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Persona 3 Reload Review

I SEES what you have done there

Remakes have become a pretty common, almost dime-a-dozen affair. The terms “remake” and “remaster” have been thrown around loosely and used interchangeably for quite some time. There are a number of reasons for projects like these to exist. Sometimes it’s to show off new tech that a studio has been working on, it can also be used to get a new studio familiar with an IP, and some can be obvious cash grabs. However, one use for remakes that has seen a rise in popularity is to bring hard-to-access or incredibly poorly-aged games into a modern light. Usually, this treatment is reserved for games that have proved to be significant to the IP or the industry like with the RE2 and RE4 remakes, or even Demon’s Souls. Reaching back into the archives, ATLUS has decided to resurrect its classic title Persona 3 in the form of Persona 3 Reload. While this remake has its flaws, it does a great job of bringing an 18-year-old game to a newer, accessible standard that befits the modern Persona name.

As the name suggests, Persona 3 is more than just a remake of ATLUS’ pivotal 2006 JRPG, it also marks the studio acknowledging that some of its earlier works have some blemishes that don’t really hold up to a modern standard. This is more than just the visuals and gameplay systems. In fact, it also extends to some of the writing as well.

Persona 3 is regarded as one of the best stories in the Persona series as a whole. It takes place in the years 2009 and 2010 and places you in the shoes of Makoto Yuki (the character’s canonical name but you can change this), a second-year high school student who was orphaned as a child when his parents passed away in a tragic car accident. Makoto has transferred to Gekkoukan, but things go awry very quickly. You make your way to the dorm you are going to be residing in, Iwatodai Dormitory, and are quickly introduced to the Specialised Extracurricular Execution Squad, or SEES for short. SEES’ job is to harness the power of Personas to fight shadows, an inexplicable enemy that shows up during the Dark Hour, a period of time that exists when the clock strikes midnight.

Not much is known about the Dark Hour beyond Persona users being able to remain awake during it, and everyone else is transmogrified into coffins. Those who do not possess a Persona but come out of this transmogrification are doomed to be attacked and eventually killed by these shadows. The only other thing that is known about the Dark Hour is that a mysterious structure known as Tartarus appears and is only accessible during this time.

As is the norm with Persona games, Persona 3 Reload does an excellent job of meshing all of its gameplay and storytelling ideas. You go from harnessing the power of your Personas and ascending Tartarus, pilfering valuable loot from shadows and chests along the way, to social interactions and key storytelling that teeter along the lines of a visual novel. The storytelling and dialogue are truly where Persona 3 Reload shines, as this is where one of the biggest improvements between the original version and this remake lies. Some of the dialogue and events have seen minor rewrites for a variety of reasons. There are cases where just the new wording fits the scenes better, but there are also cases where ATLUS has gone back and reworked some scenes to be a little more digestible. These changes include the removal of transphobic dialogue from the beach scene, which is only a good thing. But where these changes also come into play is with the redone voice acting.  Simply put, the voice acting in Persona 3 Reload is excellent. Not everything is perfect, but I could count on one hand the amount of flat or questionable line deliveries that I experienced from my time playing the game.

A cool addition in Persona 3 Reload is a feature known as Link Episodes. Link Episodes are a great new addition that adds extra depth to characters that were previously not there. This benefits characters who didn’t have any form of social link with some valuable depth and personality. These Link Episodes don’t only exist to flesh out characters but also grant various boons to the player upon their completion. You can get permanent buffs to stats and even gain access to certain Persona fusions by completing them, making them a perfect blend of adding additional narrative flavour tied to tangible gameplay benefits.

As for the story itself, Persona 3 very quickly became one of my favourite stories in a game. The characters are nuanced, the plot has a lot of twists, and the pacing is excellent. I don’t think I’ve ever had a game so frequently cause me to say “What the hell?” in a positive way like Persona 3 (the language was a little more colourful than that actually but we’ll keep it G-rated for the sake of journalism). This game does not pull its punches and it is much better for it. The story has some very personal, intimate moments but it also doesn’t shy away from being raw and fueled by emotion. For a game about teenagers, it is incredibly mature. You’ll laugh, gasp, hold back tears and more – Persona 3 does it all.

