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Persona 3: Reload review- A remake full of life and soul

Sam Cawley

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Persona 3: Reload review- A remake full of life and soul

Featured Image Credit: SEGA

Persona 3: Reload is another stunning remake from the good folks at Atlus. It modernises the gameplay of the original release to be more akin to Persona 5: Royal, while telling an original story and improving on the gameplay formula.

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While I have a few gripes with the game which I’ll get to in due time, I can confidently say this is one of the best JRPGs I’ve played in recent memory, and it has already eaten up several days of my time with never a dull moment.

Take a look at the trailer for Persona 3: Reload below.

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Now before we get properly started on the game, we need to address the elephant in the room. Like Persona 4: Golden and Persona 5: Royal, new content has been added to the game which is great to see, but while the additional gameplay and story should be a sweet treat to longtime fans of the series, it’s made sour by the content it seemingly replaced. The most noticeable change is you’re no longer given the choice to choose your own protagonist. Instead of picking from a male or female, you’re forced to play as the male character and while it’s not the worst decision in the world, I think we can all agree choosing your gender in a game is the bare minimum nowadays. At its core, the Persona series is about relationships, both platonic and romantic, so when it locks you into the role of a heterosexual male, it can be disappointing.

A larger piece of cut content is an epilogue called The Answer. Without getting into spoilers, The Answer was a fairly short add-on to the original story that saw you take control of a different character, and was the cherry on top for such a fantastic adventure. A new epilogue takes its place but in comparison, I’d have preferred The Answer remain in the remake, purely for what it adds to the overall story and fresh perspective to the gameplay.

Fortunately, those are the only two complaints I can make about Persona 3: Reload, so without further adieu let’s move onto everything the game does right, and there’s a lot to get through.

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Persona 3: Reload- SEGA
Persona 3: Reload- SEGA

The game itself is absolutely gorgeous. The original release of Persona 3 was a PlayStation 2 game so it was expected the graphics were going to get a significant boost thanks to the advances in hardware. However, I wasn’t expecting the game to look as good as it does. Persona 5: Royal had a fantastic art style that popped with colour, but I’d argue Persona 3: Reload leaves it in the dust. Whether it’s the warm and inviting yellow of your home/base of operations, the cool blues of the city, or the sickly, acidic green hue of the world when it’s taken over by the Dark Hour, the colour palette always sets the mood appropriately.

Character designs are top-tier, and while they lack some expression - being stationary for the majority of cutscenes - it doesn’t take away from their overall appeal to the player. They’re also incredibly well-written with the dialogue and voice acting ranging from humour that actually got a good laugh out of me from time to time, or heartfelt conversations that played with my emotions. Personas and monsters are also particularly menacing and powerful, especially boss monsters. It’s alway the mark of good enemy design when one appears and makes you internally question, “How am I going to kill this thing?” which makes it especially rewarding when you bring one down. Some of the creatures you’ll encounter are also quite unsettling at times which almost morphs it into a horror game during certain story encounters.

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Then we have the soundtrack, packed with groovy tunes that are bound to find their way onto your home playlist. Like the game’s art style, the music helps set the tone of the situation and conveys the type of emotions you should be feeling at the time. The songs range from chilled lofi beats to relax and study to, to bombastic scores that motivate you to give everything you’ve got in a battle. The music has always been one of the best parts of any Persona game and Persona 3: Reload doesn’t disappoint as it never feels intrusive or out of place, and most importantly it never gets old on repeat listens.

Persona 3: Reload- SEGA
Persona 3: Reload- SEGA

Moving onto the story. The gist of it is you’re a new transfer student moving to Tatsumi Port Island. All seems relatively normal aside from a few crazy characters, but things quickly go awry when you experience the horrors of the Dark Hour, a hidden hour that begins at the stroke of midnight where the world warps and monsters lurk in the shadows. Normal people don’t experience the Dark Hour, instead being sealed in coffins unaware of the changes to the world outside. Some unlucky folk are being removed from their coffins though, and are falling victim to what’s known as the Apathy Syndrome, reducing them to a catatonic state of which there’s seemingly no cure. The only ones who can experience the Dark Hour first hand and defend themselves from its threats are persona users like yourself, and you’re quickly recruited into the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, or S.E.E.S for short, a task force dedicated to ending the Dark Hour and protecting the world from its harmful effects.

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Overall, it’s a great story and packs more than enough twists and turns, without being afraid to slow down every now and then. After all, you’re still a school student at the end of the day with other responsibilities than just saving the world. The whole thing plays out like an anime where you’re the main character, meaning there are the action-packed segments, info dumps, recollections, and a few filler/slice-of-life storylines thrown in for good measure. I personally prefer Persona 5’s story, though I was still invested and eager to learn more about S.E.E.S, the Dark Hour, and who’s pulling the strings.

Persona 3: Reload- SEGA
Persona 3: Reload- SEGA

Gameplay is easily represented by a coin, with two halves that play very differently but are symbiotic in nature. The two halves are combat/story progression, and the other is side content, also known as the slice-of-life part of the game. You’re given the choice of which part you’d like to focus on with each in-game day, but if you ever feel a day has been wasted or if you just want to explore a different option, you can always revert to a previous save or take advantage of the new rewind mechanic. This will take you back to the start of whatever day you’re on, and is worth remembering in case you ever want to quickly reverse a mistake without losing too much progress.

