Meikyuu: Labyrinth Kingdom, a Tactical Fantasy World Survival Guide, Vol. 1 Brings TRPGs to Life

Tabletop roleplay games, like Dungeons & Dragons and Labyrinth Kingdom -- which this light novel is based on, have countless possibilities for mythical creatures, daring adventures and unique characters, and Meikyuu: Labyrinth Kingdom, a Tactical Fantasy World Survival Guide, Vol. 1, written by Iori Miyazawa, illustrations by Yo Shimizu and original work by Toichiro Kawashima and Adventure Planning Service, turns one campaign into a war story that's accessible for most readers, even those unfamiliar with TRPGs; however, not everything is a home run.

Taiga Andou-Garrett is a retired special operations soldier returning to Japan, but after being followed by two mysterious beings and going through a strange earthquake, Taiga finds himself in a new world: Million Dungeon. Here, he meets the denizens of the labyrinth world, including Mizuho -- a storyteller -- and Troach -- a thief. Taiga in particular is a standout because he is the self-insert character; however, unlike many self-insert characters, who're often a blank slate and easy to project on, Taiga has a fleshed-out backstory and compelling personality as a special ops soldier forced to retire. While readers can easily relate to his lack of knowledge in regard to this magical world, his past experience and heroic personality make it believable that he would not only survive here but also become the leader his party desperately needs.

As for the denizens, they feel like non-playable characters. While they have personalities, and it's understandable why Taiga cares for them, they are very much stock characters with dialogue that is at times trying too hard to be quick, witty or contemporary. The latter in particular is jarring because the world-building, for the most part, makes Million Dungeon feel like a classic fantasy world; however, some characters' behaviors, actions and dialogue feel too modern for what's been established.

The world of Million Dungeon itself is something any fan of these TRPGs would likely love to explore, and with Taiga as the narrator, even those who are unfamiliar with this sort of fantasy easily get an understanding of what the rules are. This is an underground labyrinth filled with all sorts of beings, from humans to orcs, and the large but restricted setting is full of mystery and danger.

Unfortunately, Taiga does not do as much exploring as some may want, making this unique setting feel underused, especially in regard to magic, which is discussed early on but not nearly utilized enough. There are also variables that feel dropped or introduced too late into the narrative. This may be because this is only Vol. 1, but it leaves readers wanting more. For some, they may stick around to see what is going on, but at the moment, these feel more like loose threads than teases for something greater.

The pacing also is slow at times. For instance, some of the prose feels particularly procedural; however, this can be chalked up to how Taiga is a soldier and in survival mode. Despite this, some areas feel like they are stretched out too much, while more climatic scenes are rushed into. This carries over to when certain elements or characters are introduced, with some coming way too late into the game. It's almost like the writing is trying to find the perfect balance. It may not be there yet, but if there are future installments, hopefully Meikyuu: Labyrinth Kingdom, a Tactical Fantasy World Survival Guide will find its footing by then, with those elements getting the follow up they deserve.

Overall, this light novel feels like it was made by someone who always wanted to bring their TRPG campaign to life, and it's impressive that it doesn't isolate readers unfamiliar with those sorts of games; although, if you're someone familiar with TRPGs and do not like them, this will be a harder read to get into. Meanwhile, for those who may not have played these games but are interested in a fantasy story that is a little bit Lord of the Flies, a smidge Alice in Wonderland and a whole lot of Dungeons & Dragons, this light novel will give you a fascinating world to explore alongside Taiga.

satoru gojo in front of sukuna
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