Setting the Stage for Revisiting a Classic
Remakes evoke contradictory emotions. While the idea of a beloved childhood game being remade with a renewed directorial vision can incite thrills, it can also produce fear and hesitation. The practice has grown increasingly common with technological breakthroughs and the passage of time, so it’s a collective occurrence we’ve been facing more often in recent years. These projects seem to be perceived with either glowing praise or sincere disdain with little in between, making them considerable gambles in the long run.
Of course, the highly anticipated remake of Persona 3, Persona 3 Reload, is no stranger to this phenomenon. Being the origin point of the modern Persona gameplay loop, it was only a matter of time until this classic title was given an overhaul, presenting it on the same level of modernization as the more recent entries. However, the real question was whether the original game’s identity would remain intact. And after spending considerable time with Persona 3 Reload, the answer is a mixed yes; while not an ideal remake due to certain exclusions, this is undeniably a heartfelt, meticulously crafted iteration of Persona 3.
Persona 3 Reload follows the protagonist, whose canonical name now seems to be Makoto Yuki, as he transfers to Gekkoukan High School located atop Tatsumi Port Island. Here, he’s greeted by a treacherous phenomenon that occurs exclusively once midnight arrives, the Dark Hour, where the sky depicts an ominous viridescent coloration, and those not housing the “potential” are transmogrified into coffins until the hour passes. Monsters called Shadows also roam the premises during this passage of time, with their hub seemingly being Tartarus, a tower that, amid conventional waking hours, is the main cast’s school. After the protagonist endures a particularly gruesome awakening where he gains the ability to wield Personas, he joins the compact cast of SEES, those who also utilize Personas and seek to use them to cease the Dark Hour once and for all. Naturally, this initially small-scale party expands as the narrative progresses, introducing several characters with plights that interweave with each other.
…while not an ideal remake due to certain exclusions, this is undeniably a heartfelt, meticulously crafted iteration of Persona 3.
New Events and Activities Enhance the Experience
As a remake, Persona 3 Reload aims not only to retell the events of the original story but also to expand on certain elements to give select characters and plot points increased relevance and screen time so that the player can become more attached to them. In that regard, this title is a resounding success. For instance, in the previous releases of Persona 3, the male protagonist did not bond much with the male party members, as they did not have Social Links. So, to remedy this shortcoming and provide further details on the party’s female members, countless new episodes have been added where you can have some one-on-one time with everyone. Players now have the option to watch movies, cook, read, or tend to the newly introduced garden with fellow SEES operatives.
All of these added scenes give each character much-appreciated limelight as well as practical gameplay benefits in the form of new abilities. Plus, they’re all voiced and tend to occur at nighttime, which addresses one of the more notorious faults of Persona 3 since you rarely had much to do at that time of day. Also, at nighttime, you can access a shared computer in the dorm’s lounge, which lets you utilize purchaseable software for various boons, granting further activity opportunities during this time of day. So, these inclusions are a net positive and even extend to the main story itself.
[Several of] these inclusions are a net positive and even extend to the main story itself.
To clarify, the plot here is the same as in Persona 3, so don’t go in expecting changes in central story events and such, but there are fresh, new scenes that instill additional depth and introspection. Partially at the cost of lost transparency, there is a good deal more focus on facets like Strega, an antagonist group that joins in the latter half. The leader, in particular, Takaya, has received substantially increased attention. Granted, Strega is still introduced a bit too late for my liking, but their escalated presence partially offsets that critique. Admittedly, not everyone will find them engaging, and if you didn’t care for them much originally, not much here will change your mind. Still, just enough is done to ensure their depiction is close to the original without changing their incorporation entirely. At the end of the day, this is still Persona 3, a game with profound messaging that remains as poignant as ever almost two decades later.
Moving on, the new English voice cast is one of the more touchy subjects with this remake. The previous voices of Persona 3’s main characters have become iconic, albeit in some less-than-flattering ways. Consequently, it would always be challenging for fans like myself to see these beloved characters with interpretations we’ve grown used to, like second nature, and view them presented differently. Thankfully, I’m pretty satisfied with how everyone handled their roles here. Most importantly, everyone in SEES is magnificent. As long as you’re open-minded and not expecting the same types of deliveries from 2006, you’ll see that the cast here poured their hearts into these performances.
…there are fresh, new scenes that instill additional depth and introspection.
Also of note is that the Social Links, which, for those not acquainted with modern Persona, are character bonding scenes sequentially ranked from one to ten in terms of closeness, are also fully voiced during their rank-up events. This makes every Social Link considerably more captivating and gripping, chiefly for those I had little attachment to beforehand. The casting, at least for the English dub, is terrific here, too. Bebe, the foreign exchange student, is especially notable for having truly impressive line deliveries without coming across as unnecessarily over the top.
