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Persona 3 Reload

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Role-Playing
Developer: Atlus
Release Date: Feb. 2, 2024


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PS5 Review - 'Persona 3 Reload'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 30, 2024 @ 5:00 a.m. PST

In Persona 3 Reload, players chase mysteries, fight for your friends, and leave a mark on their memories forever.

Buy Persona 3 Reload

Persona 3 is one of those games that I've written about more than any other. It's a rare title that has been re-released more times than almost any other, including the PS2 original, the updated PSP port, and the recent PC port of the PSP port. Persona 3 Reload is retreading some rather worn ground, so is this a journey worth retaking? Thankfully, Reload does a fantastic job of updating the game for players who came to the franchise with Persona 5 and might not be willing to put up with the foibles of the PS2 release.

For those who've never played the game before, Persona 3 Reload follows the story of the Dark Hour, which is the time between 11:59 p.m. and 12 a.m. During the Dark Hour, all of humanity is transmogrified into coffins, electronics stop working, and monsters called Shadows come out to play. The only ones who can stand against them are Persona users, lucky (or unlucky) individuals who can summon mythological beings to fight for them. Persona 3 puts players in the role of a new transfer student whose dorm turns out to be the secret base of the anti-Shadow squad, S.E.E.S. The group must explore the dungeon Tartarus and find the source of the shadows before they overrun humanity.

At its core, Persona 3 Reload has the same plot as the original game. There are new scenes, new bits of dialogue, and some expanded content, but it doesn't house any huge surprises. Even the general pacing — flaws and all — is mostly the same, but the game is better about giving players ways to spend time. This remake isn't akin to Final Fantasy 7 Remake; it adheres closely to the original.

One area where the game comes across much better is in its general characterization. Most of the characters get some expanded story or focus that fleshes them out a bit. All of the male party members get their own pseudo-social link, similar to but different from Persona 3 Portable. The female party members can have their social links completed without romancing, which makes each of their plots be more about them. Even the villains, Strega, get some additional scenes where they interact with the main cast more, so it doesn't feel like they came out of nowhere.

The basic structure of the game is the same as in the original (and other recent Persona titles). You're given roughly a year to explore Tartarus, defeat Shadows, hang out with friends, and improve your personality. A lot of this is identical to how it works in the previous offerings. Social Links don't grant special bonuses the way they do in Persona 4 or Persona 5, and most of the ways of leveling up your personality stats, and even the dialogue answers, are largely identical. As mentioned, there are new "social links" with the male party members. They do not give you experience points when fusing Persona but will provide small bonuses, such as increasing HP or SP, but at the end of each link, you still unlock a new high-end Persona to fuse. Basically, they are links in all but name.

However, Reload has added a lot more options for what you can do during the previously barren nighttime periods. You're able to spend time with each party member, and you do things like learn to cook or watch movies. This gives you more insight into their character and often rewards social stats. If you do it often enough, the various characters gain permanent character-specific passive abilities. For example, Yukari gets a massive reduction in the SP cost of healing spells, while Junpei gains more common and stronger critical hits. The special skills can even level up to get stronger.

In addition, you can purchase computer programs to use on the shared computer in the lounge. Programs can offer significant boosts to social stats, improve skills, unlock shops or items, and more. Likewise, you can purchase URLs from a man in a club (it was 2009, so that probably still happened), and the websites can do anything from teach you ninja skills to improving your relationship with Social Links, even during the night.

The combat system in Reload is going to feel familiar to Persona fans, as it's more of an update to the original game than something new. At this point, it's very close to the Persona 5 combat system, where hitting elemental weaknesses allows you to perform a Baton Pass (called Shift in this version) to pass turns between characters. In this version, things like damage boosts are tied to Persona skills instead of existing by default. The damaging version of Light and Dark spells have also been added to this version of the game, so Ken and Koromaru have more distinct roles. The instant-kill versions of their spells are less useful, since you lose the ability to easily trigger Shuffle Time in Tartarus.

Probably the biggest new feature is Theurgy abilities. Unlocked early in the game, Theurgy functions like Limit Breaks in a Final Fantasy game. They are special cinematic moves that are unique to each character and can have extremely powerful effects. As an example, the protagonist gains various Fusion spells from previous games, while most of the main cast starts with an incredibly powerful elemental attack that ignores all resistances. As the game progresses, more Theurgy abilities are unlocked that tend to have more powerful but more specific effects.

Each character has a different way to build Theurgy, and it's largely dependent on their personality. Yukari gains more Theurgy for using healing spells. Junpei benefits when he does a critical hit. Akihiro gains more when buffing up, while Mitsuru (in a particularly funny inside joke) gains more for using status effect-causing spells and abilities. If you plan around their personal Theurgy, you can use them far more regularly.

