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Persona 3 Reload Review (PS5) – Class is Starting Again

Persona 3 Reload Review (PS5) – Leaping from the breakout popularity of Persona 5 in 2017, ATLUS have returned to the game that marked the beginning of the modern Persona formula in Persona 3 Reload.

Modern quality-of-life additions and the trimming of fat from previous versions of Persona 3 have paved the way for this version to be the definitive version of Persona 3 going forward for all to enjoy.

The whole of the original Persona 3 experience is present and accounted for with small adjustments to make the experience that much smoother to play for a modern audience and the commitment to preserving that original experience is something that elevates this from just a remake into something so much more.

A wholly new experience for players new and old, and an exceptional one at that.

Persona 3 Reload Review (PS5) – Class Is Starting Again

The After-School Shadow Hunting Club

Persona 3 follows the story of S.E.E.S., a so-called “school club” with some unconventional extracurricular activities; each member of S.E.E.S. has the inexplicable power to summon a titular “Persona” and battle against the army of Shadows that pose a risk to people in the real world.

These escapades take place during the “dark hour”, a mysterious period that only a select few have access to. The main story primarily follows the mystery of the labyrinthine Tartarus and discovering the secrets behind the various shadows that are on the rampage, and the exact reason why the Dark Hour even exists.

Beneath this relatively basic narrative premise is an extremely character-driven story that delves into some intense topics that have all been handled with poise and care in this rewrite of Persona 3.

The story starts off relatively slowly, but seeds are planted from the very beginning about the true nature of the mystery and it feels satisfying to see characters begin to react to these revelations and for the cogs to start turning. Once it starts, it doesn’t stop.

The cast of this game has been praised for generations as some of the most relatable characters in the RPG genre, with totally understandable conflicts and relationships with one another.

There is absolutely a layer of nuance that has been restored in this reimagining of Persona 3 and it was a joy to see my favourite characters brought back and cared for.

The new voice cast raised some eyebrows before the game launched but I am more than happy to say that these new interpretations of S.E.E.S. and the memorable social links are more than adequate and put their all into their roles (with some very small exceptions).

Social Link events being fully voiced for the first time in the Persona series also enhances this sense of relationship building and really makes these events feel as important as they are.

The variation on show is impressive here. Persona 5’s social events followed a largely formulaic route, where this game shows that friendships can take all sorts of forms outside of the traditional sense.

While I would be remiss to spoil any of them here, they strike a perfect balance between people who you may not necessarily expect to like and people who just need a friend.

The cast of Persona 3 is well and alive in Persona 3 Reload, which I am exceptionally pleased to say.

Careful Preservation

For fans of the original game, it’ll be a relief to know that the entire original Persona 3 experience has been carefully preserved in this remake; any and all changes to the base experience have been made judiciously and all maintain the spirit of the original scenes, with significantly fewer eyebrows being raised by questionable comments.

It was a relief to see ATLUS making an effort to address these moments of awkwardness for a modern audience, allowing for all to access and enjoy this story.

While this version of Persona 3 forgoes the additional content introduced in the Portable version released on modern systems last year, I found that this decision helped to trim the fat from a game that had felt like it had lost focus in its addition of alternate routes.

The Answer epilogue from the PS2 exclusive Persona 3 FES has also been excluded in this new version but this once again feels like it enhances the focus of this new release and allows the original story to come into its own.

Other content included in Persona 3 FES has been included in the base game, making sure that the main story is as fully featured as possible for new and returning players. In terms of the base story of Persona 3, this is without a doubt the most definitive version of that game.

Judicious New Additions

This is far more than a straightforward remake though. ATLUS have gone through Persona 3 with a fine-toothed comb and updated elements of the game to bring them up to modern RPG standards.

The majority of Persona 3 is spent in the twisting halls of Tartarus, and this titanic building has been given more than a face-lift. What was previously a repetitive challenge is now a dynamic and manageable task that feels far more in line with the Palaces from Persona 5 fame.

While floors are still procedurally generated, each area of Tartarus is completely distinct visually and in terms of the types of floors you will see.

These new visual themes really help to alleviate the sense of tedium that can very easily set in with a dungeon that has a floor plan that stretches into the triple digits. Navigation within the dungeons has also been smoothed out and feels far more dynamic overall, aiding in this sense of speed.

Other small but numerous additions to Tartarus help to intelligently address archaic design choices from the original game, while also allowing for purists to ignore them if they so wish. I was thoroughly impressed at every turn as I kept on discovering new ways that ATLUS had adapted to modern standards.

Getting Down To Business

Battle has also seen some significant but welcome change-ups in this reimagined Persona 3 experience, that once again takes lessons from modern Persona games and brings them back.

Most significantly of all, and I can’t believe this needs to be said, but the party is controlled by the player by default in this version of Persona 3. Previous iterations had left the control of party members to an AI that had the tendency to go off in weird directions at times.