Unsurprisingly, Persona 3 Reload looks the goods. It’s by no means going to be frying any graphics cards, but for a game whose art and character models hold up as poorly as the original Persona 3, ATLUS has done an incredible job at modernising this classic. Colours are more vibrant and pronounced, models are less chibi, and lighting is much sharper. Lighting is actually a really weird point for the game. I’m not sure why the decision was made, as I never felt its inclusion was important for the game, but Persona 3 Reload surprisingly has Ray Tracing. Incorrectly labelled as just ‘Reflections’ in the game settings, Ray Tracing adds a little depth to the reflections in the game as well as some minor improvements to the lighting. These differences aren’t very important and will potentially be the reason the game runs at 10fps if you play it on Steam Deck the first time you launch it. Regardless, the game still looks great and the redone UI is fantastic – for the most part. It’s clear that the general UI for the game borrows a lot of inspiration from the fantastic UI design that Persona 5 had, and for the most part, it works phenomenally well. However, the one victim of this redesign is the battle UI. In the original game, the battle UI was organised in a way that represented a revolver, with each option being one of six chambers in the barrel of a revolver. This was excellent as it tied into how each character summoned their Persona – by shooting themselves in the head with a fake gun called an Evoker. I get that part of this change was to better facilitate the updated controls but it also risks making the game feel like Persona 5-but-blue.

Speaking of battling and combat, this is somewhere that I found myself enjoying Persona 3 Reload more than I expected. It benefits from the simpler focus of Persona 3 so the game doesn’t feel like it is throwing a lot at you. This isn’t to say that Persona 5 is poorly balanced, but because it wants you to go through Mementos and Palaces, the game expects you to manage far more at any given moment in time and it is easy to fall behind. Persona 3 not so much. There is one place to focus your combat efforts and keeping up is easy. Additionally, there is the Arcana system which allows you to, on occasion, select from several rewards that range from a new Persona or extra experience points to extra money and a rare item drop. This system is great to interact with and can be used to act as a buffer for players who want to minimise their exposure to the combat in Persona 3.

The Persona is best known for its killer soundtrack and Persona 3 Reload is no different. Surprising absolutely no one, this redone soundtrack is fantastic. Even if I never really played the earlier Persona games, I’ve always loved their soundtracks, but never fell in love with the balancing and mixing. The remade soundtrack exceeds itself in this aspect, with songs having more body, bass, and a better overall sense of balance. There are also some new tracks and they rule, a personal highlight being the new track that plays when you ambush a target in Tartarus – this might just be one of my favourite tracks from the entire Persona series.

Remakes are tough and expensive to create, and whether they succeed in modernising a game is a debate that will probably never end. Personally, I prefer it when remakes can bring a dated game into a modern light without invalidating the existence of the original media. People are upset Persona 3 Reload omits some of the changes and additions brought in with the later iterations of Persona 3 (Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable), but I would argue that by focusing on the smaller scale of the original game and looking towards fixing up and modernising some of the core stuff found there ATLUS has done a great job at showing the world what Persona 3 would have looked like if it were released in 2024 instead of 2006.

Final Thoughts

Persona 3 Reload successfully captures the wonder of Persona 3 and injects the contemporary stylings earned through Persona 5 into the star child of the series. The story holds up well, the remade music and visuals are fantastic, and the systems are as engaging as ever. Against the backdrop of Persona 5 and its various releases and iterations, Persona 3 Reload stands as a wonderfully sensible, well-structured experience that will have you hooked for all 80 hours of its runtime.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Persona 3 Reload Review
Mass Reconstruction
Persona 3 Reload risked feeling like a Persona 5 mod with some of the proposed changes in its promotional material, however, ATLUS rose to the occasion and succeeded in bringing the series’ seminal moment into the modern light.
The Good
The story is incredibly well-written and paced
The soundtrack is to die for
A great modernisation of a classic
The Bad
The inclusion of Ray Tracing feels unnecessary and potentially performance-inhibiting
9
Bloody Ripper
  • ATLUS
  • SEGA
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC
  • February 2, 2024

Persona 3 Reload Review
Mass Reconstruction
Persona 3 Reload risked feeling like a Persona 5 mod with some of the proposed changes in its promotional material, however, ATLUS rose to the occasion and succeeded in bringing the series’ seminal moment into the modern light.
The Good
The story is incredibly well-written and paced
The soundtrack is to die for
A great modernisation of a classic
The Bad
The inclusion of Ray Tracing feels unnecessary and potentially performance-inhibiting
9
Bloody Ripper
Written By Jordan Garcia

Jordan lives and breathes Dark Souls, even though his favourite game is Bloodborne. He takes pride in bashing his face on walls and praising the sun. Hailing from the land of tacos, he is the token minority for WellPlayed.

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