PERSONA 3: RELOAD is a big, beautiful revamp of the lengthy classic

- By Heather Newman

Persona 3 Reload isn’t just a re-release or hi-res tune-up of the 2006 turn-based classic Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. It’s a true remake, with nearly every aspect of the game other than the story changing in subtle or major ways. What feels like thousands of voiceover lines, impressive new persona animations, sharp graphic design and some nifty quality of life features give Persona 3’s solid story a high 2024 shine.

Sixteen years ago, Persona 3 was a landmark release for RPGs. The way it combined a sim-style RPG about high school life with a dungeon crawler including both Pokémon and roguelike elements gave it lots of depth.

Which is also a way to say that Persona 3 Reload is long. Really, really long. Enormously long. You’re playing for a full year, one day at a time. Each day has multiple interactio­ns and decision points. It typically takes more than 130 hours to meander your way through the game. I’ve enjoyed every hour I’ve spent in it.


You play as a transfer student, new to a town where people are afflicted by an apathy sickness that causes some to take their own lives. The culprit can be found in the Dark Hour, the secret time in the middle of the night when normal folks temporaril­y morph into coffins or get their souls melted. You and your friends, however, remain human during the Dark Hour and fight the shadows with the help of personas: alter-ego creatures and people you can summon to fight on your behalf.

In the daytime, you work on leveling up your attributes—studying raises your Academics score, for example, and singing karaoke alone boosts your Courage. Each activity lasts just long enough to reward your decisions; I never feel like I’m grinding pointless minigames.

You’ll shop for the various items you need for dungeons in stores, in vending machines and via mail order,

play online games, go out with friends or complete quests for them to strengthen your social links, which in turn strengthen persona types. There are dozens of ways to achieve the same goals, and each day is different.

The in-game calendar includes both the days and the phases of the moon, and many events and connection­s are specific to individual days of the week or months of the year. I couldn’t just practice, and practice, and practice again on the track oval, because the team only meets a few times a week.

Return to an activity, and you’ll find it different than when you left it, and decisions matter. If I choose to stay awake in class (to earn Academics points) instead of sleeping (to earn Courage), the five pop-quiz history questions I answer will show up on the midterm exam, rewarding my attentiven­ess. Having a bowl of ramen with a classmate might increase my social connection with him, and if I choose to go out with him again, his plans to ask a teacher out will have progressed, just as they would in real life. It gives me choices with real consequenc­es, and I love it.

At night, the high school morphs into Tartarus, a giant tower of bad guys. Each section has a different architectu­ral theme and shadows to fight as you ascend. The first section has multiple floors in a techy blue and black with a few shadows to fight in turn-based combat and chests to open on each floor. The second is a more organic-feeling, purple, curvy set of corridors that have giant faces set into the walls.

Your character has the unique ability to summon more than one persona and even combine them to create new ones, fusing a magicianca­t-person Nekomata, or making that elven knight Tam Lin, for example. The combinatio­ns are wild, and if you don’t cheat by reading online guides, unpredicta­ble. It’s great fun turning persona cards that look like monsters or priestesse­s into a Swiss maid, or a fractured combinatio­n of lion and eagle and scorpion.

(A warning, if you’ve never played the series: personas are summoned when a teen hero puts what looks like a pistol to their head and fires. Suicide is a theme throughout, and this happens in every fight.)

You can’t climb the whole tower in one night. Make it too far and you will literally be blocked until the next full moon event. It’s a ridiculous­ly involved game, but my frustratio­n in playing through it was never how long it took—it was not being able to do everything that I wanted to do, every day. That’s a good thing.

It gives me choices with real consequenc­es, and I love it


Obviously the game has been dramatical­ly upscaled from last year’s Persona 3 Portable PC port, which was fairly faithful to the original Persona 3 and its simple graphics. But Reload is not just the same game with more pixels: it’s been rebuilt in the Unreal Engine, and it’s gorgeous.

The characters are 3D, fully present in social settings and able to move freely about the areas, but the lighting and shading remain painterly enough to maintain Persona’s unique design style. In the strip mall monorail stop, you’ll see shadows moving across escalator stairs. Outside the school, you’ll talk with your friends while cherry blossoms fall and swirl all around you.

In combat, it gets even better. The artists have taken the sharp Persona look and built on it, creating multi-panel graphic screens that evoke manga and mixing them beautifull­y with brand-new active animations for persona and enemy shadow abilities.