Addressing the 2 Elephants of the Room — Female Protagonist and The Answer
In terms of re-delivering the story and characters in an updated fashion, Persona 3 Reload thrives spectacularly, as it remains immensely appealing without feeling like it’s needlessly re-treading the same ground for veteran fans. The new character exchanges honestly add so much alone, giving countless developments far greater soul. However, there are two elephants in the room with this remake that need to be mentioned for how they tap into Persona 3’s identity. Firstly, Persona 3 Reload does not include the female protagonist option from Persona 3 Portable. While this is quite unfortunate and seems like a massive oversight, I’ve found it to be a justified move that likely aided in bolstering this remake’s quality.
To elaborate, the female protagonist route in Portable was not merely a palette swap; it added new music, Social Links, a new Velvet Room attendant, and, perhaps most crucially, different dialogue options that depicted a different type of character. Even though both the male and female protagonists have similar broad messaging, the journeys they face to their conclusions couldn’t be more different in tone. They are vastly contrasting in their personalities and general behaviors, so I’m glad Persona 3 Reload focused on one instead of trying to incorporate both options fully.
The cast makes specific mentions of the protagonist’s appearance and reactions to certain scenes in Reload, granting more individualism that would have probably been diluted if the female option had also been thrown into the mix due to needing to account for multiple variations of events. Plus, she has Social Links with the male party members, meaning the new episodes would only be available for the guy protagonist. All of this is to say that Persona 3 Reload will not entice you if you were only on board for the female route, yet what they’ve done with the male protagonist here is sublime. He comes across as genuinely close with every member of SEES without compromising on the individual arcs they endure without his direct interference.
Alas, the other elephant in the room is not one I’m lenient on. Persona 3 Reload does not feature The Answer from Persona 3 FES. Without delving into the contents of this epilogue, its exclusion is undeniably disappointing. Aside from a shorter playtime that could’ve been further streamlined by optimizing the dungeon length, it offers overlooked character depth that really puts a neat bow on the lingering conflicts and aftermath SEES faced. For these reasons, its exclusion can’t be aptly justified. Even if it were to be released as DLC content, potentially making this another purchase rubs me the wrong way. I usually dislike making a note of prices in reviews, but needing to pay $70 USD for an experience that doesn’t even include the full extent of what the last native console version of the game brought to the table is baffling. After beating Reload, the missing epilogue left a sour taste that I haven’t been able to move on from.
…this is still Persona 3, a game with profound messaging that remains as poignant as ever almost two decades later.
Gameplay Improved for Convenience at the Cost of Consequence and Difficulty
In the realm of gameplay, Persona 3 Reload is a departure from its previous iterations, as it’s akin to the likes of Persona 5. Now, players can utilize Shift, which is basically just the Baton Pass mechanic from Persona 5. Further, every character now has special moves called Theurgies, which have their own gauges that are filled differently depending on the character at play. Eventually, everyone gets multiple Theurgies, with the protagonist earning a particularly significant amount from having fused specific Personas. These are essentially his replacements of the Fusion Spells from previous releases and are honestly pretty cool. The gameplay loop of Persona 3 Reload’s combat is standard fare of the series up to this point, save for Fuuka’s improved scanning functionalities, so having a new mechanic comprised of special character unique moves, like the Showtimes from Persona 5 Royal, makes bouts more exciting.
Still, Theurgies and other design decisions make Persona 3 Reload far too easy. As another example, the Fatigue mechanic from previous versions of Persona 3 is entirely absent. At first, I didn’t care about this removal since I never gave Fatigue much thought, but the longer I played this remake, the more I gradually realized its necessity. For those unaware, Fatigue was another status type that every party member had, where if you battled too much or did other tiresome activities, your condition would worsen. Conversely, your condition could be improved if you slept earlier than usual or had other favorable outcomes. This instilled an additional layer to the simulation elements of the title and further enhanced the core messaging of Persona 3, which is tied into making the most of the time you have. Fatigue made you need to plan more for Tartarus expeditions and enact on-the-fly decision-making, such as needing to switch out party members when optimal by paying attention to their statuses.
Persona 3 Reload opens the game to newcomers at the cost of identity and consequence.
