The long wait for Persona 6 continues but in the meantime, Atlus is giving us remakes and more Persona 5 spin-offs than you can throw a shoe at. However, one of the most anticipated remakes I was personally looking forward to was Persona 3 Reload, a full-fledged remake of the classic 2006 JRPG with visual and UI improvements, changes, additions and more. Replaying this gem only reminded me why I once fell in love with Persona 3, and I’ve taken that plunge all over again.
Persona 3 was a bit of game-changer for the Persona series as a whole when it first launched. It laid the foundations for all future Persona games to be built upon but due to its age, it barely felt like it reached its full potential. Now, with Persona 3 Reload, Atlus has included all the modern touches of newer games in the series – particularly Persona 5 – and overhauled the game’s presentation, art and certain mechanics to an outstanding, polished degree. The overall experience here is much stronger than the original and a rare case of a remake truly exceeding the original.
In terms of storytelling, not much has actually changed from the original game. You play as a silent, nameless protagonist who arrives in Tatsumi Port Island in Japan. The protagonist soon discovers that a reality-bending cataclysm called the Dark Hour frequently occurs in this city; almost everyone is unaware of the Dark Hour except for a handful of teenagers who guide the protagonist in battling the shadowy creatures that inhabit this realm. Time reverts back to normal each day while night brings the dark changes.
Persona 3 Reload makes very minor changes to the original game’s story but not enough that it completely derails the excellent narrative. Instead, it’s only heightened in the remake thanks to improved visuals, some minor dialogue tweaks and re-recorded voice acting that’s a dramatic improvement over its counterpart. For the most part, the narrative structure is sturdy, captivating and rewarding, especially if you play by the game’s pace leading up to what is, in my personal opinion, the most impactful ending in the entire Persona series.
Beyond that, if you’re familiar with the flow of gameplay from other Persona games then you’ll feel right at home with Persona 3 Reload. Part dungeon-crawler and part life simulator, your time is divided into day and night sections. During the day, you’re free to chart out a course for yourself, increase your stats, build relationships or romances, study to earn beneficial knowledge and explore various locations around Tatsumi Port Island. You can also use this time to form connections with NPCs who mostly have compelling stories to tell.
During the night, however, you’re thrown into the thick of the action. Due to the Dark Hour’s effect, Gekkoukan High School transforms into a labyrinthine dungeon called Tartarus. This was an aspect of the game I dreaded replaying the most as in the original, Tartarus was a tedious and oftentimes ugly stretch of warped areas that became repetitive quickly. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as bad in Reload thanks to some significant little tweaks to the layouts, making traversal a lot faster than what I remember.
While in Tartarus, you engage with beings called Shadows that can be defeated for experience or captured and turned into your Personas, which gradually accumulate throughout the game. Most Shadows have elemental weaknesses that you can exploit and while in turn-based combat, you can assign specific buffs and elemental attacks to characters. Thanks to newly added mechanics called Survey and Assist, you can automatically detect a monster’s weakness and immediately pick out an attack best suited for dealing higher damage.
Combat get more interesting with Shift, a new mechanic in Persona 3 Reload that operates similarly to Baton Pass from Persona 5. Using Shift, players can pass their turn onto another character if an enemy is downed, allowing you to continue attacking other enemies or chaining attacks to build up devastating damage. This can be used to down several enemies in a single turn if your party formation is strong enough, giving you a flashy All-Out Attack finisher that clears the battlefield. It’s stylish and satisfying with improved animations giving those big attacks a lot more visual punch – another refinement Atlus took from Persona 5.
Since this is a role-playing game where actions and decisions have consequences, Atlus also added a nifty new feature that allows you to rewind time to a previous point. This comes in handy if you make decisions that lead to less-desirable outcomes and want to re-roll time to see a different outcome. Of course, it’s also a bit simpler to just create multiple save files but the rewind feature is pretty intuitive too since it’s less intrusive than save scumming and doesn’t erase any valuable progress made outside of story decisions.
Overall, you’ll be juggling relationships and managing your time in Persona 3 Reload which is incredibly addictive and immersive. The story isn’t as formidably long as Persona 5 – you can finish it in about 50 hours – but Reload graciously reworks a lot of the original’s narrative shortcomings. Some storylines that were deemed “problematic” before for various reasons have been updated here to better reflect the changing of the times. It doesn’t hurt the overall experience in the slightest as it actually adds to certain character’s troubles and motives. These changes are miniscule though, as much of the story is in tact and better than ever in Reload.
Persona 3 Reload isn’t without some faults, though. As much as Atlus reworked the tedium of Tartarus, it’s still a fairly generic dungeon to crawl around in, scope for new items or initiate combat to get stronger so you can eventually face each cycle’s boss. Think of it as Persona 5 without the elaborate heist dungeons, where all you do in the game is Mementos. Even then, Tartarus is simply a bunch of stitched-together areas that are less interesting to explore than Mementos.
In that case, Reload‘s refined-to-perfection combat does most of the heavy-lifting. Thanks to a redesigned UI that’s easy to navigate and stylish, battles feel incredibly smooth for a turn-based game, to the point where it’s easy to forget you’re still taking turns. The only downside to combat is the difficulty changes. Persona 3 Reload actually feels easier than the original with all the new systems in place. Even on higher difficulties, it was rare that I ran into a challenge that required me to really think strategically. On one hand, it’s very accessible for newcomers but on the other hand, veteran players might find the overall experience lacking in challenge except for the game’s staple boss fights.
Persona 3 Reload is a superb remake that modernises the original in clever ways while giving it a Persona 5-esque facelift. It’s a deep, rewarding JRPG with rich, engaging storytelling and characters that you’ll grow to adore. It goes without saying but if Persona 5 was your entry point into the Persona series, you owe it to yourself to play Reload. It’s a remake that elevates the source material and for many long-time fans, it still tells the best story in the franchise – one that you cannot miss, even with a gun to your head.
Persona 3 Reload is currently available to purchase for R1,399 on PS5. It’s also available for PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC.
Persona 3 Reload
Persona 3 Reload is a worthy remake that adds modern touches to the combat, UI, characters and storytelling, further enhancing an already unforgettable RPG experience.