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Persona 3 Reload Review

Chris Moyse
30, Jan, 2024, 13:00 GMT
Reviewed On PS5
Available On:

Pros

  • Great new models & animations
  • Lush, stylish presentation
  • Characters still an absolute delight
  • New engine optimizes performance
  • Solid work from new voice cast

Cons

  • Lack of FES content is cynical & frustrating
  • Dated gameplay loop may shock newcomers
  • Remixed soundtrack disappointing
  • $60 price tag a tough ask

Final Verdict

75
Read Final Verdict

When Atlus released Shin Megami Tensai: Persona 3 for PlayStation 2 back in 2006, I recall one tabloid newspaper publishing a scaremongering article about it, claiming that a new Japanese RPG “glamorized suicide” and was about “schoolchildren shooting themselves”. The piece went as far as to suggest it had caused a spate of copycat suicides in its native Japan - only to then discredit this exact same claim later on in the exact same article. Rockstar’s Manhunt 2 was still a year away from release, so I guess something had to spur panic for our favorite medium that year.

One can’t entirely blame the pearl-clutching British media for jumping onto its well-worn-out high horse. Anime has often presented dark, distressing, and upsettingly relatable themes behind its colorful and vibrant imagery - a juxtaposition that is sure to cause panic in those only watching with one eye. Though it did not invent this form of digital storytelling, Persona 3 popularized a new wave of interest in anime RPGs, with Western players in particular forgoing typically fantasy-based adventure for tales featuring contemporary settings; young, trendy protagonists; and an narrative mix of romance, violence, and the occult - a combination sure to get eyebrows raised, tongues clucked and, conveniently, copies sold.

Of course, Persona 3 is much more than this, with the release not only fortifying the Shin Megami Tensei spin-off series, but also becoming the blueprint for many anime RPGs that would follow in its stead. This week, 16 years on from its initial release, Gekkoukan High opens its gates once again, inviting pupils old and new the opportunity to experience the comedy, drama, friendship, and heartbreak that exist within its hallowed halls.

Grab your Evoker and Burn Your Dread. School life can be Hell.

The Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad returns

Persona 3 Reload is a remake of one of the most innovative and genre-defining RPGs of all-time. Much like Square Enix’s decision to remake Final Fantasy VII, developer P-Studio is in an extremely binding position - having to recreate such an iconic release while treading the fine line between evolution and tradition. But where Square Enix chose to fully embrace evolution - redesigning and rewriting its own magnum opus - P-Studio has instead chosen to err on the side of tradition, focusing mostly on aesthetic and technical upgrades while leaving Persona 3’s story and gameplay relatively unchanged. A decision made for better and for worse.

Perhaps understandably - given its stellar sales and critical reputation - Persona 3 Reload looks to the most popular entry in the Persona franchise, Persona 5, as the guiding light for its grand return. While it might be cliche, (even lazy), to suggest that P3 Reload has basically had a “Persona 5 Template” stapled to it, it’s still a snug descriptor. Various elements of P3 Reload’s UI, HUD layout, camera positioning, splash art, character portraits, and special effects unmistakably mirror the slick aesthetic of the 2016 best-seller. While this makes for a striking presentation it does, admittedly, result in a slight loss of identity from P3‘s original style, which is an unavoidable side-effect of adopting another game’s aesthetic.

Regardless, this visual redesign is a welcome one, with Persona 3’s unmistakable world depicted in crisp, widescreen, HD visuals, running at an (initially startling) 60 frames-per-second and populated by new and attractive character models - offering a greater degree of personality to the pathos, comedy, and tragedy of P3’s storyline. An expanded population of NPCs also brings a notable improvement to the atmosphere, with Persona 3’s once hauntingly empty corridors, classrooms, and strip malls now bustling with wandering teens, exhausted salarymen, loitering children, and zombie-like citizens imbued with “Apathy Syndrome” - the spooky mental status that forms the spine of P3 Reload’s narrative.

The environments, though most definitely improved, are not exemplary - and the new character models are awkwardly juxtaposed against set decoration that doesn’t quite match the same levels of quality. The decision to render many of the NPCs faceless is a distracting choice, while a nightclub dance floor populated by perfectly static dancers is just plain odd. Generally, P3 Reload’s visuals do not sport the same vibrancy of those featured in recent releases such as Persona 5 and Persona 5 Tactica, but Reload does play host to an attractive world and its ever-more attractive characters.