So, by removing this mechanic entirely, Persona 3 Reload opens the game to newcomers at the cost of identity and consequence. While Tartarus definitely exhibits newness and variety with its revitalized presentation across its blocks, exploring it can become dull due to the aforementioned exclusion. There’s a lack of necessity to switch your party members, contradicting the tower’s initial design philosophy, which is a shame because Ken and Kormaru have been made far more viable thanks to the inclusion of the Kouga and Eiha skill lines. When taking Fuuka’s valuable field skills and the enhanced ease of teleportation throughout Tartarus into account, the ominous ambiance and tension that this locale once had feel diluted.
I was also mildly saddened by the protagonist’s inability to use multiple types of melee weapons like in FES, but that’s a relatively minor point that doesn’t significantly detract from much. This lack of consequence also extends to the new Rewind mechanic, a new menu comprised of autosaves you can use if you want to redo events before a specific time. Most Persona players tend to reload for circumstances they deem necessary anyway, and this feature could simply be ignored. Still, its inclusion feels too blatant in not sticking with the repercussions of what you’ve chosen. On the other hand, it’s incredibly convenient for gameplay reasons, so the effectiveness of its incorporation is all dependent on what you value.
New Features Rewarding Tartarus Exploration
Persona 3 Reload features additional new elements, notably Twilight Fragments. This is a new collectible found around the island, in Tartarus, and gifted by Elizabeth for performing select gameplay feats. They’re used as currency for healing in Tartarus and keys for locked treasure chests. Twilight Fragments are a chiefly passive reward that grants appreciated fulfillment for simple tasks. Another somewhat new element is Monad, which has been fundamentally recontextualized. Unlike the previous versions of Persona 3, in which Monad was a separate block of Tartarus altogether, here it’s a recurring avenue you can enter while ascending the tower.
On particular floors, you’ll find Monad doors that lead to more challenging enemy encounters, giving increasingly substantial rewards. They’re non-intrusive and act as neat side paths to keep an eye out for, granting variety to an area that can become repetitive across stretched-out visits. Speaking of non-intrusive, you’ll sometimes find other doors throughout the tower that, once entered, enable you to level select party members to your current level range rapidly. Players looking to avoid grinding will highly benefit from this feature. Moreover, you can find several costumes, even the risque ones from the previous releases, so it was surprising to see them kept.
The in-game engine scenes are consistently terrific, at least, with the updated character models and environments feeling like a dream to see unfold in real time.
The beloved requests from Elizabeth have returned in Reload, too, and they’re just as captivating as ever. Elizabeth is a fan-favorite Velvet Room attendant thanks to her captivating eccentricity, and that’s been kept here in full force. Alongside streamlining the feasibility of completing all quests, new ones have joined the fray that fit right at home with Elizabeth’s character. As for Persona fusions, players of the recent entries will feel right at home here, as it all works identically. Thankfully, the tutorials for fusions and related material aren’t forced onto you. They’ve been made entirely optional from the start, making it far less of a hassle for fans.
Lastly, Persona 3 Reload excels in presentation and audio. Admittedly, I miss some of the animated scenes of the original Persona 3, but the new ones here provide new flavor, even if they don’t have the same impact. The in-game engine scenes are consistently terrific, at least, with the updated character models and environments feeling like a dream to see unfold in real time. As for the soundtrack, I prefer almost every new arrangement and song here. The fantastic instrument utilization and vocals grant new yet familiar tones for so many beloved tracks. Hardcore fans may find a few of the songs disenchanting, but those open to them will undoubtedly conclude the soundtrack of Reload to be far above par.
Persona 3 is my favorite entry in the series, so my anticipation for a remake was always going to be stellarly high. As for the result, Persona 3 Reload is a heartfelt attempt that modernizes several gameplay, story, and character elements to varying levels of success. The expanded and added scenes of the main cast, as well as the increased divulging of story developments, coalesce to create a distinct interpretation of Persona 3 that’s worth experiencing for both veteran fans and first-time players. Additionally, the new soundtrack, fully-voiced Social Link scenes, and other facets emphasize the initial appeal of this title. However, on the other side of that coin, the gameplay alterations, while great for convenience, drastically lower the difficulty and ultimately rid some of Persona 3’s identity in ways that cater to prospective new players first and foremost. Further, the exclusion of The Answer from Persona 3 FES is a criminally missed opportunity, making this release less definitive.
What should be known above all else is that Persona 3 Reload is not a replacement for any other version of Persona 3. It is, instead, a fresh interpretation that cherry-picks features from the past to bring a new experience. This is certainly frustrating in its own way. Yet, I can’t deny that Persona 3 Reload is a sincere remake with bolstered characterizations and a rewarding gameplay loop that, even in the midst of lacking challenge, can be damn fun to embrace at your own pace.
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