Persona 3: Reload’s combat takes place during scripted story segments and when you’re exploring Tartarus, a colossal tower that only appears during the Dark Hour, and can be explored whenever you choose. Some levels will be inaccessible until certain parts of the game but when you’re there, you’ll ascend each floor with your party while slaying monsters, looting chests, and levelling up your characters. Initiating a battle is as simple as attacking a nearby monster, and engaging in your standard turn-based RPG combat. Every enemy has a weakness to exploit, whether it be a type of physical damage or an element, and it’s up to the player to experiment with what moves will give you the advantage.

The highlights of combat are when you’re consistently hitting the weak points of the enemies on screen as when all of them are stunned/knocked down, you can initiate a flashy all-out attack that usually obliterates everything in your way. Each playable character also receives a super move later in the game that charges up during combat, and can easily turn the tide of a tough encounter when deployed at the right time. Learning how to best organise your party is integral to success, so it’s best to become acquainted with all of your allies to understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie, picking your favourites will only get you so far.

Persona 3: Reload- SEGA
Persona 3: Reload- SEGA

This also applies to your personas. Your character is blessed with the ability to have more than one persona in your arsenal and you can collect more at the end of Tartarus battles. If you hit an opponent's weakness enough times, or end the battle with an all-out attack, you’ll enter Shuffle-Time. This lets you choose from an assortment of cards holding various effects and rewards like bonus experience, healing your party’s wounds, changing an aspect of Tarturus until you leave or granting you a new persona, just to name a few. In the original version of the game, things played out a bit differently as you were given a card at random instead of letting you pick for yourself, so this version of Shuffle-Time is a huge improvement and one of the best changes made to the game.

You’ll often find yourself choosing the persona cards more than anything, as personas can be fused together to create a new, often more powerful, monster with more abilities. You’ll want to fuse them often to ensure your roster is as powerful as it can be, and it was great fun experimenting with the different combinations and holding onto certain personas in case I could fuse them into something better later in the game. In time, you’ll also unlock different fusion techniques for greater results.

All in all Tartarus is an enjoyable dungeon that seemingly never ends. Each section takes on a new appearance or theme, and the layout is random each time you visit with a few exceptions. Ascending its many, many levels is engaging, and the boss encounters encourage you to master your skills and ensure your team is as strong as possible before tackling them. It’s a great part of the game, which is good as you’ll be spending a lot of your time climbing it.

Persona 3: Reload- SEGA
Persona 3: Reload- SEGA

The other half of the coin revolves around living. As stated at the beginning, one of the fundamental parts of the Persona series is the relationships you kindle with other characters, and Persona 3: Reload doesn’t disappoint with its cast of Social Links. These are the people you’ll spend your time with when you’re not studying at school or plundering Tartarus, and while some are definitely more memorable than others, there’s some excellent variation here.

Social Links, like personas, are tied to a specific tarot card and maxing out these links can greatly improve the results of fusing personas. For example, if the Devil Social Link is at level six, any persona fusion that results in a Devil result will gain six extra levels, making them a crucial part of the game. Spending time with these characters will differ depending on how many times you’ve spoken to them as well as what their passions are. Many are tied to extra-curricular clubs at your school whereas others you’ll meet at random whilst exploring Tatsumi Port Island. You really start to feel for these characters as time goes on, especially when they start to open up to you about their personal problems which you can sometimes help with by sharing some kind/encouraging words or just simply hearing them out. You’ll hang out with them after school, watch a movie, eat some ramen or just sit on a bench somewhere and talk about life. Some can even blossom into romantic relationships if you reciprocate their feelings for you. I loved spending time with the Social Links, though I was a tad disappointed that increasing their levels didn’t have bonus effects like the Social Links in Persona 5.

For me, this was where the game was at its strongest, as the highlights often occur when the game takes its time. More importantly, the game respects your own time as you can experience just about everything it has to offer in whatever order you choose. There will be scripted moments like when you have to dedicate a few days for school exams or go on a mission for S.E.E.S but for the most part, your life is your own and Persona 3: Reload isn’t going to tell you how to live it.

Persona 3: Reload- SEGA
Persona 3: Reload- SEGA

At its core, Persona 3: Reload is a game about relationships and it’s that focus that will motivate the player to experience everything it has to offer. You’ll want to advance the story to see how your team expands and becomes a more coherent unit, spend time with your Social Links to grow closer to them, and explore the island to learn how best to spend your time.

Persona 3: Reload is an enormous time investment with rarely a minute wasted. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, you’ll likely be invested from start to finish and it’s nice to see the game cater to so many different playstyles.

It’s still disappointing to know that some content from the original release was gutted for the remake, though it’s clear this was an intentional decision to bring it more in line with the other revamped Persona games. Overall, when you evaluate Persona 3: Reload on how well it remakes the original, it’s clear this is an improvement in almost every way. It’s a masterful JRPG with a lot of heart and streamlined gameplay that’s beautifully presented through stunning animations and a fantastic soundtrack.

Whether you’re a lifelong Persona fan or a total newcomer, Persona 3: Reload is well worth your time as both a stunning remake and a unique masterpiece.

Pros: Gorgeous visuals and soundtrack, exciting strategic exploration and combat, intriguing story, memorable and charming social life moments

Cons: Cut content from original version is disappointing

For fans of: Persona, JRPGs, Anime,

9/10: Exceptional

Persona 3: Reload will launch on 2 February for PlayStation 5 (version tested), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC. Review code was provided by the publisher, SEGA. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Topics: Persona, Sega, Xbox, PlayStation, PC

Sam Cawley
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