The way each persona emerges and fights—which changes from round to round, even when you’re using the same abilities—is dramatic, screen-filling fun. Whether it’s a valkyrie on horseback, a winged knight, a succubus in hotpants, or any of the other 173 combinatio­ns, each persona has its own style.


Much of Persona 3’s soundtrack has been remastered from scratch. The Persona composer departed Atlus in 2021, which may have contribute­d to that decision. While I liked these song vocals better than the originals, they’re not as memorable as some other entries in the series (such as Gentle Madman from Persona 5 Royal is a favorite of mine).

Some of the most-haunting tunes play in the Velvet Room where you combine personas. They hark back to the original version of the game, with jazzy and mournful piano adding creepy ambiance.

What’s better than the music is the voiceover audio. Every social link interactio­n has voiceover lines now, some of them extensive, in addition to the main plot. The voice acting is generally excellent.

Goofy Junpei, who could easily be ‘that obnoxious JRPG guy’ comes across as a surprising­ly nuanced character, with insecuriti­es and quirks, helped along by the skills of voice actor Zeno Robinson. If you don’t want to listen to him, you can now use the Tab button functional­ity to toggle on super-speedy, automatic fast-forwarding through all interactio­ns, but why would you when they’re this fun?


UI improvemen­ts come thanks to the new game engine, since running up to things yourself is a much easier and more active way to interact than nudging a blue blob around on the screen as you did in the original. Persona 3 Reload flowed as smoothly as the Chairman’s puns on my testing PC.

The controllab­le camera feels sluggish with a mouse and keyboard, however, requiring far too much mouse movement to see behind you. That’s annoying when you have to shift directions in a dungeon, or when you need to use the right (and only the right) Ctrl button to attack. Unfortunat­ely, controller players got the better end of the deal here; the PlayStatio­n 5 version of the game has gorgeous camera control.

In combat, I really enjoyed the individual control of party members, particular­ly in combinatio­n with the One More mechanic. When you knock an enemy down (with, say, a persona attack that it is weak to), you have the option to strike again. You can choose to pass that turn to someone else in the party.

It’s super fun to chain from a character that has a single-target strong electric attack to someone whose persona can then cast that type of move on the entire group of enemies, for example.


Persona 3 Reload has made a few minor nods to contempora­ry sensibilit­ies. A warning screen at the start of the game lets you know that you’ll be seeing scenes of violence, bullying and self-harm. There is a minor in-passing question about why the evoker that is used to summon personas ‘has to look like a gun’.

Very little else in the game’s story has changed, which isn’t for the better in all cases. Athletic club manager Yuko (she manages whatever team you join) carries on about having to pick up after her male charges and comments that at least it keeps her from gaining weight, and women not on the combat team are frequently portrayed as doe-eyed man-chasers or caregivers. Sometimes the core characters fall prey to sexist tropes.

But my biggest single complaint with Persona 3 Reload is one major missing feature from Persona 3 Portable: it is no longer possible to choose to play through as a female lead character. That’s a shame, not just because you can’t play as a girl, but also because the option gave Portable some serious replayabil­ity.

But in a game this huge and this rewarding, I’ll let it slide. Persona 3 Reload is fabulous, engrossing, and ridiculous­ly deep. If you’ve never played a Persona, this is a great introducti­on to the series, and holds its own against the newer games. If you’ve played it before, you’re going to be shocked at how very reloaded the experience feels.

The artists have taken the sharp Persona look and built on it

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 ?? ?? Summoning a new persona is a dramatic affair.
Summoning a new persona is a dramatic affair.
 ?? ?? FAR LEFT: Students will give you gossip and opportunit­ies to try new activities.
FAR LEFT: Students will give you gossip and opportunit­ies to try new activities.
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 ?? ?? Persona shows off distinctly snappy graphic design in one combat ending screen.
Persona shows off distinctly snappy graphic design in one combat ending screen.
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 ?? ?? LEFT: The Chairman supervises your dorm, and is always ready to stun with a pun.
LEFT: The Chairman supervises your dorm, and is always ready to stun with a pun.
 ?? ?? BELOW: How well you pay attention in class can earn you points in Academics.
BELOW: How well you pay attention in class can earn you points in Academics.
 ?? ?? Using a strong attack grants you the chance for One More.
Using a strong attack grants you the chance for One More.
 ?? ?? RIGHT: Your group prepares to go dungeon diving.
RIGHT: Your group prepares to go dungeon diving.
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