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‘Persona 3 Reload’ review: Fusing style and substance, oozing with confidence and flair

Vincent Ternida, One More Game

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‘Persona 3 Reload’ review: Fusing style and substance, oozing with confidence and flair
'Persona 3 Reload' proves you can have both a challenging and accessible JRPG without losing Persona 3’s core identity

This review originally appeared on OneMoreGame.ph. Persona 3 Reload was reviewed on a PC and Steam Deck with a code from the publisher.

Sneak peek
  • Release Date: February 2, 2024
  • Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
  • Genre: JRPG
  • Similar Games: Persona 3 Portable, Persona 5 Royal
  • Price: starts at $69.99

Persona 3 Reload, the remake of Atlus’ PS2 cult classic released back in 2006 that was widely considered to have revolutionized the franchise, is finally here. Well, it will have been a few days by the time you read this, but it already feels like a dream fulfilled for the fans ever since it was first announced.

While the later entries in the series featured a much lighter tone, I preferred Persona 3’s grounded and darker roots, not something many would have widely appreciated back in the day.

The main story stays the same: as the clock strikes 12, the Dark Hour occurs. During this time, humanity is placed in suspended animation, but those conscious during this hour become targets of the elusive shadows. Members of SEES, an organization made up of teenagers able to utilize Personas to combat the shadows, are out to save the world.

Spectacularly, this remake takes the best parts of more modern Persona titles and fuses them with the engrossing story of Persona 3, resulting in a marriage of style and substance, oozing with confidence and flair, that was truly worth the wait.

‘Persona 3 Reload’ review: Fusing style and substance, oozing with confidence and flair
Burn my dread

As a longtime fan of Persona 3, I initially had mixed feelings about returning to this world. It was quite questionable as well since Persona 3 Reload didn’t include the additional features that subsequent iterations had, namely the female protagonist of P3P and the epilogue, called The Answer. After playing through the game, it’s easy to see that Atlus did a fine job of treating the source material with care, preserving the precious memory of how I felt when I first played it and even elevating the overall experience to new heights.

First off, and a quite important point to make: Persona 3 Reload is fully playable on a Steam Deck! Coming from our preview, which had obvious framerate dips and screen tearing, my experience with the game after a patch was absolutely flawless, devoid of said hiccups. Save for loading times, the game certainly feels at home on-the-go and is a big consideration for playing a title such as this.

Persona 3 Reload improves quite a lot of things apart from the obvious visual overhaul, key of which is how the soundtrack has been remastered for everyone’s listening pleasure. It’s easy to miss, but hearing the pitch changes to Mass Destruction and the addition of a new battle track, It’s Going Down Now, are just a few examples of how a masterful soundtrack enhances the overall experience.

Trying out both voice options, I did recognize that the English voice performances had noticeable improvements, almost enough to put it toe to toe with the Japanese dub. With almost every side character and minor character being fully voiced, Persona 3 has never sounded so good and certainly helps with being more engaged with the characters, their stories, and the journey they take together.

Returning to Persona 3 Reload’s combat brings you back to its roots, and while its core turn-based mechanics didn’t really change, the improved visual panache packs a punch by adding new combat animations and victory poses. Even the all-out attack now has a lead-up to its iconic beat-em-up animation, and it’s these improvements that make things more exciting.

Persona 3 Reload also updates the menu design with striking animations and transitions, eye-catching typeface, and completely redrawn character profiles. I’m a massive menu snob, but Atlus has mastered its stylish designs down to a T. Persona 5 had one of the best menu designs I’ve seen, bar none, and getting the uplift and extra flourishes applied to Persona 3 Reload did wonders for the overall experience.

The audiovisual leap truly makes Persona 3 Reload the definitive Persona 3 experience for both newcomers and fans. While I envy first-time players who will get to experience the depth of this installment with fresh eyes, longtime fans will be glad to know that it realizes and rekindles the magic of playing it for the first time despite the familiarity, something many similar efforts have failed to do.

