Persona 3 Reload
2nd February, 2024
PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
In the current trend of the games industry, where games barely older than things I have in my food cupboard are getting remakes, it’s strange that Persona 3 is almost eighteen years old. Of course, there’s been more than one version of Persona 3, with Persona 3: FES coming out in the EU barely after the original and then the PSP version a little over a decade ago. This time gap means people who went to the original Persona 3 after playing games like Persona 5 may find themselves a little put-off. Persona 3 Reload looks to smash that barrier and does a bloody good job of it.
Before I start, I want to point out that every second of Persona 3 Reload I played was on the Steam Deck (OLED). The reason for this is that I started playing it on there, and then the save – for some reason – hadn’t saved on the cloud. When I went to the PC, my save was nowhere to be found, and I wasn’t losing progress. So take this as a Steam Deck review if you want to, but the other versions are hardly likely to be different.
A remake of Persona 3 has been wanted for a long time; make no mistake about that. This is particularly true when you look at how refined the Persona experience got in later titles. This push to the modern has seeped into every pore of the game, and I would argue it’s for the better. Persona 3 was excellent; make no mistake, but it was most assuredly a product of its time. However, it must be said that this isn’t a traditional remake because that would be far too simple, nor could it even be argued that this is the game’s definitive edition.
Missing from Persona 3 Reload is the option to play as a female protagonist, introduced in Persona 3 Portable. However, Persona 3 FES’ quality of life changes are in full force, as well as the updates more modern entries have brought with them. So, Persona 3 Reload’s position in the hierarchy of things is difficult, but I’m more inclined to think of it as a modern HD remake, with a few sprinkles, more than anything else.
If you don’t know, Persona 3 is the darkest of the Persona titles, starting with the cheery shot of a girl pointing a gun at her head. We begin as we mean to continue. The protagonist steps off the train; it’s already The Dark Hour – more on that later – and coffins are everywhere. I still find it amusing that you walk through coffins everywhere and don’t bat an eye. Maybe school kids in Japan are just used to this sort of thing.
Long story short for those not in the know. Almost everybody is turned into a standing coffin for one hour when the clock strikes midnight. After this hour, the clock is still at midnight, and it’s time for the night to continue as expected. Only selected people – persona users – are aware of the Dark Hour. Shadows roam the streets, trying to lure people out of their coffins, giving them apathy syndrome if they succeed, and a giant tower sprouts out of your school. So far, so Japan.
Let’s talk about that tower. Tartarus and its procedurally generated corridors return for better or worse. If there ever was anything that stood out as a negative in the original, or more just a sign of the time it was made, it is Tartarus. It was and still can be monotonous in Persona 3 Reload. You’ll spend hours in these corridors, which feel like a modern school version of Daedalus’ labyrinth. However, there have been some additions to Tartarus, with destructible elements added to give you some items. These additional enemies are more challenging than others.
Most importantly, the fatigue system has gone exactly where it needed to: right in the bin. This gives you far more freedom and flexibility. Yes, it was narratively sound, but anybody who has played the original knows it’s a better game when you’re high enough that fatigue didn’t set in too often. Now, you can do more battles, which is good because the battle system has undergone significant overhauls.
Introducing Theurgy. You build up a gauge through regular attacks and using other skills. Character-specific actions also build it up nicely. In one full, you can unleash an extra strong attack. If I were to compare it to something, I’d say it’s similar to a Limit Break in Final Fantasy. On top of Theurgy is Shift, essentially Baton Pass from Persona 5. There are several other minor – but still substantial – improvements throughout, too, such as introducing new elements, passive perks based on social elements, and the fact that you control every character in battle.
These changes continue beyond Tartarus and combat. In the day-to-day, you’ll find the questions in school have been changed, which annoyingly made it so I couldn’t GameFAQs my way through. On the social link side of things, new events have been added outside of school, and there are several new events in the evening with other SEES characters. It all adds to make Persona 3 Reload feel bigger than the original.
This brings us to the final and most visible change: the visuals. Persona 3 Reload is gorgeous; it looks like one of the more modern Persona titles, and it manages to bring this new visual overhaul without sacrificing what is one of the darker atmospheres you’ll find in a game like this. It adds a fresh feel to the game while still keeping it familiar, which is something all remakes/reloads could remember to do. From brand-new models and portraits to new menus, ATLUS hasn’t skimped.
Finally, I want to say it plays immaculately on the Steam Deck. There are no hiccups; it is smooth, responsive, and looks fantastic. Overall, Persona 3 Reload is precisely as my title says: “a remake as it should be”. Yes, aspects are missing from previous versions, so you couldn’t arguably call this a definitive edition of Persona 3. Still, in my opinion, it’s undoubtedly the best version of Persona 3 you’ll find.
PC version (Steam Deck) reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.
Products mentioned in this post
Persona 3 Reload marks an excellent return to the game that really started the love for the franchise. Bringing in many of the elements that made later games great, modernising the original, it makes for an excellent way to introduce yourself to a classic, or to go back and re-experience the classic in a new way.
- Gorgeous new visuals.
- Enhanced combat mechanics from the original, bringing it into the modern age.
- New features outside of combat, enhancing the story and social aspects.
- Still an absolutely outstanding story, with excellent characters – only enhanced by new scenes.
- Tartarus is still grindy.
- It is missing some contact from P3R and P3P.