(1 of 2) The new character models and vibrant splash art splendidly enhance the social dramedy

The new character models and vibrant splash art splendidly enhance the social dramedy (left), though many environments are a bit lackluster (right)

Remixing a soundtrack frequently recognized as one of the greatest in gaming history is a curious choice. Still, remixes of the Persona 3 score have, in the past, proved very successful. Unfortunately, P3 Reload‘s OST is a little uninspired, with battle themes such as “Mass Destruction” and chiller tracks such as “When the Moon’s Reaching Out Stars“ replaced with muted remixes that don’t hit the same emotional highs. Previously acclaimed remixes - such as those used in spin-offs like Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight - would likely have made for a better fit. P3 Reload‘s new soundtrack is serviceable. It’s fine. But I personally find it disappointingly inferior to the original.

In news that will come as a relief to some, a rock-solid performance is put in by the new cast of actors - given the unenviable task of recreating dialogue that has been welded into fans’ minds for over a decade. A fantastic effort has been made by all involved to accurately recreate and convey the memorable personalities of P3’s extended cast. Junpei, (Zeno Robinson), Akihiko, (Alejandro Saab), Fuuka, (Suzie Yeung), and Mitsuru, (Allegra Clark), are particular standouts, while most ancillary characters - such as Yuko and Maiko - have been revitalized with new and authentic voice work.

While there will be a few vocal performances that perhaps won’t quite hit for everybody, the cast of P3 Reload has absolutely understood the assignment, ensuring that all of the core characters do not return sounding like total strangers.

Persona 3’s action is as polished as it has ever been, boasting fluid action, dynamic animations, and a luscious presentation style.

Persona 3 Reload tells the story of “The Dark Hour”, a hidden segment of time that exists at the stroke of midnight. During this hour, humans enter a gloomy period of stasis while strange ghouls, spirits, demons, and shadows run amok in a warped version of our own world. A handful of students, seemingly unaffected by this reality-bending metamorphosis, form the “Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad” (SEES), looking to investigate this phenomenon, quell the Shadow Realm’s invasion, and protect an unknowing civilization from this unseen terror.

Players don the blazer of a (somewhat apathetic) student of Gekkoukan High, Makoto Yuki, who is tasked with guiding his fellow SEES members into “Tartarus”, a towered, perpetually-shifting labyrinth that serves as the Shadows’ stronghold. Each night, during The Dark Hour, the SEES push further and further into Tartatus, hoping to put a stop to the Shadows via this war of attrition. As they proceed, the SEES will earn new powers, loot gear and weaponry, upgrade their abilities, recruit new members, and further hone the use of their bespoke, otherworldly guardians, better known as “Persona”.

Maybe the real treasure is the robot girlfriends we made along the way.

What Persona 3 brought to the franchise, (in a move that would then become de facto for many anime RPGs to follow), was a heavier focus on the social lives of the protagonist and their friends and companions. When not in Tartarus, Makoto continues his school life as usual; attending class, (now featuring all-new quiz questions), joining clubs, interacting with teachers and classmates, and enjoying various activities around town. It is through spending time with his new friends and allies that Makoto furthers his own social skills, opening up new possibilities for him and the SEES once they step back into the dungeons of Tartarus.

In retrospect, it’s amusing to see just how straight-speaking and to-the-point Persona 3‘s storytelling is. Day Two and Makoto knows the score, Day Four and he’s already leading the gang into Tartarus! Narrative build is important, obviously, but you ask Persona 5 the time and it tells you how to make a watch.

(1 of 2) From its menus and its HUD

From its menus and its HUD (left), to its in-game action, Persona 3 Reload is dripping with style (right)

It’s impossible to overstate Persona 3 Reload‘s emphasis on social interaction. Helping friends with their array of soap-opera-esque issues, cultivating relationships, providing guidance to those in need, flirting, dating, and expanding one’s creative horizons are the foundational themes that built the Persona experience as we know it today. In P3 Reload, the compelling nature of these person-to-person encounters still holds true. This is thanks to a magnetic cast of warm, interesting characters and their respective substories that, while admittedly a little oversimplified in matters of the head and the heart, are still capable of investing the player. Such is the relentless melodrama of The Best Days of Your Lives.

Being just in unjust times, facing your personal demons, opening your mind, walking the road less traveled, and generally Doing The Right Thing offer us all a timeless sense of growth, challenge, pride, and satisfaction. As such, Persona 3’s lead narrative, as well as its schoolyard side-drama, is just as absorbing today as it was back in 2006.

Battling through Tartarus lies at the other end of the contemporary spectrum. Following on from the personality-and-puzzle themed palaces of Persona 5, returning to Persona 3’s single-tower of terror is something of a culture shock. Newer fans, perhaps coming to Persona 3 for the first time, should be made aware that the procedurally generated floors of Tartarus represent the dungeon for 90% of the campaign. An apt comparison would be to imagine Persona 5 if the only dungeon available was Mementos.