The battle for everyone’s souls

Persona 3 Reload, somehow, feels fresh. I can easily attribute this to the impressive suite of quality-of-life improvements that polished a flawed gem to a brilliant shine, keeping its challenging gameplay intact while opening up the game to a wider audience.

One of the best additions is the fact that you can save anywhere on the map so long as it is not during a story mission or while traversing Tartarus. You can also use the rewind function to load a recent save point to try out another option, encouraging players to experiment with choices that they wouldn’t normally pursue. Trouble figuring out what social link to improve? Check out the network function and see what other players tried out!

Atlus has done well by taking this route, preserving the challenge while keeping the frustrating and dated mechanics at bay. You’ll still become exhausted and get sick if you overdo your Tartarus exploration, and you still need to manage your SP thoroughly to get the most out of your trips, but it feels more manageable this time around with the introduction of new combat mechanics such as Shift and Theurgy. Persona 3 Reload being much more approachable and less intimidating was the target and the devs have nailed it beautifully.

Persona 3 Reload introduces Linked Episodes and Dorm Life, adding more ways for your teammates to improve, learn new passive abilities in the form of Personalities, and even gain more stats when you spend time with them. Unlike the Social Links, there is no pressure to get the “correct answer,” so you can feel free to act the way you want your protagonist to act.

In Tartarus, many conveniences cut down on traversal time such as fast travel, the dash function, as well as speedy combat, and auto-recovery. The Great Clock, besides healing exhausted allies, will also speed up character progress later in the game. When you invest your hard-earned twilight fragments into the Great Clock; it will instantly level up your preferred allies’ levels, catching up to your level in no time.

The introduction of the Arcana Boost mechanic is also a great way to improve combat rewards. Your characters can gain more experience, boost Persona stats, and even select additional cards during Shuffle Time. These rewards are extra bonuses that will maximize your runs, ultimately making every run through Tartarus more rewarding.

The answer

Remakes are balancing acts that challenge creators to provide both a fresh take and a careful and thoughtful preservation of the original vision, even if it means making the difficult call to cull elements that have a strong emotional connection to fans.

The addition of The Answer and the Female Protagonist were novel experiments to Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable when they came out. After playing through Persona 3 Reload, I’ve come to the realization that these experiments didn’t quite fit with the overall vision of the title, which is already a sore point for many of the original’s fans. Despite having “less” content, I feel confident saying that this latest release kept the right things, making for an engaging and worthwhile playthrough.

The game is an easy 80 hours for the first run, with even more to discover in subsequent replays as you unlock more social links, continually interact with your teammates, and discover the secrets of Tartarus such as the Monad Doors and Monad Passages.

If anything, playing Persona 3 Reload makes it difficult to look back at the original release and try it out. So much of it has been modernized that makes taking a trek back to the past a painful journey. Despite being such a beloved entry in the series, this realization only reinforces the fact that Persona 3 Reload is simply the best way to experience this phenomenal title.

What we liked
  • The combination of Impressive visuals, added cut scenes, remastered music, and re-recorded audio provide a fresh experience
  • Superior quality of life enhancements while still maintaining the charm and challenge of the original.
  • Additions of Theurgy, Linked Episodes, and Arcana Boost make for manageable traversal across the world.
  • Grinding is a little less frustrating.
What we didn’t like
  • Previous iterations will be difficult to revisit with these new additions.
Verdict

9/10, Buy it!

Persona 3 Reload is a triumph, considering the degree of difficulty that Atlus was challenged with when they decided to remake such a classic. Through a combination of thoughtful upgrades and leaving behind dated mechanics, this title is ready to satisfy the evolving taste of franchise fans while catering to newcomers and introducing them to the world of Persona.

Persona 3 Reload proves that you can have both a challenging and accessible JRPG without losing Persona 3’s core identity; as it refines the dated designs and systems of the original by bringing it in line with Persona 5 Royal, offering a modern take that stands tall among its peers.

It is a privilege being able to bear witness as Persona 3 has matured from its flawed but subversive origin, its bold experiments with its various re-releases, and finally its ultimate rendition with Persona 3 Reload. The game is a brilliant reimagining, essential, and a fantastic example of a remake done right. – Rappler.com

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