Persona 3 Reload is a stunning remake of a must-play role-playing game, boasting fantastic improvements to the battle system and quality-of-life. However, it’s let down on the whole by a couple of missed opportunities.
Tweaks to combat make for super-satisfying battles
Quality-of-life improvements enhance the experience greatly
Gorgeous visuals make for arguably the prettiest Persona game yet
Removal of Persona 3 Portable’s female protagonist is a real pity
Lack of male romances is a huge missed opportunity
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Platform reviewed: PlayStation 5
Available on: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Release date: February 2, 2024
Whether you’re wandering around the vibrant Iwatodai Strip Mall to grab a beef bowl, hanging out with quirky characters, or fighting fierce battles in the dead of night, it’s hard not to get fully absorbed into Persona 3 Reload. Atlus’ remake of its 2006 turn-based role-playing game is a triumph that successfully updates a slightly dated adventure into something that fans new and old won’t want to miss.
Persona 3 Reload puts players into the shoes of a quiet high schooler who moves to Tatsumi Port Island’s Gekkoukan High School as a transfer student. Upon arriving on the island, he becomes aware of the Dark Hour, an extra hour of the day that the majority of the population is blissfully unaware of. During this time, monsters called Shadows appear in the world, and only those who awaken to the power of Persona can fight and defeat them by summoning manifestations of their personality. Luckily for us, the protagonist is one of these people, and, alongside his fellow Persona-wielding friends, sets out on a quest to defeat the Shadows and uncover the mysteries of the Dark Hour.
At the heart of Persona 3 Reload is Tartarus - a sprawling, tower-like dungeon that emerges from Gekkoukan High School during the Dark Hour. More and more floors open up throughout the game’s lengthy runtime, which are filled with increasingly challenging foes and bosses to fight. Given that the floor structure randomizes each time you enter, revisiting old floors will never be quite the same. Don’t worry though; there are plenty of checkpoints, which you can transport to by using teleporters found throughout the dungeon (including the entrance).
Within Tartarus, players are able to use new consumable items known as Twilight Fragments. These shiny-looking objects can be obtained in Tartarus itself, as well as out in the world, as a reward for certain quests. You can use these to unlock special treasure chests containing particularly rare items, which are definitely worth cracking open whenever you can.
Using clock-like structures in Tartarus, players can spend seven Twilight Fragments to fully restore their party’s health and Spirit Points (SP), which is very handy for longer dungeon crawls. On top of that, spending Twilight Fragments can randomly spawn a special location which allows the user to select two allies to strengthen, instantly bringing them to the same level as the protagonist in the next battle they win. I can’t understate what a fantastic quality-of-life feature this is - it completely removes the need to grind EXP for any party members who’ve been keeping the bench warm, meaning you can comfortably switch the team around without any extra fuss.
The fact that you can have an actual Persona-wielding dog on your team was incredible in 2006, and it still is today. Koromaru is the best boy. The fact that he runs around with a knife makes me laugh every time I see it, and yes, you can pet the dog.
The battle system itself has also been updated, perhaps most notably with the addition of the ‘Shift’ option, which is comparable to the Baton Pass mechanic from Persona 5. When one of the party knocks down an enemy (either by hitting them with something they’re weak to or landing a critical hit), they trigger ‘One More,’ giving them another action, which can be repeated by knocking down another enemy. Using the Shift mechanic, the attacking party member can provide this extra turn to a different ally, which is perfect for striking more weaknesses and building towards a powerful All-Out Attack, which can be initiated when all enemies are on the ground.
Also new to Persona 3 Reload’s combat is the Theurgy mechanic. Theurgy moves are unique to each character and boast various effects depending on the user. Junpei, for example, can unleash a powerful Slash attack on one foe, which ignores any resistances, while Akihiko can hit every enemy on the screen with a substantial Electric attack. In order to pull them off, you’ll need to fill a character’s Theurgy Gauge by landing attacks, knocking down foes, and performing ally-specific actions. For example, Yukari’s is boosted when she heals her allies. They’re instrumental in more challenging fights and look delightfully flashy, too.
Outside of Tartarus, your protagonist is tasked with keeping up a normal school and social life, attending lessons, completing exams, and hanging out with friends to boost your ‘social links.’ These power up the Personas you create and also provide a fantastic way to learn more about the people around you, such as those on your team and at your school - and they’re all fully voiced. Within your team, you can only complete social links with your female allies (more on that later), but special ‘Link Events’ have been added as a way to bond with your male friends. They’re time-limited, so it’s advisable to view them as they become available, and without spoiling anything, they’re well worth exploring for the extra background they can provide on Reload’s characters.
I’d also like to give a special shoutout to the new ‘Rewind’ feature, which has come in handy for me more times than I’d like to admit. Essentially, the game automatically creates a list of save states from throughout your in-game days, and you can reload the most recent few via your options menu, even if you’ve been playing a bit gung-ho and haven’t saved in a while. This feature is perfect for advancing social links effectively, as you can redo conversations as many times as you like until you choose all of the dialogue options that provide the most points. My only gripe here is that you can’t open up this menu in the middle of a conversation, so I’ve often had to fast-forward through the text until I’m finally given control again, knowing the whole time that I’ll be going through it all again in a couple of minutes.
Persona 3 Reload includes relatively standard accessibility options, with sliders to adjust the volume of background music, sound effects, and voices independently. Vibration can be switched off, subtitles can be toggled on or off for animated cutscenes, and the controls for the camera and mini map can be inverted.
Camera speed can be adjusted with a slider and set to center automatically behind the player as they move. The mini map can also be tied to the camera so that it rotates automatically depending on where you’re looking. Background brightness can be altered, too.
As a faithful remake of the original Persona 3, it’s challenging to find fault with Reload. However, it’s hard not to look at the female protagonist included in Persona 3 Portable and be disappointed that she’s not included here. Sure, this isn’t a remake of Portable, but, given that the protagonist is meant to be a self-insert, having a female character should never have been considered a bonus feature in the first place. It should have been the standard back in 2006, never mind in 2024.
Although not included in any of the previous iterations of Persona 3, it’s also a pity that the protagonist has no male romance options. While the mainline Persona series hasn’t included any same-sex romances since Persona 2: Innocent Sin, one scene in 2023’s Persona 5 Tactica allowed protagonist Joker to imagine his dream wedding with any of the main cast, including Ryuji and Yusuke, which was a promising sign of more to come. Unfortunately, Reload doesn’t follow in these footsteps, which is a real shame as it could have offered a meaningful improvement on the original. Moving forward in the series, I sincerely hope that this is something Atlus addresses.
These missed opportunities aside, Persona 3 Reload is a delight. Each area is a joy to wander around, battles are engaging, and exploring Tartarus never gets tiresome. You'll soon find yourself playing for ‘one more day’ to unlock a new social link, progress the story, or just go to your favorite eatery and live vicariously through your protagonist’s hectic social diary. The soundtrack is also fantastic, and players will potentially never hear the words ‘disturbing the peace’ without mentally bursting into song ever again.
Catherine is a News Writer for TechRadar Gaming. Armed with a journalism degree from The University of Sheffield, she was sucked into the games media industry after spending far too much time on her university newspaper writing about Pokémon and cool indie games, and realising that was a very cool job, actually. She previously spent 19 months working at GAMINGbible as a full-time journalist. She loves all things Nintendo, and will never stop talking about Xenoblade Chronicles.