Despite being a long-time turn-based RPG fan and one of the many, many people who will tell you at length why you should play the Persona series, it wasn’t until earlier this year that I played through the entirety of Persona 3. However, this wasn’t for lack of wanting to.
Persona 3 has become notorious for its lack of availability on modern consoles. Prior to its portable version being released on PC and Switch earlier this year, players would need to own either a PSP, PS Vita, or PlayStation 2 to experience its somber story. And even then, the Portable version is not quite the entire package. While it does contain a substantial amount of new content–including a new protagonist choice and the ability to fully control your party in combat–some concessions were made. To better fit the hardware it was ported over to, for example, the game traded in its 3D environments for a visual novel-style approach.
Considering these facts, it becomes clear why Persona 3 Reload is such a hugely anticipated title. Reload is an opportunity for a new audience to finally experience Persona 3, complete with updated environments and character models, modern trimmings, and several quality-of-life changes. It does come with a few frustrating omissions (such as the game’s female protagonist) that keep it from being the definitive edition many hoped for. But it is hard to see it as anything other than the best chance to experience the game’s emotionally resonant story, sloppy-yet-sincere relationship mechanics, and intense gameplay. After loving my time spent with Persona 3 Portable earlier this year, I went into a preview event for Persona 3 Reload with excitement and high expectations. Fortunately, what I saw delivered.
I played through two separate demos, each of which took about 15 minutes to complete. These sections featured two unique scenarios, both focused on combat rather than braving the perils of high school and navigating relationships. Unfortunately, this means we’ll have to wait just a bit longer to preview any changes there–and to start shamelessly complimenting Akihiko on his right hook, but I digress.
In the first demo, I was tasked with doing some good ol’-fashioned dungeon crawling alongside Yuakri and Junpei, which are essentially P3’s version of Yosuke and Chie or Ryuji and Ann. This played out much like any other Persona game and consisted largely of me scouting out floors, picking up items, and attempting to land surprise attacks on enemies denoted by small glowing dots on my minimap. Compared to the second demo, this one wasn’t quite as exhilarating, but that’s not to say I didn’t notice several exciting upgrades and details during my time with it.
Most notable were the changes made to Persona 3’s combat. Whereas Persona 3 featured AI-controlled party members (which, as you can imagine, didn’t always work out for the best), Reload follows Persona 3 Portable’s suit and allows the player to take control of the entire party. This level of control makes for significantly less tedious (and frustrating) battles. Additionally, Persona 5’s modern, smooth, and dynamic combat shines through in Reload, which now features its own version of 5’s Baton Pass system. Attack animations and victory screens are also far more stylized and fluid, with waves of blue and punches of brighter accent colors making the game quite the visual treat.
And while Persona 3’s Tartarus remains firmly in place as the game’s one-and-only dungeon (think Persona 5’s Mementos, but with more mystique and direct plot relevance), Atlus did take into account how elaborate Persona 5’s dungeons are and seemingly tried to fix the disparity between the two. The floors I explored featured a nightmare-ish version of Gekkoukan High School and felt a bit larger and more detailed than those in P3 and P3P. Additionally, I got a chance to hear a few of the new voice actors–all of which sounded great–and melt into the game’s groovy, hip-hop soundtrack. It’s worth mentioning that this also includes new tracks from Lotus Juice, the Japanese rapper who worked alongside composer Shoji Meguro and vocalist Yumi Kawamura on the original (and incredibly good) soundtrack.
The second demo, titled “Full Moon,” offered up a more high-octane experience. Set on the game’s first full moon (the time frame when the game’s malevolent powers-that-be are most active), this section featured a stress-inducing, timed battle aboard a racing monorail. After battling my way up the train, I was met by a sprawling woman both inspired by and named after the High Priestess tarot card, and promptly entered the game’s first boss battle. While not particularly challenging, she served as a nice reminder of how tricky these battles do eventually become, and made me even more excited for my inevitable playthrough next year.
Apart from the game’s combat changes, this section played out nearly identically to how it does in Persona 3, albeit with this new, intense green lighting that added to how eerie the situation was. I am also thrilled to report that “Deep Breath Deep Breath” is still a fantastic battle track that somehow triumphs at being both creepy and a total banger.
Overall, Persona 3 Reload most pleasantly surprised me in its commitment to enhancing the artistry of the original game rather than emulating the series’ most recent title. This might sound obvious–it is a remake, after all–but, as I was playing, I found myself extremely appreciative of how Atlus preserved Persona 3’s sleek and simple interface when they could have implemented the same level of flash and flourish seen in Persona 5. Sure, the visual upgrades and modern trimmings and mechanics are there, but these upgrades approach the game on its own terms. Persona 3’s depth, darkness, and distinct identity is still reflected in every element of its visuals. You can see it in the pervasive vacancy of Tartarus, and in the game’s deep color palette, composed of blues ranging from azure to midnight.
Thirty minutes is far too short of a time to determine the merit of a 60+ hour game–particularly when that game is a remake of an incredibly beloved and impactful title. That said, my time spent with the game made me confident that Reload will mostly be the definitive edition Persona 3 fans have been looking for. It remains to be seen if relationships will be handled with a bit more tact this go around, and some missing features–such as the lack of the game’s female protagonist–do slightly sour things. However, Reload seems successful in narrowing the gap between 3 and its successors, and most importantly, will get people playing what is perhaps the Persona series’ most poignant entry.
Persona 3 Reload is slated to release on February 2, 2024 for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.
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