I like the premise of Theurgy, but it runs into the small problem of being too powerful at times. If you go into a boss fight with four readied Theurgy attacks, you can overwhelm a good portion of the boss fights. The major boss fights prevent you from doing this, but it still drags down some of the Tartarus fights when you can solve them with an overwhelming barrage of death lasers. I feel like it's a better system than the combo attack/Showtime abilities from the previous two games, since it is something that's more directly controllable and understandable.

Speaking of Tartarus, it's received a pretty significant makeover. It's still a series of randomly generated levels, but the game has done a lot to flesh out those levels in more interesting ways. More random events take place during exploration to break up the monotony. Events include the Monad Doors, which are optional minibosses for greater rewards, or Greedy Shadows, which are a minigame where you gamble on which direction a golden shadow hand is going to run. At the end of each section of the dungeon, there's also a Monad Tunnel that has optional boss fights in exchange for powerful rewards. You can even find a special Great Clock door that lets you instantly level up two lower-level party members to be roughly on par with the protagonist.

Basic exploration has also seen a number of updates. You can now dash in Tartarus. While this begins as a way to move around faster, you'll gradually get upgrades that turn the Dash into something far more effective when used to initiate an attack, including starting the enemies in Distress status or assuring a first turn attack even on an aware enemy. Fuuka's navigation has been significantly upgraded with a series of special abilities that cost SP but allow her to do things like start the next battle with a buff, instantly scan all of an enemy's weaknesses, or turn you invisible.

Perhaps the biggest change is to Shuffle Time, the reward that pops up after a fight. Shuffle Time is rare to trigger normally but always pops up if you finish enemies with an All-Out Attack. The effects of Shuffle Time have changed, with the Swords card now yielding Skill Cards. The Cup cards now give a special bonus that can range from restoring HP to giving you an automatic reflect on the first attack to hit you in the next fight. Money and EXP cards are the same, but their amounts have been adjusted.

Instead, the big new addition is the appearance of Major Arcana in Shuffle Time. This happens randomly, but it is assured after Monad Door fights or certain other events. When a Major Arcana appears, you can select it for an incredibly powerful buff that lasts until you leave Tartarus. This includes increasing the number of cards you can choose, increasing the amount of experience gain when doing a Fusion with a social link, doubling your next personal stat gain, and more. Each card can only be found once per exploration, and you can only hold a limited number of them, but that number increases after you beat the major storyline bosses or explore a Monad Tunnel. This strongly encourages you to stick out the dungeon as long as possible.

This brings us to perhaps the only major nerf to exploring Tartarus. The game has removed the exhaustion system, but in doing so, it also severely restricted the healing clock at the entrance. Instead of using money, it uses Twilight Shards, which are a somewhat rare item that you mostly receive for improving social links, exploring town, or finding in the dungeon. It takes seven shards for a full heal, which can be prohibitive early on, because shards are also used for opening rare treasure chests for special items and costumes. This means you need to be more careful about SP usage, unless you want to leave loot behind. Theurgy and the Shift system avoid this being too punishing, but it means you have to consider if you want to waste shards or come back another day and lose your collected Major Arcana.

While Persona 3 Reload brings back a lot of the most popular upgrades from the previous versions of the game, it isn't necessarily a definitive edition. It lacks the female protagonist option, including all of her social links, as well as the post-game The Answer segment from FES. This does feel strange for an iteration of the game that is otherwise quite comprehensive. With that aside, it is probably the overall best version of the game to play now, with the gameplay changes and updated visuals going a long way toward making it a more pleasant experience. At its core, it is still the same game, and if Persona 3 didn't work for you, your opinion won't suddenly change with this title.

One area where the game has improved is in its visuals. The entire game has been given a glossy Persona 5-style makeover, with significantly improved animations, environment design, and character models. Cut scenes still use a blend of in-game engine and animated cut scenes, but for the most part, these all look much better than the original releases.

On the audio end, the game contains a huge batch of new music and remixed versions of classic tunes. I like some of them better than the original, and I like some of them less, but none are bad. A lot of it comes down to flavor, and Persona 3's soundtrack is still one of the best. The area that is a huge improvement is the new dub. Not only have all the social links been voiced, but the main cast consists of new actors, and I think they all nail their roles better than the original voice cast. Fuuka is a massive improvement and turns an annoying character into someone likable.

Persona 3 Reload is a fantastic — if safe — remake of an excellent game. The updates to the mechanics and visuals do a lot to bring it in line with Persona 5, and many of the game's rough edges are smoothed out. At the end of the day, it's still Persona 3, with all of its strengths and weaknesses, and it does a great job of recapturing the feel of a 2009 game in 2024. Fans will find a lot to like in Reload, and newcomers to the franchise will find a fantastic start to their journey.

Score: 9.0/10

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