While the dungeon-dashing, loot-grabbing, and shadow-scrapping remain engaging, Persona 3 is famously a title that absolutely embraced The Grind. So Persona 5 fans should perhaps temper their expectations when it comes to P3 Reload’s much more linear dungeon-crawling action.

(1 of 2) The ethereal Velvet Room

The ethereal Velvet Room (left), lets Makoto strengthen and evolve his menagerie of Persona (right)

When it comes to the gameplay itself, P3 Reload mostly sticks to the script of its predecessor. The post-battle “Shuffle Time” no longer hides its hand, (literally), allowing the player to choose a card from the Tarot in order to receive buffs or a new Persona. In addition, gathering several Arcana Cards during one Tartarus visit activates an “Arcana Burst”, unlocking further bonuses. While removing the “unseen” element of Shuffle Time is an interesting twist on the mechanic, it does make progress through the Shadow Realm easier - perhaps even too easy for the Persona veteran. Those well-versed in the series as a whole should choose a difficulty setting from the higher end of the five available.

Combat itself retains the element-focused, turn-based tactics that are the series’ trademark. Cool new animations have been added for Critical Hits, Team Shifts, and All-Out Attacks, lending additional excitement and immersion to the scrap. The new “Theurgy” system affords each party member a bespoke special attack, earned after achieving individual objectives. Again, these attacks are accompanied by polished cinematic sequences, spotlighting the chosen hero in their moment of glory. The “Scout” feature lets the SEES send a member ahead to map floors, spot enemies, and bag treasures at the cost of a reduced hunting party.

Persona 3 Reload offers an updated, but not overhauled take on its original gameplay. This results in both dungeon-crawling adventures and extra-curricular activities that have inarguably dated due to the passage of time and the progression of the series as a whole. But, more positively, Persona 3 Reload presents the action as cleanly, as precisely, and as polished as it has ever been. Boasting fast, fluid combat, dynamic animations, luscious presentation, and an abstinence of load-times.

It is important to contextualize Persona 3 as the sequel to Persona 2, and not approach it as a prequel to Persona 5. The latter mindset is easy to fall into and, ultimately, it makes for an unfair and unwinnable comparison for Fuuka and friends.

And if you make Fuuka cry then we got a problem, pal.

(1 of 2) Makoto is a very social person, whether he's taking an alien woman to the shops

Makoto is a very social person, whether he's taking an alien woman to the shops (left), or hanging out with a toddler he doesn't know at the playground (right)

It’s big ol’ sigh time, as we address two of Persona 3 Reload’s toughest pills to swallow - issues that are surprisingly synched and, frustratingly, hang heavy over the release.

Persona 3 Reload does not contain any of the content from the celebrated 2007 update, Persona 3 FES, or its 2009 PSP port, Persona 3 Portable. The popular epilogue chapter, The Answer, is missing in its entirety and there is also no sign of The Desert of Doors, Velvet Room assistant Theodore, or the alternate female protagonist, known lovingly to the community as “FemC”. The fan base has already reacted harshly to this revelation and frankly, it’s not hard to see why.

Additionally, there are also no “museum-piece” features here. No jukebox, art galleries, trailers, or marketing materials, which is a missed opportunity, especially when you factor in the second sour pill: a steep price point. Released without the full suite of content, launched alongside Day One DLC, and afforded a AAA price tag puts a damper on the whole affair. Ultimately this is a matter between you and your wallet but, in any case, it’s disappointing that one of the most renowned RPGs in history hasn’t been released in a definitive format that both maximizes its potential and celebrates its legacy.

It’s important to contextualize Persona 3 as a sequel to Persona 2, not as a prequel to Persona 5. The latter is easy to do, and makes for an unfair comparison.

With Persona 3 Reload, Atlus and P-Studio pay tribute to one of the most important releases in the developer’s history, offering it a gorgeous and glossy coat of paint and affixing a shiny new engine - both of which serve to better highlight Persona 3’s accolades. In that regard, Persona 3 Reload is the most appealing and most refined way for new players to experience the story of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad. Unfortunately, this release still falls short of being crowned the “definitive edition”, due to its frustrating content omissions and its aversion to gameplay evolution.

That said, Persona 3 is considered a bonafide classic for good reason. The quintessential social RPG is still held in high regard, with a reputation built upon quality design, memorable characters, relatable themes, and a charged, emotional narrative. Persona 3 Reload, despite its shortcomings, still offers all of this - freshly buffed for a new term.

Thus, 16 years later, the dungeons of Tartarus and the hallways of Gekkoukan High are still beguiling, even if only to discover which of these venues offers the more treacherous environment.

This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.

Final Verdict

Velvet, Oh Velvet...

