Persona 3 Reload

Review: Persona 3 Reload

A fan-favourite entry gets a big upgrade

The Persona series has only been getting more popular over the last decade. With Persona 4 Golden on Vita receiving critical acclaim, Persona 5 hitting the mainstream and continuing the streak, the demand for more has been palpable. After a few spinoffs and relaunching Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden on modern consoles, Atlus is back with Persona 3 Reload, an overhaul of the PS2 classic. Persona 3 introduced the social link systems that have become synonymous with Persona, blending monster-catching and dungeon-crawling with relationship-building and romance. With graphical and gameplay enhancements, does this remake live up to its legacy?

Persona 3 Reload is a faithful remake that brings back our blue-haired protagonist (canonically named Makoto Yuki), Yukari, Junpei, and the rest of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (S.E.E.S.). The story is set in 2009, as the main character transfers to Gekkoukan High School in his second year. He arrives at Tatsumi Port Island and heads to the dorm that will act as your central hub over the year. As he arrives, the world is bathed in green, standing coffins lining the way as you make your way to your new home.

“I am thou, thou art I…”

Before long, you’re thrust into a battle against the Dark Hour and the Shadows that call it home as you scale Tartartus to try to learn more. The Dark Hour hits every night at midnight, letting Shadows loose on the city while entrapping the population in coffins. The humans have no memories of what’s happening, but the Shadows victims develop Apathy Syndrome. Tartarus stands looming over the city, a massive structure that appears during the Dark Hour. Where does it come from? What purpose does it serve? What do the shadows want? These are all questions that the team set out to find answers to. The S.E.E.S. is a group capable of summoning otherworldly entities called Persona using Evokers.

LcLngoQ

Simultaneously, Persona 3 Reload does enough but not enough as a remake. The graphical overhaul is significant, with Tartarus getting a major visual upgrade. Comparing it to its original incarnations, it’s easy to see how much of a huge step forward this remake is. It’s gorgeous, as the blue hues sink in every scene, with pink and yellow in the sunsets and cherry blossoms. The world washes in green during the Dark Hour and looks haunted. The animation and UI took a page from the Persona 5 playbook, as everything flows and pops. The Persona calls in battle were always excellent, as the character’s eyes splashed across the screen before the Persona punched through it. Much work was done to ensure this game looks just as good, if not better, than Persona 5 Royal, and it succeeds.

Tartarus, as a whole, looks and feels a lot better to play through. Each floor remains procedurally generated. They’ll start short and quick but end up vast and sprawling. The characters chatter much more than the original, allowing the party to feel more present during Tartarus runs. Twilight Shards are littered around Tartarus and the real world and are a fantastic addition. You’ll use these to open chests and heal using the clock on the main floor, though it does have a steep cost.

The choice between trying to acquire new gear and items or fully healing the party to continue ascending Tartarus becomes essential. Twilight Shards are not doled out in massive amounts, so you’ll need to weigh the costs and benefits of more floors versus returning another day and sacrificing time to do other things. There is also the addition of the Great Clock, which may appear when using Twilight shards. When it does appear, interacting with it will allow you to choose up to 2 party members to get significant EXP boosts to bring them up to the current party level. It allows you to keep party members that you don’t use as regularly alongside the party level in case you need to sub them in for a particular boss or enemy encounter. It helped the team feel more cohesive and the reserve party members more accessible.

7rsDRqL

The Major Arcana is another new addition to Tartarus, giving the player something new to strive for on their climb. During Shuffle Time, which activates if you take out an enemy with an All-Out Attack or hit enemy weaknesses enough times, you’ll get the option between multiple cards. These can range from HP and EXP boosts to new Personas to the new addition – Major Arcana. These offer upgrades for that current Tartarus run, including more health, EXP, or fusion bonuses.

Collect enough of these Major Arcana, and an Arcana Burst will activate, raising the general level of the cards that appear. Raising the level will make them stronger and more potent, offering more significant boosts and upgrades. Do this again on your next trip to Tartarus; the levels will continue to increase. You’ll unlock more and more Major Arcana throughout the game as you spend time with the social links. As the Arcana Bursts upgrades were significant, I always strove to complete the current set.

