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Persona 3 Reload

Persona 3 Reload

Anders has fought his way through Tartarus and is ready with a verdict on this latest Persona remake.

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The Persona series has been around since the 90s, yet is one of the more bizarre game franchises that strangely clicks with many gamers. The Japanese series really broke through in the West with Persona 5, where we met the series' combination of high school life and supernatural dungeon crawling. The game's heroes, The Phantom Thieves of Hearts, stole the affections of many. However, once you've completed Persona 5's 100+ hours, it's natural to look to the series' earlier chapters.

Until this reloaded version of Persona 3, you've faced a challenge. Persona 3, which dates back to 2006, was where Atlus established the current Persona formula, but on modern platforms the game has only been available in a so-called "Portable" form, which comes from the PSP. In this form, the original PS2 game was transformed into a 2D design, in a kind of visual novel. With Persona 3 Reload, we instead get a remake that has been recreated from the ground up in Unreal Engine and finally feels great on modern platforms. But the big question is: will Persona 3 hold up to this day?

Let's get one thing straight: I'm a huge fan of Persona 5 Royal, which ate up the first 4 months of my 2023 due to its incredible length. But I haven't played Persona 3 until now. Therefore, this review is an expression of my experience with it as a "new" game, and mainly not a comparison with any of the previous versions.

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Persona 3 Reload
Persona 3 Reload

Persona 3 Reload (hereafter P3R) starts off brilliantly, throwing you into a mystery as you arrive on the island where your new high school is located. You get off the train and immediately there's a really strange atmosphere. There are coffins lying around, glowing red, and the otherwise busy train stations are now deserted. You navigate your way to your dormitory and are greeted by an ominous little boy who says all sorts of cryptic things about danger and potential.

It turns out that on your first night, you've waded straight into the so-called Dark Hour, an extra hour every night when shadow creatures emerge from a giant tower in the centre of the island to abduct people. Only a few individuals can be awake during this hour, including you and the others in your dormitory. The dorm is actually a kind of task force called SEES (Specialised Extracurricular Execution Squad), which goes into the tower called Tartarus and fights the shadows and tries to end the Dark Hour. They do this using Personas, which are spirits or aspects of yourself that have special abilities. You can have multiple personas that you pick up in Tartarus, and these can be combined into even more powerful personas.

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As you know from the series, time is constantly progressing, so you need to think about how you use it. Should you talk to the locals and develop your bond with them (this will give you advantages when creating new personas later)? Or should you engage in activities that make you more academic, charming or brave? The latter are three key abilities that determine what you have access to in the game. At the same time, activities follow Tartarus. Tartarus, and thus the central plot, follows the phases of the moon, so that large "boss" shadows move out of Tartarus to wreak havoc when the moon is full. Thus, time and date are central to the game.

All of this is a pretty exciting setup, and as the story progresses, it works quite well. The game's sometimes gothic and slightly darker atmosphere is also to be commended. However, there are a few key things that it is fair to criticise the game for. One is simply that the game takes an insanely long time to get going. There isn't much real story in the first 20 hours or so. You spend most of your time getting to know people, and unlike Persona 5, where you quickly have some interesting conversations with others, Persona 3's "social links", i.e. the side stories of people around the city, are just rather boring at first. This makes the game feel rather sluggish for the first several hours after the otherwise excellent start.

This is made even worse by the fact that Tartarus is the only place where there is any real gameplay. If you're not in Tartarus, you're doing the things above, where you're actually just watching scenes play out without you as a player doing much. For example, if you're a guard at the local café, you'll simply watch the same 2-3 versions of the scene play out. Tartarus is divided into over 200 floors, which means that once you've completed a floor, it's just not that exciting to go through it again. Unlike Persona 5, where you had a reason to return to the so-called castles, it doesn't make much sense to "grind" Tartarus. I haven't got stuck yet, and since the game simply puts a block on your progression until the next full moon, there's no reason to return since you've already completed the floor. The problem is that I've typically been able to complete the tower up to the stop block in a single night, and that leaves a full month where it's just boring chatter and the same guards at the same café. It's a bit of a shame.

