Persona 3 Reload Review: A remaster done right

For fans of Shin Megami Tensei, Persona 3 holds an air of reverence. It is often proclaimed as “the best Persona” game, “the most serious Persona game,” and is often remarked as the cult classic before the series became popular outside of Japan.

When the game, originally released in 2009, was set to receive a remaster – a modern one, its sequel Persona 4 received a remaster in 2012, fans were tentatively excited about what Atlus could do with a modern engine and a classic RPG. Persona 3 Reload is buoyed by Unreal Engine 4, and together with seriously clever quality-of-life fixes and much-needed additions that the original lacked, there is no reasons why Reload isn’t the go-to.

We received a copy from GameFinity of Persona 3 Reload to review on the PC, and found that it was all we wanted from the 100-hour plus RPG classic, and more.

Some serious baggage in Persona 3 Reload

Unlike its stellar sequels, the Persona 3 devs had big metal cojonés when they sat down to write the story in the faraway time of the PlayStation 2. The very first cinematic of the game shows a teenage girl about to shoot herself in the head. While Persona 4 and 5 featured wonderful narratives, they don’t touch the adult-ness of the subject matter in P3.

This is a good time to say trigger warning: suicide. The entire game is trigger warning: suicide. In a bit of black comedy, the main cast summon their magic powers by shooting themselves in the head. No, this is true and not an exaggeration at all. It happens every time you cast a spell, which you will do in every fight, multiple times.

Imagine if Goku had to shoot himself in the head to go Super Saiyan. That’s P3, baby.

In 2009, for a culty anime-inspired RPG that no-one really knows or cares about, it was something laughed about on image boards on the edge of the clear net. But now it’s 2024, and we are aware of the things we say triggering trauma in others. P3 says actually it’s a good thing to shoot yourself in the head because the waking world of society is the real death.


The game sees a team of high school kids living in a res, separated from their parents and from their past lives, take on a mysterious endless dungeon called Tartarus to find out why people are deciding to commit suicide when they are afflicted with an illness known as Apathy Syndrome.

The location of Tarturus, the den of Shadows, that’s making people magically depressed, is hilariously the local high school. That’s the setup and when you eventually hit combat for the first time, after about two hours or so of character introductions and story exposition, you are in for one hell of a ride.

The new

Those who played Persona 5 and its own remaster + DLC will be immediately at home in Persona 3 Reload. Beautifully rendered models in the style of 2D anime, with cartoonish textures galore. Fans of anime in general will be attuned to the world and all of the little eccentricities of the genre. But the difference between the new Reload models and the original models is moonlight as to sunlight.

No longer are characters chibi-fide because of polygon restrictions, they have full-sized legs and arms and the texturing is almost as good as the animated cutscenes, which, by the way, are dazzlingly refined and high quality. The in-game engine has glorious lighting and in general Persona 3 Reload takes all the interesting ideas of the original to shining new heights.

The art direction in general has been overhauled with a close eye on the original. This is done so that players of the PlayStation 2 title still recognise the new game, but it brings Persona 3 Reload to the modern age.

Apart from the art, the music has also been redone while paying homage to that of the original. Persona 3’s soundtrack was a key part of the game. It was a real kickoff point for the series, with a bevvy of original tracks recorded. Like the graphics, this has also been redone in the remaster. Expect new, fresh recordings of classic tunes, immediately noticeable to the ear.

Some of the combat tracks are real earworms too, which is a good thing because once combat starts you’d long for the times when you weren’t battering your way through increasingly bizarre and fantastically wonderful demons.

The inclusion of a suite of quality-of-life improvements rounds up the “remaster” section of this review. This includes the new “Rewind” mechanic.

Like the rest of the series, the game is split by days in a year. It begins in April 2009 and lasts beyond the second year of high school. That’s right, you have to study for finals while making time to fight monsters and save the world. Didn’t you know being a teen was a tough time?

The days are split between morning, noon and evening, and the game’s events correlate with these splits. In the original, important story events happen on certain days of the calendar, and if you’re not prepared for these events, by doing the right things on the right days leading up to these events, you will fail them.

When the Velvet Room theme hits.