Monad Doors are another addition and build on the Monad Depths in the original, which became available much later in the campaign. In Reload, they appear early, spawning on random floors. Go in, and you’ll have to face a brutal enemy in exchange for items and crafting resources, along with mapping out the floor you’re currently on and the one above. Monad corridors take this further, with multiple fights for greater rewards. I always went in for the fight, finding the rewards (especially the floor mapping) worthwhile at the cost of HP and SP.

jFw8a9m

Burn My Dread

One of the main battle differences, outside of controlling party members, which was only available in Persona 3 Portable previously, is the addition of the Theurgy system. Each character will have a Theurgy bar that raises when performing character-specific actions in battle, allowing for a vast ultimate attack. Raising the bar differs from character to character and feels true to each character’s personality, as Yukari, for example, raises her bar by healing others. The Theurgy attacks can be critical in a tough fight, getting a crucial resistance-ignoring attack in or healing the party. Each character starts with one, but more can be unlocked as you spend time with your party. You’ll need to time these attacks wisely, as getting inflicted with a status effect such as Poison will block the use, or getting knocked out will result in a 50% reduction.

Persona 3 Reload features its version of the Baton Pass system, allowing one to swap to other characters after hitting a weakness in battle. The animations between these switches are a delight to watch every time. Functionally, they also offer a way to spread the SP drain among the party or allow you to swap back to the main character to hit another enemy’s weakness. Downing all the enemies will offer an opportunity for an All-Out Attack, allowing the party to pile on for more damage.

k75Gt2A

If Persona 4 was about finding yourself and Persona 5 is about rebellion, Persona 3 is steeped in loss. The world, characters, and backstories are all about dealing with some form of it. The loss of regular life, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a dream – all prevalently displayed in the narrative. Even the world is drenched in blue, the color motif for the game. Each social link deals with it in some respect and represents the Arcana.

Playing Persona 3 Reload in a post-pandemic world makes the themes even heavier. Throughout the in-game calendar year, you’ll overhear whispers of people going missing or standing in an almost zombie-like trance. Huddled bodies and more garbage on the street as Apathy Syndrome takes hold over more and more of the population. The anxiety around not knowing who might be next and how to move ahead is ever-present and is felt when speaking to students and residents.

DMaGEne

Persona 3 is an almost 1:1 Remake

You’ll find a familiar game loop here if you’ve played a Persona game before; it is structured as a life-sim and based on a calendar starting in April. Each day is broken into Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. Morning is relegated to class Mondays through Saturdays, listening to lectures and answering questions. Afternoon allows the game to open up as you have many choices on how to spend your time. Whether developing social links, working on your personality stats, or spending time on the computer, you have many options. Evenings allow much of the same as afternoons do, with an added focus on exploring Tartarus. I’d usually spend the afternoons working on my relationships while using the evenings for a Tartarus run or working on my personality traits.

kvn1mj1

In Persona 3 Reload, there are three traits to upgrade – Charm, Academics, and Courage. All three traits can be raised in multiple ways. Answering questions in class will raise Charm, studying will improve Academics, and Courage can be brought up through eating at specific restaurants, playing arcade games and drinking weird concoctions. Multiple jobs will raise two stats at a time while bringing in a bit of coin to help you get equipment or items for your party. Certain characters will have specific requirements for social links, so you’ll want to spend time raising these stats. Yukari, for example, needs a Confident Charm level before she’ll be willing to hang out with you.

Persona 3 Reload has some of the franchise’s best social links while having some real duds. Some of my favourites were an elderly couple who lost their son, a little girl trying to navigate through her parent’s divorce, and the Star Arcana. I don’t want to say any more for anyone who hasn’t experienced that storyline yet. Still, it’s one of Persona’s most profound and heartbreakingly beautiful narratives. I would prioritize Sundays at the shrine. On the other hand, some classmates and club members are not all that interesting compared to some of these stronger links. Kenji Tomochika is a particularly boring standout, even making Mishina from Persona 5 a more attractive choice. Each link is tied to a specific arcana that will get bonuses when you fuse them. Carrying a Persona of that specific Arcana will net you more points to level up that link and pick the correct dialogue options on hangouts. I wish Reload took a page out of Persona 5 Royal and included more benefits for the social links.

