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    Persona 3 Reload Review – A JRPG Masterclass Resurrected

    Memento mori.

    I’ve been a Persona fan for so long that I can’t remember the first time I was exposed to the series. Was it the original trailer for Persona 5 with Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There blaring over a stunning opening sequence? Was it when a friend in High School brought a copy of Persona 3 for the PlayStation 2? Was it the impressive gameplay and intimidating game design that led me to never beat the game? Or was it in 2017 when I played Persona 5 for the first time, and the game completely changed my life?

    At this point, it’s hard to tell, but the fact remains that I owe a lot to the franchise. However, when ATLUS announced Persona 3 Reload, I found myself with a conundrum: as someone who got into the series through Persona 5, would I even enjoy Persona 3? Fans of the series talked in circles about the game’s impactful story and overt messaging about death. Would I relate to the meaning in the same way I did Persona 5?

    These questions plagued me up until the moment I booted up Reload for the first time, and there, as I let the intro song lovingly crafted by Shoji Meguro wash over me, I realized that I was in for something special. I was in for a game that changed the way I viewed the genre, the series, and the world. I was in for something truly special. So, after forty-nine hours, several goosebumps, and a few stray tears, I feel comfortable saying that Persona 3 Reload is an unmatched masterpiece.

    Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for Persona 3 Reload.

    “Your Story Begins Again.”

    Persona 3 Reload starts how you’d expect, whether or not you’re a new fan or an old one. The blue-haired protagonist (named Makoto Yuki by most of the games) arrives in an unfamiliar town. He gets settled into a new environment, joins a new school, and meets many new friends in his first few days. Of course, after those first few days, he is greeted by supernatural horrors as he is forced to confront them by awakening to an equally supernatural power: a Persona.

    If you’re like me, and you got introduced to the series through its later entries, this almost seems cliched. That said, what makes Persona 3 special is the unique way in which it approaches these narrative beats. Yuki encounters the supernatural on his first day in this new setting, Tatsumi Port Island. He is confronted by demons and a strange woman with a gun and treats it all with a sense of apathy. Instead of staying with an elder connected with his family, he stays in a college-like dorm.

    P3R Dorm

    Further, instead of the action taking a few days to pick up, Makoto Yuki and you are thrown into the deep end of the pool almost immediately. This sense of pacing immediately separates Persona 3 from other entries in the series and the broader JRPG genre. The pacing is expertly done, and while there were plenty of moments where I got a chance to breathe after a major story moment, the game forces you to keep pushing forward.

    You’re on a time limit, after all: the game begins by explicitly telling you that you have one year to spend in Tatsumi Port Island, so you better make it count. This sense of time purveys Reload as a beautiful central theme that keeps you focused and on track.

    Although, on the subject of time, Persona 3 Reload is a remake of an eighteen-year-old game. How has ATLUS kept the original spirit of the game intact while keeping it relevant for modern audiences?

    The Familiar Meets the Unfamiliar

    ATLUS has created a simple yet effective remake formula by including several updates to Persona 3‘s visual style and gameplay loop. The first thing that both long-time and newer fans will notice is the game’s updated visuals. The simple visual style of the 2006 PlayStation 2 classic has been switched out for a more modern style. It’s not quite a “better looking Persona 5“; instead, the game has its own unique visual flair that feels familiar yet unfamiliar.

    Persona 3 Reload UI

    That phrase, familiar yet unfamiliar, can symbolize a lot of what makes Reload a worthwhile remake. In a year with such games as Resident Evil 4 Remake and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth that completely change our understanding of what a remake can be, Reload may seem underwhelming in comparison. However, it’s not the quantity of the changes that matters; it’s the quality. This quality can be seen in the beautiful UI, impressive use of raytracing, and overall visual clarity that makes this not just the best-looking Persona game but one of the best-looking JRPGs ever.

    Continuing the theme of “familiar yet unfamiliar,” the gameplay of Persona 3 Reload is very familiar. By day, you go through school and social activities with the game’s colorful cast of characters. By night, you are forced to traverse a dungeon by the name of Tartarus. What you do in the day helps your activities at night, and vice versa.

    Where the game introduces “unfamiliar” elements is through the different combat adjustments. The shuffle time adds perks to your Tartarus exploration that make your journey more fruitful and enjoyable. While this was in the original Persona 3 experience, the Theurgy attacks are not.

    Theurgy is a new mechanic where you can unleash a powerful super move after undergoing certain actions through gameplay that vary depending on the party member. The mechanic is similar to Showtime found in Persona 5 Royal. Unlike Showtime, you earn your Theurgy gauge by treating each battle with a careful methodology rather than a blind rush.

    These new elements help make all the elements of Persona 3 feel more well-rounded and approachable, whether you’ve played every Persona game, only played Persona 5, or you’ve never touched a JRPG. That being said, these elements are what makes Persona 3 Reload fun. What makes Persona 3 Reload memorable and impactful are the game’s characters and social links.

