first half of the story.
Well, cash and violence and street cred, anyway. As soon as I saw the concept for Capo—a GTA-style litRPG—I was in. Talk about a fresh twist on the genre. It doesn’t waste much time getting Frank from IRL to the isekai/game world, either, so almost from the get-go you’re immersed in learning the new rules of this not-a-GTA, which are all pretty entertaining.
Characters: I didn’t realize until about chapter 4 that Frank was still in high school, but overall he’s a laid back, pragmatic guy whose go-with-the-flow nature keeps getting him in trouble. Unlike some isekai MCs who end up in the new world and immediately don’t care about the family or friends they left behind, Frank seemed realistically concerned about his dad and upset with Joe. He doesn’t spend all his time dwelling on it, but he didn’t ignore that part of the Frank’s backstory, either, which I thought was believable.
In addition to the MC, the side characters are great. Not just the hot chick with the big boobs or the comedic gangsta stereotype. They’ve all got dark and light sides to them, just like real people, which makes them way more interesting to read about. I'm almost as invested in Manny as I am in where Frank's going from here. That shadow's getting dark, bro.
Game: Nice balance of crunchy and soft mechanics, and it’s got a cool twist on EXP. Plus it’s not your standard kill all the mobs litrpg; there are some real consequences for combat in San Tadeo. I really like the system for Walking in the Shadow vs. Light and the mirrored stats for each side, and it’s hilarious how the characters keep bringing up that it’s their constitutional right to walk in whichever one they want to. Also, the Favors was a great way to get the in-game story rolling for Frank. The rival gang dynamics added a lot to the tension, too. Also, the Fatally Hip might be the best gang name ever.
Readability: No high-falutin’ fancy stuff here. It’s all easy reading, like you’re listening to your buddy tell you the story in person. I zoomed through all the available chapters in no time. They just flowed by, which I think is a really underrated skill for a writer to have.