Back when I was younger, one of my first ever introductions to the Persona, and really, the Shin Megami Tensei series in general, was Persona 3 Portable on the PSP. Unfortunately, situations arose and 11-year old me just wasn’t able to finish the game. Years passed, and I’ve been meaning to give it a go, but never had a reason to.
But then Reload was announced. With tons of quality of life improvements to both the experience and the overall game. And I will preface that saying that there’s definitely no better way to play the original, barring some exceptions, which I’ll get to.
The Hidden 13th Hour of the Day
In Persona 3 Reload, you play as a nameless protagonist. He does have a canon name depending on who you ask, but regardless of what name you give to him at the start of the game, it does not affect the story. Said protagonist awakens to the power of Persona, a “second self” that lies within you. These Persona users can fight against the Shadows, mysterious monsters that take away a person’s soul, causing them to become a hollow of their self.
These Shadows also appear during the Dark Hour, a hidden 13th hour that appears every time the clock hits midnight. The protagonist then joins the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, or S.E.E.S. for short, so that they can brave the mysterious tower that appears every time–Tartarus. Just what is the real truth behind it? Well, the answers to all that might lay at the tower’s top, composed of many, and I mean many floors.
High Schooler at Day, Dungeon Crawler at Night
When it comes to the gameplay in Persona 3 Reload, there’s two sides to it. The first side is that the protagonist is still a high schooler, so he’ll still have to commute every single day, and balance their academic studies, social interactions, and extracurricular activities. By hanging out with your classmates and making new friends, you’ll form tight-knit communities called Social Links. And it’s these Social Links that take me to the other side of this coin.
Namely, Tartarus. Persona 3 Reload only features this singular dungeon, but every night that you enter it, the dungeon layout changes entirely. It is here that you will also fight the Shadows, and here’s one thing that Reload has changed considerably. Before, Tartarus only had you beat up some enemies, find the stairs, and then pray that you can get to what are called Border Floors, which prevent progress until a certain date.
However, this time, you have several new additions to the mix, such as crystalized formations giving you items to sell for some money, and my favorite addition, the Monad doors, which contain strong enemies inside, but also a valuable treasure chest that will certainly benefit you. Clearing the Monad Doors also grants you a full view of the current and next floor.
A Drag on the Early Game
Perhaps the only negative point about Persona 3 Reload is that…the beginning is super slow. The great features of Tartarus I’ve mentioned previously don’t appear until later in the game, and at first, your party will be limited by just Yukari, Junpei and the protagonist, which doesn’t allow for a lot of wiggle room in terms of customization.
Yes, the Protagonist is basically an all-rounder who can field and fuse many different Personas, but this rather slow pacing can be a bit of a downer. That being said, the developers did remove one system that was a major source of critique in the original, and that was the Fatigue system.
Before, you couldn’t explore Tartarus for very long before your party members, and by extent, the protagonist, were simply too tired to move on. And if this fatigue got bad enough, you would be skipping an entire in-game day’s worth of activities. In a Japanese interview, I was told that the reason for such a removal was due to the conflicts that the feature caused with the iconic calendar system, and I honestly agree with the sentiment. It’s honestly a good riddance.
Beautiful Reimagined Graphics on Unreal Engine 4
Being a remake of the PS2 original, Persona 3 Reload’s graphics were completely redesigned using the legendary Unreal Engine 4. The game still retains the vibrant anime-inspired artwork and stylish character designs, but I gotta say, the game looks BEAUTIFUL. The developers definitely took enough care to make sure the original charm still stayed, but added this whole modern aesthetic to it.
The UI is one of my favorite parts of Persona 3 Reload. Its font choice does carry on some inspiration from Persona 5 Royal, but makes its own theme visible, and I actually prefer the colours and typography here. Atlus has really outdone themselves, and I can’t wait to see a sequel to the series with this sort of design.
And the soundtrack too, has seen some changes. Each and every single one of them has been given a modernized recomposing, and they sound almost the same as the original, but you can definitely tell that they’re different. Unfortunately, there is no option to revert back to the original songs, which might be a downer for the more nostalgic people.
Quality of Life Features! All the Improvements!
I honestly did not expect to have to dedicate an entire paragraph to the quality of life improvements that Persona 3 Reload but…boy, there are a ton of them. First up, social links! Now, you can receive messages from both businesses and friends you make. Selecting that message will bring a prompt that will instantly warp you to where that Social Link or business is located to, making it extremely convenient.
In addition, the battle system also has seen some major additions from Persona 5, such as the Shift system allowing you to pass your turn to another party member after triggering the 1 More, and, my favorite feature ever, Theurgy. This special attack gauge fills as the battle goes on, with each character having their own personality determining how they fill said gauge. These additions make the battle system feel very fresh, and are one of the highlights of my experience with Reload.
A Great Game for Persona Veterans and Newbies Alike
If I were to go back in time to tell my past self that we would see Persona 3 Reload, I’m sure he wouldn’t believe me, but it ended up happening. And this isn’t just a mere remake either, but a phenomenal way for both newcomers to the Persona series, or if you were like my past self, who just couldn’t be able to play the original, can enjoy the story of Persona 3 and its intricate themes on modern hardware.
- Tons of quality of life improvements to many systems
- An engaging story
- Beautiful graphics thanks to Unreal Engine 4
- Story beginning may be a bit slow
- The game costs $70, which is kind of a big ask.