    The People of Tatsumi Port Island

    I would argue that people enjoy Persona games for their gameplay. They love them for their story, yet they remember them for their characters. Once upon a time, characters like Makoto Niijima and Takuto Maruki gave me a new understanding of the world and its people. Yet, I always hear people talk about the characters in Persona 3 in conflicted ways: “This character acts irrationally” or “This character is written better than anyone in the series.” I always scoffed at these comments, but after playing Persona 3 Reload, I have a new understanding of why these characters are so beloved: they’re human.

    That may seem like an obvious or strange note, but the reason why Persona 3‘s characters feel so real is because they don’t fall into any specific bubble of being “the hero” or “the villain.” Unlike other characters in the genre, they are not tied to any one trait. Take a character like Junpei Iori. On the surface, he may seem like a Ryuji Sakamoto-type; that is to say that he is the comic relief/slapstick character who always acts like an idiot and is the brunt of the joke. When the game starts, Junpei is a bit of an airhead, but as the game progresses, he grows and matures as a person in a way that feels natural and realistic.

    Part of this is due to the voice acting. Every single voice actor delivers their all in Persona 3 Reload that it feels wrong to say one did a “better” voice than another. I would like to give a special shout out to Zeno Robinson as Junpei, Shelby Young as Yuko Nishiwaki, Heather Gonzalez as Yukari Takeba, Aleks Le as the protagonist and Ryoji Mochizuki, and Suzie Yeung as Fuuka Yamagishi. The reason why every character feels like someone you’d meet in real life is partly due to their vocal performances.

    P3R Characters

    The other reason is that Persona 3 Reload gives you room to appreciate the quiet moments. In between fighting demons beyond comprehension, you’re given plenty of opportunities to spend time with friends. It doesn’t matter if you choose to hang out with your romantic social link, spend time studying with the boys, or walk the dog with every member of your dorm. You will find enjoyment in every segment.

    Personally, these moments were a nice change of pace. They reminded me of times with my best friends in college and high school. Plus, as a result of Reload giving you plenty of chances to hang out with the rest of your team, they actually feel more like a complete unit. You can see their development play out in real time as they change a little bit every month. From the first moment you step foot in the dorm to the last time you leave it, you, as both the character and player, change along with your friends.

    This is what life truly is: building connections and finding reasons to keep going in spite of your struggles. Finding reasons to live and finding joy in the world is what Persona 3 Reload is all about.

    Memento Vivere

    When ATLUS first revealed Persona 3 Reload, they paired it with this statement: “Your story begins again. Memento mori.” Memento mori is a Latin saying that means, “Remember, you will die.” It is meant as a reminder that we as humans are not immortal and that death is an ever-present concept in our lives. On the other hand, there’s a lesser-known saying that serves as a counterpart to memento mori: memento vivere. It means “Remember to live.”

    Persona 3 Reload is a game about death. It’s a game about tragedy, pain, and suffering. It is also a game about living. It is about finding a reason to keep going in spite of all that tragedy, pain, and suffering. It is building connections, spending time with your loved ones, admiring the beauty in the world, and understanding that while your time on Earth is limited, you will be remembered and loved after you’re gone.

    Reload manages to capture this through its beautiful story, its wonderful characters, and even the gameplay. Every moment in this game is designed to make you appreciate life, whether you’re fighting enemies with your friends or embracing those very same friends at the top of a rooftop.

    At a certain point, I almost forgot I was playing a game. When I looked at the screen I didn’t see characters, I saw my former friends in high school and college that I forgot all about. It made me realize that in spite of all the challenges I’d faced over the last few years, it was all worth it in the end.

    So, to summarize, in 2018, Persona 5 changed my life. In 2024, Persona 3 Reload reminded me that life is fragile, it is painful, and it is so, so worth it every single time in spite of it all. That is why, even after eighteen years, Persona 3 still remains an unmatched masterpiece.

    Disclaimer: Atlus provided Final Weapon with a copy of Persona 3 Reload for review purposes.

    SUMMARY

    Persona 3 Reload is a JRPG masterpiece. It has an incredibly moving story about the value of life, a fun gameplay loop, great graphics, dynamic characters, and a satisfying conclusion. Plus, with the short playtime, it is not as intimidating as other games in the genre, with very little filler padding the runtime. While the remake may seem simple compared to other recent examples, Reload is a reminder that Persona 3 is still relevant even after eighteen years.
    Saras Rajpal
    Saras Rajpal
    Saras is a passionate creative writer, with a love for immersive sims, superhero games, and Persona. He is currently writing a thesis about Persona 5 and is pursuing a career as a full-time writer.

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    Persona 3 Reload is a JRPG masterpiece. It has an incredibly moving story about the value of life, a fun gameplay loop, great graphics, dynamic characters, and a satisfying conclusion. Plus, with the short playtime, it is not as intimidating as other games in the genre, with very little filler padding the runtime. While the remake may seem simple compared to other recent examples, Reload is a reminder that Persona 3 is still relevant even after eighteen years. Persona 3 Reload Review - A JRPG Masterclass Resurrected