One of the most esteemed and cherished RPGs of all time returns, smoother and smarter than ever. Unfortunately, Persona 3 Reload deals an incomplete hand, with disappointing omissions, stunted evolution, and a contentious price tag. Nonetheless, its indelible cast retain their infectious social spirit, set to break your heart and burn your dread all over again.

Gameplay:

A

Sound:

B

Graphics:

B

Story:

A

Value Rating:

D
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Editor

Chris has been playing video games since 1986, back when people saw in black and white. Former editor for Destructoid, their thoughts and reports on the media taste forgot have also been published in outlets such as Eurogamer, Starburst, and Retro Gamer. Joining the Gamer Guides crew in 2023, Chris contributes fair and thoughtful critique on a wide variety of genres.
7 Comments
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Great review Sir Chris! It does look pretty spiffy but as you pointed out they could have done a bit more with it. I'll get it sometime down the line.

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Good review. I've never been able to beat any persona game but I love playing them. I'll get this down the line when I can, lord knows there's so many bangers releasing this month.

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Small correction: the epilogue added in FES is "The Answer", "The Journey" is what the original campaign was retroactively named.

Thanks for the thorough review Chris.

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It's been a stellar month for release, no doubt.

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Great review, its clear you have a big love and background with the persona series in this review!I am quite surprised you didn't like the remixes much in P3 Reloaded, I have listened to most of the released remixed music and I really love it, like it a lot more then the original game music not remixed.I love the remix done in P3 dancing by the jet set radio composer but I don't prefer any of the P3 dancing remix music to the normal music. Somehow in P5 dancing they managed to make nearly every persona 5 song sound worse the the normal P5 music lol.

Music is subjective so not to say I am saying your "wrong" just I had a pretty different reception to the music so far is all which is normal to agree and disagree on msuic.

I am kinda interested in this game but 250 floors of samey procedural generated room floors to go through does make me want to say nahhhhhh to trying the game. I do agree the art feels a bit off for the new portrait and character art especially in comparison to p5 character and 2D portrait art, 3D models look great though.

I think the FEMC content being gone is a massive blow to the game, The Answer content should be a massive blow too but I heard a lot off P3 fans say that content is kind of a miserable grind to get to smaller bits of story it has and the story is a mixed bag of some good and some very pointless parts and not worth the like doing 20 hours of grinding for it.This was their chance to address those issues and heavily rework that content though and they just did not. Definitely very disappointing for a full priced remake with day one dlc to be doing this. If we see both this game and RE4 Remake bring back cut content in a full price remake later as smaller priced DLC then thats really going to suck.Sucked a lot already in RE4 remake ada wong dlc.

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Fantastic review as always. Looking forward to another dive into this.

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Another solid review mate. So proud of all the work you’re doing here. Keep em coming!

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Another solid review mate. So proud of all the work you’re doing here. Keep em coming!

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Fantastic review as always. Looking forward to another dive into this.

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Great review, its clear you have a big love and background with the persona series in this review!I am quite surprised you didn't like the remixes much in P3 Reloaded, I have listened to most of the released remixed music and I really love it, like it a lot more then the original game music not remixed.I love the remix done in P3 dancing by the jet set radio composer but I don't prefer any of the P3 dancing remix music to the normal music. Somehow in P5 dancing they managed to make nearly every persona 5 song sound worse the the normal P5 music lol.

Music is subjective so not to say I am saying your "wrong" just I had a pretty different reception to the music so far is all which is normal to agree and disagree on msuic.

I am kinda interested in this game but 250 floors of samey procedural generated room floors to go through does make me want to say nahhhhhh to trying the game. I do agree the art feels a bit off for the new portrait and character art especially in comparison to p5 character and 2D portrait art, 3D models look great though.

I think the FEMC content being gone is a massive blow to the game, The Answer content should be a massive blow too but I heard a lot off P3 fans say that content is kind of a miserable grind to get to smaller bits of story it has and the story is a mixed bag of some good and some very pointless parts and not worth the like doing 20 hours of grinding for it.This was their chance to address those issues and heavily rework that content though and they just did not. Definitely very disappointing for a full priced remake with day one dlc to be doing this. If we see both this game and RE4 Remake bring back cut content in a full price remake later as smaller priced DLC then thats really going to suck.Sucked a lot already in RE4 remake ada wong dlc.

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1
User profile pic
4

Small correction: the epilogue added in FES is "The Answer", "The Journey" is what the original campaign was retroactively named.

Thanks for the thorough review Chris.

4
6
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4

It's been a stellar month for release, no doubt.

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1
User profile pic
4

Good review. I've never been able to beat any persona game but I love playing them. I'll get this down the line when I can, lord knows there's so many bangers releasing this month.

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User profile pic
4

Great review Sir Chris! It does look pretty spiffy but as you pointed out they could have done a bit more with it. I'll get it sometime down the line.

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