Persona 3 Reload review: A fresh and faithful return to S.E.E.S.
Persona 3 Reload is bringing a JRPG classic from the PlayStation 2 era to modern audiences, but does it offer enough to justify its $70 price point?
A lot has changed in the gaming world in the nearly 20 years since Persona 3 first launched. In that time, the series has exploded in popularity, with Persona 5 in particular expanding the audience for the once-niche JRPG franchise.
Now, Atlus is revisiting the game that most would agree turned Persona into what it is today. Persona 3 Reload is a ground-up remake of the 2006 classic that modernizes the game’s visuals, audio and mechanics while delivering the same tragic and powerful story of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad.
It would be easy to sum up Persona 3 Reload as the original with a coat of Persona 5 paint, but that would undersell how much has really been modernized and improved. Persona 3 Reload manages to balance faithfulness to the original with new mechanics, story content, and quality-of-life changes that really feel like they were always meant to be part of the experience.
Persona 3 Reload – Key Details
- Price: £59.99 / $69.99 / €69.99
- Developer: P-Studio (Atlus)
- Release Date: 2 February 2024
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
S.E.E.S. the Day
Persona 3 Reload, once again, tells the story of a high school student who, after transferring to Gekkoukan High School, becomes wrapped up in a mystery surrounding the Dark Hour. Players quickly become the leader of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (or S.E.E.S.) as the group tries to defeat Shadows and uncover the truth behind this strange and dangerous phenomenon.
It’s a dark story – one that centers on the inevitability of death and features characters literally shooting themselves to summon their Personas. Still, Persona 3 is full of so much life and joy that the game is just as much about living as it is about dying.
Making that theme even more clear are all the new scenes Reload adds. In addition to the returning Social Links, which are mostly identical to the original, the remake adds plenty of new opportunities to interact with major characters like the other members of S.E.E.S. and even some side characters (including one important figure I won’t mention for spoiler reasons).
The original Persona 3 gave players few opportunities to interact with the male members of S.E.E.S., with only the female party members having Social Links. Persona 3 Portable changed things for the female protagonist’s route, but Reload introduces a different approach.
Persona 3 Reload’s new hangouts add so much to the main cast, allowing the protagonist and players to bond with all of their party members outside of the main story. Activities like cooking or watching TV together let players get to know the rest of S.E.E.S., which also leads to new combat abilities and stat improvements.
There are even extra opportunities to spend time with the guys (best boy Koromaru included) that serve as a compromise for the lack of Social Links.
On that front, Reload also improves things by making romances optional rather than automatically occurring when reaching a certain point in a Social Link.
Building on The Journey
Beyond the additional story content, there’s still quite a bit that’s new in Reload. Many of these are simple quality-of-life improvements, such as direct control of party members in combat and UI improvements across the board. Other changes are pretty much lifted from Persona 5, such as the new All-Out Attack ending screens and Shift mechanic (Persona 3 Reload’s version of Baton Pass).
Also notable is the way Reload enhances the Navigator role. Fuuka has various abilities that help you navigate Tartarus in and out of combat at the cost of her SP. This is one thing I really hope future Persona games take from Reload, as it lets Fuuka take an active role in gameplay.
On top of all this is the Therugy mechanic. I talked quite a bit about this in my preview of Persona 3 Reload, but after spending more time with the game, I feel confident in saying Theurgies are the best addition to the remake.
Theurgies are signature attacks that can be used once a character has filled a gauge. This increases automatically in battle, but you can speed things up by taking certain actions based on the character’s personality. For example, Yukari wants to keep her friends alive and gets motivated by using healing skills, while Akihiko’s fighting spirit is enhanced after using a support skill on himself.
These conditions are the mechanic’s greatest benefit and flaw. On the one hand, I’ll always appreciate when an RPG incentivizes me to think and act like a character. However, while the special conditions all make sense from a character perspective, in combat, they are far from equal.
Using the two examples previously mentioned, Yukari’s Theurgy gauge is pretty easy to fill, as she has many healing abilities and already serves as a great support character. But in contrast, Akihiko doesn’t have many support skills, so you probably won’t be having him buff himself all that often.
The fact that the gauge increases automatically means these conditions don’t make certain characters unplayable, but if Theurgy returns in the future, I would like to see some more balance here.
Looking for The Answer
Last year’s announcement of Persona 3 Reload was met with both excitement and skepticism. While the prospect of a modern version of the game that set the stage for modern Persona and literally saved developer Atlus from “collapse” was an intriguing one, fans raised some understandable concerns.
For one, Reload was revealed just months after the release of a Persona 3 Portable port that made a version of the game accessible to modern audiences. Beyond that, it was made clear early on that certain aspects of previous Persona 3 releases would not be part of the remake, including FES’ epilogue “The Answer” and P3P’s female protagonist.
Those exclusions left many fans disappointed that Reload would not be the definitive, all-encompassing version of Persona 3 they had hoped, especially considering that this is a full-price AAA game.
But while that disappointment is legitimate, it would be a shame to let that overshadow what’s actually here. An update or DLC with “The Answer” and the female protagonist would be great, but Persona 3 Reload gets a lot right, bringing the game to a new generation in a stylish way.
Verdict – 5/5
If the goal of Persona 3 Reload is to modernize a classic JRPG from the PlayStation 2 era for a new generation of players, then it is undeniably a success. While there may be some legitimate disappointment over the lack of content from Persona 3 FES and Portable, what is here is more than enough to cement Reload’s status as a solid remake that delivers the now definitive version of Persona 3.
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