Persona 3 Reload review: From classic JRPG to timeless remake

Persona 3 Reload review: From classic JRPG to timeless remake
Images via Atlus

Written by 

Ben Williams

Published 

30th Jan 2024 13:00

A long-awaited remake of a JRPG classic that narrowly missed out on its series’ widespread popularity, Persona 3 Reload arrives to capture the hearts of both old fans and those who’ve come from playing newer titles. 

A faithful remake through and through, Persona 3 Reload is a gorgeous, well-written, energetic and charming entry - a reminder of how special the story of S.E.E.S remains in the series. 

GGRecon Verdict

Persona 3 Reload is one of the best remakes I’ve ever seen - a faithful but stunning reimagining of a classic JRPG that will please Persona veterans and newcomers alike. 

With the only small negatives coming from Atlus’ dedication to recapturing the experience of the original, fans will without a doubt debate this being the best in the series after being reminded why Persona 3 is so spectacular. 

The Dark Hour in the modern day

Whilst following a loose series template, every Persona story is unique in its own way and Persona 3 Reload is no exception - which is why it’s a relief the story is the same in the remake as it is in the original 2006 story. 

A transfer student returning to his hometown of Tatsumi Port Island, you soon get wrapped up in the anomaly that is the Dark Hour - an odd nightly occurrence which sees most inhabitants transmogrified into coffins. Meanwhile, the real world is overrun by monstrous Shadows along with the emergence of Tartarus - a great tower from which they all seem to come. 

The Persona 3 Reload protagonist's awakening
Click to enlarge

After awakening the franchise’s namesake power of Persona, a physical manifestation of one’s psyche, you’ll join S.E.E.S - the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad - to journey through Tartarus, uncover its secrets, and solve the mystery of the Dark Hour once and for all. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Persona game without being half-dungeon crawler, half social-simulator. When not running up the levels of Tartarus and fighting monsters in turn-based battles with your crew, you’re also faced with a plethora of side activities in your daily life like building relationships to create new Personas, boosting social stats to pass your exams, or completing side quests with benefits that all come together in an intricate web. 

P3 taking your heart

Normally, I’d try to avoid constantly comparing a new series entry to those that have come in the past and weighing it up on its own merits. However, since the very idea behind Persona 3 Reload is to update the original P3 from the ground up to mix in much of the visual style and gameplay improvements which came with the Persona 5 games, I’m making an exception in this case. 

Yukari and Junpei in Persona 3 Reload
Click to enlarge

No matter which way though, whether you’re an existing Persona fan - whether you’ve played the original P3 or not - or a series newcomer, you’ll be enamoured with the presentation that’s been put into this remake. 

With basically everything in P3 being rebuilt from scratch; art, graphics, UI, voiceover, cutscenes both anime and in-game, original and rearranged music tracks; you’d simply think this was a new mainline Persona game if it weren’t for the number on the title because everything from exploration to battles is a visually smooth treat no matter how many hours go by.

More than just a refresh

P3 Reload is more than just “Persona 3 in a P5 coat of paint” though. I mentioned already in my preview of the game what an interesting position Persona 3 Reload is in - basically giving Persona 4 and 5 players a chance to experience what came before. 

To that extent, it's clear that Persona 3 helped set some of the series templates that inspired those in other mainline games. Both the premise and S.E.E.S members are unique and enjoyable enough in their own right, along with the new life brought into them thanks to the improvements made here. 

Along with being a straight-up darker tone from the get-go, an even more eerie and blood-stained setting than what some might be used to, you’re joining an already-active team of Persona users - so the group isn’t entirely figuring it out as they go from the beginning like in later games in the timeline. 

SEES study session in Persona 3 Reload
Click to enlarge

What’s more, the group dynamic of P3’s cavalcade of Persona users feels more fun than P4 and P5 thanks to everyone living together in a dorm room. 

With that, both the story, side conversations, and new social activities that have been added make getting to know each S.E.E.S member more interesting, and I found myself more excited to come home every night to learn a bit more about them.

None of that would matter if the team members themselves weren’t interesting, but Persona 3 Reload’s are arguably some of the series’ most complex the more you learn about them. Junpei, for example, whilst on the surface coming off as “protagonist’s cheery best friend” of which P4’s Yosuke and P5’s Ryuji followed suit, has much more complexity beneath the surface. 

Akihiko though - the group’s workout-obsessed boxing nut - still has his issues, but his characterisation is such a wonderful mix of earnest and unexpectedly hilarious, that he stands out entirely amongst the Persona users from the series altogether. 

Trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible, there were changes to some of the social links around the cast that made me unsure how much I’d be into the Persona 3 Reload cast. In actuality, their distinct and contrasting personalities alongside their amazing dub performances made me want to hang out with them at every opportunity. 

Even when I didn’t need to take part in an optional group study session, the opportunity to watch more cheery banter between some of my new favourite Persona characters meant I couldn’t turn any of them down. 

A Theurgy-filled joyride

The other side of the “update P3 to Persona 5-level” coin is the revitalised combat - the result making Persona 3 Reload stand on equal footing if not above when it comes to enjoying encounters with the series’ many returning enemies. 

Anyone who’s played Persona games before will have absolutely no trouble diving back into the turn-based combat; elemental attacks and weaknesses, stat-altering support skills; All-Out team attacks, and obtaining new Personas to fuse and create more powerful ones to wield; but newcomers will have tutorials spaced out well enough to ease them into everything over time. 