Original players got past this by rotating their save files, a bygone tradition. Sometimes players would go back months to an older save file so that their gamestate wasn’t ruined. Atlus doesn’t want you doing this any more. Instead, it has introduced the Rewind mechanic.

This lets you return to the five most recent “free” periods you have just played. Moments when you are free to decide your next action. Like, an after school period, for example. You can use Rewind anywhere. Is this boss seriously wiping the floor with you? Just Rewind a few days back and make sure to buy more healing items.

It’s a good little mechanic that makes the unforgiving nature of the original a bit less so.

The old, made new (sometimes)

But, for all the shiny new things Atlus has dreamed up for Persona 3 Reload, it is still a game from 2009 at its core. It uses the Shin Megami Tensei RPG combat formula, without all the new mechanics from the later games.

The formula remains unchanged. You fight a group of monsters with a party of three. These three are rotated among a larger party. The trick to the combat is finding and remember elemental weaknesses and chaining these weaknesses into giving yourself more turns for your party and less turns for your enemies.

When you do it right, you are demon-crushing machine, flying through the dungeon (at least until you run out of health items and need to take a break). When you get it wrong, you are horribly and terribly smashed into the dirt, your party ripped to pieces as cackling Shadows savour your flesh.

Especially on the Hard difficulty, making sure you do it right is vital for fun times. The system keeps you on your toes. Which demon is this again? Uhhh, it was weak to fire…? Or was it wind? Better not get it wrong or inadvertently heal the enemy.

Importantly, not all your party members will have all the elemental spells, and that’s where mixing and matching your Personas come in. Persona Fusion is vital at harder difficulties and combat becomes impossible without taking an in-depth look at the system. It can get tedious, especially in the late game and it hasn’t been improved all that much.

To the combat, the remaster brings a new team-based attack, something introduced in Persona 5, that hopes to break some of the monotony of repetitive grinds along Tartarus. We would have liked to have seen this more fleshed out, but in the end Tartarus is Tartarus. It was made to be a grind in 2009, and that hasn’t changed.

You get four options during combat. Use them wisely. The game is over 100 hours long.

A few other things are carried over from the before times. The game opens up slowly. Very slowly. At the beginning, you will spend more than an hour not being able to do anything. It takes a few hours before you get to the actual game and you can get off the rails and start role-playing.

In the first few hours of gametime – yes, hours – you will hit a lot of “This is a cool, interesting thing. I guess I’ll do it later” prompts. There are a lot of invisible walls, and they continue throughout the experience as you gradually unlock the game. While annoying at first, this is probably the best way to feel like you’re making progress, and what made a lot of games during the early 2000s so memorable.

Another outdated carry-over is that there are no romance options for the boys. Baldur’s Gate 3, where you can romance every walking and thinking creature, this is not. You can only romance the female characters. In fact, the remaster includes new scenes made to flesh out the player character’s relationships with the male cast, and these are so well done new players might think they were always part of the experience.

I guess our fantasies about Akihiko will live on in our dreams and in our Archive Of Our Own account. Damn you, Atlus. He’s so dreamy.

The remastered anime cinematics make you wish for a 50-episode OVA.

As for the romances that are available, they are sugary sweet like vanilla ice cream. Despite the adult subject matter, don’t expect to see anything too adult between the teen cast members.

Persona 3 Reload Final Verdict

Persona 3 is back. Reborn and renewed. This is the classic from 2009, made fresh. It is a beautiful, great-sounding console RPG, with strategic turn-based combat and one of the bravest narratives in gaming.

It features a large cast of interesting characters with plenty of depth to plump, and you will start relishing every conversation, every interaction and every time they save your life. It also has some of the best designs in gaming. While Persona 5 modernised the system, it is Persona 3 that solidified it. It is the Reload remaster that saves this fantastic game from the realm of standard-definition obscurity.

We are so glad to have experienced it, and if you’re a fan of the series but never played P3 – there’s no reason not to check out Reload. It takes the original and improves it in a lot of important ways. But, the core of the game is still in 2009 and is still running on PlayStation 2, and despite all the new additions, it can’t free itself from this baggage.

Persona 3 Reload should be the only way to experience this classic RPG.



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