Helen: Urara spent her first life as a countess in a medieval world and her second as a “commoner” in modern day Japan, something that she considers a vast improvement. It’s true that she enjoys running water, indoor heating, and reliable transportation, but what’s really changed is how, as a countess, Urara felt like her life was too confined; she was doomed to live and marry without a say in anything and she had always envied the freedom that commoners had by comparison. In this new life, she’s just about to start high school at the prestigious St. Delia’s Academy — filled with people who have the airs and riches of nobles from her past life — as a scholarship student.
But her hopes of a quiet life are quite literally dashed when she runs into another girl, Shizuku Aritomo, who informs her that she too has reincarnated and she knows exactly where they are: in the otome game “Moonlight Beauty ~Be My Bride~”!
Having people from multiple different worlds reincarnate into the same story is a detail we don’t see terribly often in isekai stories (I suppose you could call this series an “isekai,” even though it’s ostensibly modern-day Japan and not a foreign world to the readers) and I have a feeling that Urara and Aritomo aren’t the only ones to reincarnate into the world of “Moonlight Beauty”. There are a few mentions in Past Life Countess, Present Life Otome Game NPC?! of Urara’s family in both her past and present life that seem to perfectly line up, namely having a younger brother who resembles their father and a younger sister who resembles their mother in both appearance and temperament, so I wonder if they all managed to reincarnate together.
There are also few lines from Chouko, who Aritomo recognized as an important person in the original game (a childhood friend of the romance-able characters), in the main story which made me suspect that they too had reincarnated but just without the past life memories that Urara and Aritomo had retained. I’ve seen stories with characters reincarnated from multiple worlds before, The Rising of the Shield Hero comes to mind, but this “twist” on convention still amused me. Urara’s initial impression of Aritomo is that this girl spouting off words like “events!” and “points!” is a total weirdo and that’s exactly what I expect other otome characters would think of their isekai’d protagonists/antagonists.
I love stories that leave just enough details unanswered so I can speculate and this one and done (but surprisingly long) story was the perfect balance of wrapping up the story while still giving me room to think about it more later. For instance, I had fun speculating both about if other characters were also reincarnated into “Moonlight Beauty” and about the game itself. Aritomo seems to have been a big fan of the game in her previous life but admits that the characters are behaving differently than she would expect; I wonder if adding in Urara, Aritomo, and potentially Chouko, upset the balance of the story (causing the character’s personalities to warp) or if Urara and Aritomo have unlocked a secret/”true” ending to the story and are going down that route instead. It sounds like Aritomo was a big enough fan that she would have known about if there was another route in the actual game but I mean, by this point can we even call something “an otome game” if it doesn’t have some routes or character threaten to go completely off the rails into the dark end?
The five boys who are the romance interests from the original game play a surprisingly small role in the story when it’s all said and done; the plot of the game, and therefore of Aritomo’s life (and Urara since she gets dragged along), is challenging Chouko to several contests of skill since her approval is needed to fully raise your stats and date the man of your dreams. Aritomo is determined to fulfill her dream of dating her favorite character and is positive that following the original game’s mechanics is the way to do it and Chouko is just bemused enough to go along with the idea. Each challenge is judged by one of the boys, with another one or two advising Aritomo and Urara, but ultimately Urara and Aritomo don’t spend very much time with most of the boys and instead it’s their initially turbulent relationship, and Urara’s relationship with Chouko, that makes up the heart of the story.
I suppose it’s probably a good thing that most of the boys end up being side characters since my biggest issue with this story was that Past Life Countess desperately needed a cast page since I had a difficult time remembering which boy was which. They are introduced all at once when Urara sees them for the first time, but since she doesn’t know their names yet we just get a visual sense of what they look like and the general personality which they exude, so even flipping back to that page didn’t help me put names to characters.
Plus, the boys all have different levels of relationships with other members of the cast so they are very interchangeably referred to by their first names, last names, and nicknames; by the end of the story I had mostly given up on remembering which boy was who and was relying entirely on context clues in each scene to figure it out. Cast pages are fairly common in light novels so I’m a little mystified why there wasn’t one in the first place, especially with 8 major characters!
Despite that issue, I really enjoyed Past Life Countess, Present Life Otome Game NPC?!. There are a few unexpected quirks to the story that happen early on but that only added to the tension and excitement of wondering how everything would play out. It was an enjoyable read and one that I would love to have a physical copy of for posterity.
Helen’s rating: 4 out of 5
Krystallina: Isekai continues to be incredibly popular, and for female-oriented works, being reincarnated into an otome game (particularly one set in a medieval world) seems to dominate the market. Past Life Countess, Present Life Otome Game NPC?!, as its title would suggest, continues this trend.
But Japan isn’t the only world sending random young ladies into video games!
Urara was nobility in her past life in another, medieval-like world, so she’s thrilled to live a life without a lot of pressure even though old habits are hard to break. One of her classmates at her new school, Shizuku, gets upset as Urara interacts with the five most popular boys in school and their female friend Chouko. Ultimately, the odd Shizuku accuses Urara of stealing her flag-raising events in this otome game world!
And somehow this results in a competition where Urara is both competing with and supporting Shizuku and Chouko…?
This “Ojousama Challenge” is explained as the way to get to know the various love interests in the game. They rotate as the girls’ advisor and another as a judge, but the novel doesn’t do a good job of introducing these guys at the start or including descriptive text to help visualize things. I spent much of the novel trying to remember who’s who as they tackle events like cooking and horseback riding. Another factor is that Urara is very polite and calls them by their family name, but Shizuku and others call them by their given name (or nickname). The competition itself is weird too because although Urara competes, her points ultimately go to Shizuku, but Urara serves as Chouko’s teacher in one competition.
Chapters in this story are written from Urara’s personal perspective followed by a section from someone else’s point-of-view. So even though the protagonist is clueless, readers gain insight into the others. That includes a “twist” that you may have guessed from the cover and is revealed early: Chouko is male, and he’s attracted to the polite Urara. Urara is clueless that the lady she admires is really a gentleman, and of course the situation eventually blows up even though they become close.
It is odd that there would be a situation like this in an otome game world that wouldn’t be in the original game. I can’t imagine crafting a whole visual novel and then in a follow-up go, “Oh, yeah, that important key character? They were of the opposite gender this whole time!” You could argue that things don’t operate the same though in games versus living in one, but it’s an odd storyline in a plot like this. The idea of two girls from completely different worlds and backgrounds both ending up in an otome game was strong enough without gender-bending aspects. Shizuku’s development from her self-proclaimed importance as the game’s protagonist to actually living in this world by putting in effort is my favorite part of the story. Plus, the reason why “Chouko” is portraying herself as female doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The artist for this novel has worked with well-known otome game developer Otomate, and her illustrations are amazing. She fills up the entire page — and the entire image. For instance, Kinami makes sure to show off the rose-filled arch in this picture of Urara and Chouko.
The only thing that could have made the art even more amazing was color, but even in monochrome, it was still so nice to look at.
Past Life Countess, Present Life Otome Game NPC?! is a unique title, but aside from the art, it doesn’t deliver a strong narrative. The fun of a harem/reverse harem is all the characters, and I didn’t get to know the guys as well as I wanted.
Krystallina’s rating: 3.5 stars out of 5