The standout of Persona 3 Reload’s combat though is everything new that comes with it. 

Mitsuru's Theurgy attack in Persona 3 Reload
Click to enlarge

To start: the soundtrack. Although returning rap artist from the original game, Lotus Juice, and new lead vocalist Azumi Takahashi can be heard throughout, it's in combat encounters where their music truly shines - with rearranged and original tracks for the remake adding so much energy and style, they never get old no matter how many floors of Tartarus you climb. 

There's so much personality here it makes the soundtrack feel like an additional party member, weaving itself through battles. Once you hear the newest version of Mass Destruction, or you heard the Full Moon Full Life again, you'll realise that it really can stand toe-to-toe with the series' best, while also remaining distinct.

In terms of what’s fresh in the actual combat, some elements have been put in to line up with Persona 5 like being able to directly command party members, Shuffle Time for extra rewards, or switching to an ally after a super-effective attack for a follow-up. But the favourite for many will be the Theurgy attacks - signature moves that are unique for each party member both in the way they’re executed and built up - adding a nice interesting layer to the strategy as well. 

Taking your own Thuergy for example, the gauge will go up whenever you’ve switched from one of your many Personas which is easy enough. With Mitsuru though, hers only goes up when inflicting a status ailment like Charm on an enemy - or Yukari’s will only go up when you heal someone.

This meant that although building up Yukari’s Theurgy was no problem since she was my regular healer, I had to change up my strategy to actually incorporate status-inflicting attacks - which I’d usually ignore - if I wanted to make the best use of the effective and beautifully presented special moves. 

The pros and cons of a remake

Persona 3 Reload is a fantastic remake partly thanks to its dedication to capturing the highs of the original. On the other hand, this approach can inadvertently catch the negatives as well - no matter how few they may be. 

On the Tartarus-exploration side of things, the dungeon crawling can become repetitive no matter what’s been done to revamp the experience. As you climb the floors of the tower, you’ll reach other sections with different environments and new treasures plus stronger Shadows to fight. 

Combat in Persona 3 Reload
Click to enlarge

Be that as it may, long before you reach each border floor you reach in the game (blocking you from going higher until you progress the story) it’s likely you’ll feel a little drained of the grind and want to go back to the real world to mix things up with side activities.

But since you might feel incentivised to make the most of your in-game days by completing as many floors in one go as possible like I was, you’ll likely feel compelled to feel the sharpness of the double-edged sword that is JRPG time management and spend hours at a time taking on a whole Tartarus section at once with multiple bosses. 

Nonetheless, it’s easy to understand the “rock and a hard place” situation Atlus would have been in here. By keeping Tartarus as just one big dungeon, they’re staying faithful to the original Persona 3 experience, but adapting the negatives that went with it. If taking the Persona 5 approach and switching to many diverse dungeons with varied themes and puzzles, it would arguably no longer be Persona 3. 

With everything else added into the Persona 3 Reload’s combat, the grind feels like less of a chore, but it’s still a grind nonetheless.

One of the best stories in the series

Another slight con with Persona 3 Reload is the pacing in the first act and a half, taking quite a while for the story to kick really into high gear at around the 25-hour mark. The first of the silver linings in this, however, is that compared to Persona 5 (where the narrative started strong then slugged along for quite a while before picking up again) Persona 3 Reload’s only gets better and better as time goes on. 

Because the premise of Persona 3 feels like one of the most intimate yet intricate given its premise, the stakes become that much more complex and personal, all whilst being balanced enough along the way so it can all still be followed with a satisfying pay-off towards the end. 

The elderly couple Hierophant social link in Persona 3 Reload
Click to enlarge

The second is that with the beginning’s slower pacing, you’re given the opportunity to get used to Persona 3 Reload’s take on social-sim systems in the meantime. 

Going to certain restaurants and daily activities like karaoke or studying for exams to raise your social stats, using those stats to unlock new social links and build relationships, using those new social links to create more powerful Personas of the relationship’s arcana - it’s a complex domino effect of gameplay that can initially be hard to learn, but still a joy to master.

Like social links or their equivalents in other Persona games, some are better than others, but others will either take you by surprise from the get-go with their depth or surprise you with an initially funny start to rip your heart out the more you progress the relationship. 

As fun as the combat and the main story in Persona 3 Reload is, many players will find it difficult to tear themselves away from the sub-plots of these minor characters since it’s so easy to get invested in each story. 

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The Verdict

Persona 3 Reload is one of the best remakes I’ve ever seen - a faithful but stunning reimagining of a classic JRPG that will please Persona veterans and newcomers alike. 

With the only small negatives coming from Atlus’ dedication to recapturing the experience of the original, fans will without a doubt debate this being the best in the series after being reminded why Persona 3 is so spectacular. 

5/5

Reviewed on PlayStation 5. Review code provided by the publisher. 

Ben is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon. Alongside his BA (Hons) in Business Management is a wealth of gaming and entertainment writing experience, having previously occupied roles as a Copywriter in e-commerce at Overclockers and Guides & SEO Writer at GameByte and FragHero. When not whipping up guides and reviews, Ben’ll be off playing the latest Pokemon games, Overwatch 2, Spider-Man, The Witcher, and Final Fantasy - all before reading manga and listening to Ice Nine Kills.