Persona 3 Reload Impression – Another Round in the Chamber

The Persona series has experienced nothing short of a meteoric rise in popularity over the last few years since the release of Persona 5. While its dark and gritty parent series, Shin Megami Tensei, has remained a relatively niche series, Persona is nearly to the point of being a household name. I was excited when Persona 3 Reload was finally announced last year, because it’s not often that I have been treated to a full remake of a game that I have already played. Based on just the first 10 hours with the remake, ATLUS has hit a pinpoint precision headshot.

Persona 3 Reload is both a great entry way for players new to the franchise and an impressive addition for longtime Megaten veterans coming off their third playthrough of Devil Survivor. As a new student at Gekkoukan High School on Tatsumi Port Island, players will step into the true-blue world of Persona 3. If you’re familiar with what the franchise offers, the basics are intact: by day, you go to school, socialize, work part-time jobs, study, join the track team, and maybe even snag a date or two. By night, you and your friends become superheroes, using a unique power called Persona to summon demons and fight your way through a shadow-infested pocket dimension called Tartarus. Demons are beginning to break out into the material world, and once again, only a scrappy squad of JRPG teenagers can stop them!

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We need to get these kids to Persona 3 Reload the laundry, am I right?

To first speak on Persona 3 Reload‘s merits as a remake, I must say I am astounded at what ATLUS has accomplished here. The art style from the 2009 game is visibly intact, but also remade into something new. It doesn’t look like Persona 5, as I had feared it would; it looks like if ATLUS had first made Persona 3 in 2024. In other words, they nailed it. The iconic soundtrack returns, of course, but with new arrangements and some new vocalists. I have found many of the tracks, such as Want to be Close and Master of Shadow to be improved in these rearrangements, but I do still prefer the classic versions of Mass Destruction and Burn My Dread by a hair.

As a veteran of Persona 3 Portable, I’ve only played this adventure through the lens of the female main character, who is sadly not available in the remake. However, this means that all of the social links I’m experiencing in Persona 3 Reload are brand new, and the relationship possibilities are a set of female characters this time instead of male. In addition, some of my old favorite characters like Rio are nowhere to be seen, but I’ve got a new buddy in Yuko from the track team I haven’t seen before. There’s also a few songs that are different in this version (RIP Time, you were the GOAT of school themes). These factors have made Persona 3 Reload feel totally new while comfortably familiar to me.

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My jaw dropped when I saw this re-imagining of the Tartarus lobby.

Regardless, it’s fresh while still feeling familiar, and I can’t speak enough to how much better the lighting and shadows look than in Persona 5. The colors pop, the the new voice actors are for the most part just as good as the originals, and the demons look flashier and crazier than ever. I think the clear difference between Persona 3 Reload and other remakes is that most of the time, a remake simply asks “what would this game be like if we remade it now?” Persona 3 Reload asks “what if we had made this game for the first time now in 2024?” There’s an authenticity to Persona 3 Reload that I haven’t seen in a remake since Spyro: Reignited.

Persona 3 Reload also doesn’t skimp on style. After Persona 5, ATLUS has developed a reputation for stylish UI and menus while still making everything easily legible. That trend continues in Persona 3 Reload, as all menus, HUD, and UI elements in this complex RPG have been totally overhauled with an overconfident, cocky flashiness that I just can’t get from any other developer. In an RPG with so much time spent in menus, this is an important element, and everything feels and sounds so pleasant to sift through.

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Once you pop, you are prohibited from stopping.

Oddly enough, one of the things that is so lovable about the Persona games is the comfortable anime tropes the companions fall into; it adds to the hype later on in the story when they break out of those tropes. You’ve got Junpei, your goofy lovable best friend who’s not so good with academics but loves gaming and slacking off. Then of course there’s Yukari, your hyper-focused smart friend who’s playful and sassy with her friends, but still searching for her courage. Then your cool stoic older-brother type Akihiko, and the prissy rich girl Mitsuru who’s trying to carve her own identity… we’ve got em all! The cast of Persona 3 is at least as fun as the cast of Persona 5, and in my opinion magnitudes more interesting than the cast of Persona 4. If you’re into anime,  you’ll recognize these tropey characters, and it’ll be all the more exciting when they evolve past the archetypes they appear to be.

Persona 3 veterans are most likely skimming through all this and just looking for the answer to one question – is Tartarus the same? Please, god, is it the same? Thankfully, no! For those new to Persona 3, the turn-based combat takes place in a seemingly infinite dungeon called Tartarus. Unlike Persona 5, Persona 3 does not feature any handcrafted dungeons. In the original game, Tartarus was sort of this eternal procedurally generated hell maze that looks the same the whole way through and tosses the same jpeg of a blob monster at you over and over again. However, in Persona 3 Reload, a few changes make the whole experience bearable.

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I thought Mitsuru was my one true love, but I think Yuko has stolen my heart this time.

The theming and aesthetics now change after each boss, and you can run through the twisting mazes at twice the speed of the original. Items are also more plentiful and are locked in stone hands that need to be cut open, which adds a little action to the experience. It’s also much easier with full control of the camera to sneak up on shadows to get a surprise round in combat. Animations are also a lot quicker, so even if you’re grinding through a few floors using auto-combat it’s very fast and you’ll likely be done before you can get annoyed. Overall, like everything else in Persona 3 Reload, Tartarus is new and improved while still keeping the spirit of the original idea intact.

Combat is fast-paced, flashy, and action packed despite being turn-based. In the original, you could only control the protagonist during combat, and AI would control your party; thankfully, your entire party is under your direct control this time. You can either use a melee weapon to attack, guard, use an item, or summon a Persona to utilize elemental attacks for type advantages. The goal of combat is to knock over the enemy, and is maximized by using your One More! ability. When you knock over an enemy, you get an extra action, and can either take it yourself or pass it to a teammate, building affinity while doing so. When all enemies are knocked down, time for an all-out attack! The rhythm of combat has a definitive core, while still staying fun by staying alive while finding out enemy weaknesses.

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Tartarus looks so much more interesting this time around and changes themes regularly.

I’ve been playing Persona 3 Reload on PC via Xbox Game Pass, and I’m also thrilled with how butter-smooth it runs on PC right out the gate. At 1440p 60 FPS on high graphics settings, I haven’t experienced a single frame rate drop nor a bug or glitch anywhere on my RTX 2060 Super and Ryzen 5 3600. With Persona 3 Reload coming off the heels of ATLUS’s excellent Persona 5 Royal port, I expected nothing less, but poor PC ports seem to feel like the norm rather than the exception these days.

I have always loved the story of Persona 3, but that is mostly due to how much I love the characters and world it presents. While there’s still a lot more of Port Tatsumi to explore in this newest edition, I feel comfortable saying that Reload is the definitive and best way to experience Persona 3. I’m crossing my fingers hoping for the addition of the female protagonist back into the game in the future, but for now, ATLUS has fired with precision once again. I greatly mourn the loss of Shuffle Time, but I must admit Persona 3 Reload is a near-perfect remake.

Nirav played Persona 3 Reload on PC with his own copy.

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