It’s been just over a year since Persona 3 Portable was made available on modern consoles and PC, introducing the classic RPG to a new audience. To some, then, it may seem a bit unnecessary for a remake of the game to be released right now. For hardcore fans of the game, however, or those that didn’t dive into the recent remaster upon its release, Persona 3 Reload is undoubtedly the best way to experience this role-playing heavyweight.
As remakes go, Persona 3 Reload is one that doesn’t meddle too much with the formula that made the original great. As such, you’ll find that the story here remains largely the same, only enhanced with additional flourishes and scenes to flesh things out a little bit. For those not in the know, it casts players as a male student who’s just moved to a new school, but something seems off from the moment they arrive. It soon transpires that they’re special, unaffected like others by what is known as the Dark Hour – a space in time that exists at midnight every night, in which shadows roam and most normal people simply turn into coffins. Weird.
“As remakes go, Persona 3 Reload is one that doesn’t meddle too much with the formula that made the original great”
Being someone able to operate during the Dark Hour, you’re quickly recruited to an organisation called SEES, who aims to put an end to the whole affair by investigating the mysterious Tartarus tower. It just so happens that this is your school, albeit a twisted version of it that’s unrecognisable during the Dark Hour. And what makes you think you’re capable of completing this task? Well, you, along with other members of SEES, have the ability to summon Personas: demonic beings that grant great strength and a wide range of skills that will prove to be invaluable as you move from one floor of the Tartarus tower to the next.
Like Most Persona games, Persona 3 Reload is effectively a game of two halves. In the daytime you attend school, socialise with your friends and engage in other activities, like shopping at the mall or even maintaining a job. You know, normal things that any school student would do. These things are important, too, as they help develop various characteristics of your character, and also allow you to develop Social Links – essentially bonds with your friends that lead to your Personas getting stronger. Preparation is also very much rewarded during this phase: go into Tartarus without suitable equipment and there’s a good chance you’ll quickly regret it.
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What’s important to note here is that you’re now given more free time during any given day, as you’re also able to go out in the evening. There are more Social Links to pursue in this remake, too, as unlike in the original game they are now available for your male friends. You have more opportunities than ever, then, to develop your characters outside of Tartarus tower, and prepare yourself for the battles ahead.
“…Overcoming the mighty Tartarus tower is still your most time-consuming task”
Still, despite the changes, overcoming the mighty Tartarus tower is still your most time-consuming task in Persona 3 Reload, its hundreds of floors getting more dangerous the higher you ascend. It’s here where you perhaps feel the most benefit of a raft of gameplay changes that bring this RPG more in-line with Persona 5. You can now dash, for example, allowing you to make your way around dungeons faster, and there are new Monad Doors and Passages that grant access to powerful shadows that offer rare rewards if you’re able to overcome them.
Get into combat and you’ll find that things are made somewhat easier thanks to mechanics such as Shift being introduced, which allows you to change characters after knocking down an enemy in order to further exploit weaknesses. Characters also have access to powerful new skills called Theurgies in this remake, which become available once a gauge has been filled. Along with a range of difficulty settings, the Fusion system being brought in line with Persona 5 makes managing your Personas somewhat easier, and removing the fatigue system that really limited your ability to put a dent in Tartarus on any particular visit makes for a game that’s easier and accessible on the whole.
“In some ways it still feels like an old game”
Some might argue that the removal of the fatigue system is actually to Persona 3’s detriment, as you no longer have to switch characters during an expedition into Tartarus if you want to prolong your stay. In any case, there are more obvious issues here. For a start, this remake doesn’t feature the female protagonist from Persona 3 Portable, or the epilogue, called The Answer, found in the FES edition of the game. While disappointing, we can somewhat understand the exclusion of the female protagonist given the amount of additional writing and voice acting found here. When it comes to the game’s epilogue, however, that’s much less easier to forgive.
There’s also the fact that while this is a pretty commendable remake on the whole, with charming visuals, a fantastic new soundtrack and plenty of style, in some ways it still feels like an old game. The camera can feel awkward at times, for example, and some locations feel drab and boxy. When you’re in the Tartarus tower, you’ll find its floor layout pretty basic, too, and while there is some visual variety as you climb it, it’s not enough to always keep it interesting. Perhaps more could have been done to bring this classic up to date? Less floors but more varied and intricate design of each, for example.
“There’s no denying that Persona 3 Reload is one hell of game”
Even with the issues you can pick at in this remake, though, there’s no denying that Persona 3 Reload is one hell of game. Its story is as engaging as ever, and now its gameplay has been notably improved, giving you more options in combat and out. Along with the new visuals and soundtrack, Persona 3 has never looked, sounded or played as good. It’s just silly that it’s arrived so close to the remaster of Persona 3 Portable: if you’ve played that recently, it might not grab your attention throughout due to its authenticity. For those who are yet to jump in or are keen to relive the classic yet again, however, simply play and enjoy.