Persona 3 Reload
Persona 3 Reload

However, things get a lot more exciting once we get past the first 20 hours. There are sudden rescue missions in Tartarus, the tower changes in many ways, new doors open and you face greater challenges. You also go on a little holiday with your friends, where the plot is pushed further forward. In short, the formula is shaken up a bit and the game starts to become more dynamic. The story evolves, new faces appear, and you become more invested. This is really positive, because the game actually goes from being borderline boring to being pretty cool. If you've played the series before, it should be nothing new that the series takes its time, so patience is also part of the design.

The character gallery is unique to Persona 3 and consists of a very charming team in your dormitory, as well as a loose team of extra characters. The characters in the dormitory are the ones you become invested in, and the ones you see grow. For me, Mitsuru Kirijo, who is the "mysterious mother" of the team, stands out, along with Akihiko Sanada, who is kind of the team's older brother. Your classmate Junpei is also really funny and has a fantastic development throughout the game.

If we delve a little deeper into the combat system, it's very much as we know it from Persona 5. Snappy, delicious turn-based combat that's actually so fluid that it hardly feels turn-based at all. It's all about running a kind of "rock, paper, scissors" with enemy weaknesses. For example, if the enemy has fire abilities, they may be resistant to fire, but may be weak to ice. Once you've taken down all enemies, you can perform an all-out attack, just like in Persona 5. Your entire team also has special ultimate abilities they can use. These abilities recharge when they perform certain actions. For example, your healer/archer Yukari Takeba can deal massive wind damage that ignores resistance to wind attacks after she heals. In terms of combat, Persona 3 feels every bit as modern and stylish as you could hope for. I just wanted more of it spread out over the in-game months.

Moving on to the soundtrack, we're also in familiar Persona territory. It's a banger soundtrack that has its own mysterious genre, this time throwing in a bit of rap that feels out of the 0s alongside the otherwise funky, upbeat music. Whatever it is they've made, it works, but it's a special cocktail.

I played with English voices, as they are usually quite high quality in the Persona series. Here, Persona 3 Reload does not disappoint in any way, with excellent voices across the board. Zeno Robinson as Junpei Iori in particular has a fantastic and fun delivery. Unlike the original, all scenes with social links are voiced throughout, which really adds to the experience.

Persona 3 Reload
Persona 3 Reload

All in all, I have to say that Persona 3 Reload is a really impressive piece of technical work. There's nothing here that feels outdated technically or if you take the individual gameplay experience and scrutinise it. However, it's the overall pacing decisions that Reload inherits from the original that simply cannot be overlooked. There are too many elements of pacing that simply don't make sense, where you're left with months where you don't experience much real gameplay, and then suddenly all combat is condensed into two days. There are big parts here that Atlus should have considered and thought through now that the game has been brought up-to-date. Of course, I don't know if they've actually looked at this and just haven't done enough, but if you look at debates regarding the original and the FES edition from the original. But looking at debates about the original and the 2007 FES edition, I generally have the same thoughts about Reload.

Despite the odd pacing, I have to say that Persona 3 has its own charm and is 100% a recommendable game. It's an excellent place to start with the series, perhaps because the slow start gives you plenty of opportunity to get to know everything before moving on in the series. But if you're coming from Persona 5, you'll have to be prepared for Reload to take its time getting started. Otherwise, we're dealing with a sublime remake that makes an 18-year-old game feel brand new.

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Persona 3 Reload
Persona 3 Reload
Persona 3 Reload
08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
+
Technically superb remake, excellent battles, great characters and voices, cool and bizarre soundtrack.
-
Strange pacing, too much wasted time in the beginning, Tartarus/Dark Hour not utilised enough.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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Persona 3 Reload

REVIEW. Written by Anders Fischer

Anders has fought his way through Tartarus and is ready with a verdict on this latest Persona remake.



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