Royal did something clever and integrated the social links into the combat, as spending time with friends would impact the dungeon crawling aspect of the game. These were more noticeably absent in Reload. While I enjoyed getting to know the colourful cast of characters, I wish progressing the social links had more impact on the rest of the game.

Live In The Moment

I appreciate how much the general party stands out in Reload, as the time you can spend with them has been expanded. The dorm feels more alive than ever, as you can watch movies, read books, cook, and garden with your teammates. Doing so will offer personality boosts along with getting to know their backstories even more and may lead to new abilities and Theurgy attacks. Seeing more of Yukari’s personality as you watch movies together or take Koromaru on a walk to see who else you may run into is always interesting. The guys in the group specifically have more depth and character, and while they don’t have dedicated social links like they did in the female route in Persona 3 Portable, there is much more than the base game. The new outfits the party members get are also fantastic, making them feel more like a Shadow assassination unit than before. Various members will also get together before exams, offering fun study sessions that boost your Academics while offering entertaining new party chats.

7GvblP0

Outside of social links, team hangouts, and Tartarus runs, Persona 3 Reload offers many ways to spend your time that differ depending on the time of day. Various part-time jobs will boost various stats and get you paid, while going to eat may offer more concentrated singular stat boosts depending on the day. The arcade and karaoke bar offers similar stat increases, alongside Persona stat upgrades as well. Buying computer programs and running them on the computer in the dorm can offer new world secrets or personality points. There are many ways to spend your days, but I wish the pacing were more ironed out. In the last few months, I was just killing time as I had already upgraded most party members, boosted my stats to max, and completed the social links available during the given hours. Having more social links available at night rather than the onslaught during the afternoon could have made it feel more balanced, or letting the shrine be open at night rather than the afternoon only, where you can spend money to get more points for social links even when not with the person.

psqE5bU

The music in Persona 3 Reload remains as iconic as it was years ago. Many classic tracks return alongside some new ones, each fitting in perfectly to the game’s sombre and blue mood while injecting energy when needed. The crunching guitars, electric drums, and gorgeous vocals on the new battle theme, It’s Going Down Now, propel shadow beatdowns to new levels. Hearing the quiet, sad piano and soaring vocals of Poem for Everyone’s Souls When in the Velvet Room brought me back to a decade ago, as hauntingly beautiful as it ever was. The newly rearranged tracks sound more significant and more complex than ever before. Persona 3 already had some of the best music in the series, and Reload takes it to new heights.

Persona 3 Reload is easily the definitive way to experience the base story now, but the extra features from Portable and FES are sorely missed. I do wish Atlus had kept the Female protagonist in the game, especially after seeing the faux social links that are on display with the guys. Allowing players the choice of male or female protagonist routes would have added a lot of replayability, along with allowing players to feel more seen and play the game the way they identify. This could have also allowed them to fix the atrocious social link from the female route in Portable (I’m looking at you, Ken). The lack of the added expansion from FESThe Answer, similarly feels like a missed opportunity. Persona 3 Reload could have been the complete package, but players who want to experience any missing content will still need to dig into Portable or FES to catch up on what’s missing.

Verdict

Persona 3 Reload is a modern upgrade to an already fantastic entry in the franchise that was sorely needed. The graphical and gameplay enhancements are significant and do a lot to bring Persona 3 to a modern standing. While the lack of features from Portable and FES are missed, Atlus does enough to add to the base experience through Tartarus enhancements and more ways to spend time with party members. Do not sleep on Persona 3 Reload.

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: Xbox Series X

Persona 3 Reload
Review: Persona 3 Reload
Summary
Persona 3 Reload is a fantastic way to experience a classic. The graphical and gameplay enhancements are meaningful, while the base story still shines, even years later. While the missing features from other iterations of the game are missed, this is the definitive way to experience Persona 3.
Liked
Graphics receive an exciting update
Gameplay enhancements are meaningful
New and returning music sounds fantastic
Didn't Like
Missing features from FES and Portable is a missed opportunity
Pacing could have been improved