While it is still possible to leave your party to the whim of the computer, you are afforded far more control over them than ever before.

Other new additions to Persona 3 Reload’s battle system include the “shift” system, a homage to “Baton Pass” from Persona 5, where you can pass a turn over to a party member to keep on dishing out damage and setup for (an exceptionally stylish) all-out-attack.

In the jump from game to game, this system has been toned down to not break the game and was a welcome addition overall that helps to keep battles moving smoothly, and rewarding smart play as you go about targeting weaknesses.

Last of all – Theurgy. These character-specific abilities are triggered under specific circumstances and are all powerful opportunities to capitalise on specific attributes in a big way. These were often enough to turn the tide of battle and are punctuated with phenomenal animations for each character.

These additions help to make Reload’s battle system the absolute definitive version of the Persona battle system that we have seen yet, with careful balance and dynamic options for players to employ, I found myself experimenting my whole time through and enjoyed every minute.

I was genuinely shocked how well the modern flavour of Persona 5 managed to meld with the classic Persona 3 to make something completely new and hugely impressive.

Doing Your Homework

As would become the staple of the Persona franchise going forward, Persona 3 introduces the split between school social simulator and turn-based dungeon crawler and does so with a well-maintained balance.

In order to enhance their abilities in the Dark Hour, the protagonist of Persona 3 is tasked with forging as many bonds as they possibly can in the time they have. For the player, this involves raising social stats and spending time with the people you choose.

These events will take you on a whistle stop tour of a small but dense area full of opportunities to grow you stats and help you to talk to new people. Eat at restaurants, study at the library, sing solo karaoke.

Each of these activities will help you raise one of three major social stats that will allow you to speak to new people and make new connections.

The system is addictive and fun to experiment with, and ATLUS have included features to help players who may feel overwhelmed by the decisions on offer here. Easily accessible options to jump back to the last “free-time” event if you feel like something has gone wrong is very appreciated.

Another returning feature from previous Persona entries is the community tab, where people’s activities are displayed and can offer some guidance in what you should consider doing.

These systems are great and are un-intrusive enough that veteran players are free to spend time as they wish without being railroaded in a particular direction.

Mind-Blowing Presentation

Let’s address the elephant in the room – Persona 3 Reload is one of, if not the most stylish RPG that I have ever played. The original game was no slouch by any means, but by once again channeling the bold style of Persona 5 in the visual themes of Persona 3, it’s something to behold.

Even in the opening of the main menu, it’s a masterclass in design. Visually clear to understand, yet soaked in a distinct style that sets it apart from any peers in its class. Persona has always had a very unique relationship with colours, and Persona 3’s relationship with all things blue can be seen immediately.

Despite this prevalence, the various menu elements never get to feel repetitive.

Organising equipment and party members never felt like a drag to me when I was sifting through some of the most elegant menus in RPG history, that put its contemporaries to shame. Information is all where you would expect it to be and is easily navigated as you need.

The same distinct style comes through in the audio design as well. The classic soundtrack of Persona 3 has been faithfully remixed for this new version and while I am certain that people will make their decisions over which versions of the classic songs they prefer, the new vocals given to the new songs are worthy of praise and are clearly well-produced for this game.

The same can be said for the handful of new tracks that have been composed for Persona 3 Reload. While these are fewer in number, each new track fits into the existing energy of the original Persona 3 story and was a stand-out whenever they appeared.

The new battle theme that accompanies ambush battles is one of the best battle tracks that I’ve heard for an RPG and allows the new vocalist to come into her own, alongside the familiar Lotus Juice. The same can be said about the new track for exploring Tatsumi Port Island during the evening.

A Glorious Package

Persona 3 Reload takes the original game and works wonders with classic RPG design in order to bring this classic story to a new audience. ATLUS should be applauded for managing to maintain the complexities of the original game without sacrificing player convenience.

I was consistently shocked by the imaginative and smart decisions that were put in place to address complaints about the original game, while still managing to feel like they fit in the Persona 3 experience.

For players new and old, this is an RPG experience to be savoured and experienced for a long time and shows that the team are well aware of what exactly makes Persona as a franchise so special to so many people.

Without any shadow of a doubt, one of the most phenomenal remakes that I have played in the last few years that more than deserves a look from RPG enthusiasts new and old.

Persona 3 Reload is available on PS5 and PS4 on February 2, 2024.

Review code generously provided by publisher.

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The Final Word

Persona 3 Reload is a flawless reimagining of one of the most impactful RPGs of the PS2 generation and manages to carefully preserve just about everything I loved about the original game in a stylish bombastic package. The approach to modernising the gameplay is a masterclass and should be the gold standard going forward for RPGs of this ilk. For players who have only experienced modern Persona through Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal, you would be doing yourself a disservice by skipping this title. An equally wonderful cast and effective story lift this into one of the most impactful games that I have ever played and this new version means it can be enjoyed by a completely new generation.