Persona 3 Reload Review – IGN
18 mins read

Persona 3 Reload Review – IGN


There’s a timelessness to Persona 3 – its story of confronting death with imperfect courage and carrying on in the face of tragedy left an everlasting impact on me when I first played it on PS2, even as RPGs evolved and the Persona series continued to grow. As I’ve gotten older and experienced the very things it’s about, I’ve grown to cherish the earnestness of its message, the way it’s framed, and the characters who embody these struggles even more. That makes it easy for me to get caught up in the hype of Persona 3 Reload, but it also sets the bar as high as Tartarus as this remake tries to recapture the magic of its original versions. But after spending 70 hours playing through it, I can no longer imagine Persona 3 without Reload. It’s a shining example of seemingly small changes adding up to make a significant impact, uplifting its greatest qualities while staying true to the source material. And it more than proves why the darkest and boldest Persona yet deserved this new lease on life.

Although I’d argue there’s a particular vibe and style to PS2-era RPGs that just can’t be replicated, Reload’s visual overhaul is a meaningful way to reframe a world I’ve spent countless hours in, as if this was how I always wanted these places to look. At first it was a bit surreal to see Tatsumi Port Island recreated and these beloved characters remodeled for a new generation – something as simple as giving them sweet jackets, superpowered armbands, and black gloves are neat touches to complement the fancy new combat animations. And yet it’s all so familiar at the same time; the normal attack animations are true to form, the battle portraits are identical, and how your crew blast themselves in the head with an Evoker remains the sickest and best in-lore way to summon a persona. The fresh aesthetics and stylings more akin to Persona 5 also make these characters cooler than I could’ve ever imagined them to be.

This was the first entry in the Persona series to use the school calendar system and social sim elements as a foundation to move through its story, planning activities during the day and going dungeon crawling at night. Persona 3 Reload shows there’s still a novelty to balancing normal life and relationships with the duties of defeating shadows in the Dark Hour – a mysterious 25th hour where time stops as monstrous forces come out, humans turn into coffins, and your school transforms into a deranged 250-floor tower.

This is a structure I still enjoy, even if it falls into a predictable routine of visiting specific spots to upgrade my social stats or finding the next character to hang out with to rank up their Social Link. You can tell that this was the formula’s first iteration at times, especially when Social Link character arcs remain largely the same as they were in the original, a few of which are quite primitive or crude. But as shallow or awkward as some of them may be, there are valuable little stories to be found in Social Links that either feed into the broader message about finding purpose or are just entertaining enough to see to their conclusion.

New social events and activities truly elevate its central characters.

Reload also includes fully voiced Social Link scenes for the first time, and that works wonders in terms of giving them more weight and value. All romances are optional as well, which wasn’t the case in previous versions of Persona 3 (except when playing as the Persona 3 Portable-exclusive female protagonist), and it’s pretty wild to think back and realize you used to be forced to have a relationship with every female classmate you got to max rank. Quality of life improvements like text messages help keep track of what’s available daily during the day and night, and the online activity tracker gives you an idea of what other players have prioritized. Both are clutch for quickly deducing what’s important and discovering much of the new content that bolsters Persona 3’s existing world.

Above all, Persona 3 Reload has new social events and activities that truly elevate its central characters. These create a stronger sense of togetherness within the party, showing them really forming natural bonds with each other and having lives outside the confines of their duties with SEES (the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, which is an afterschool club for persona users, mind you). Something as simple as study sessions at the dorm help you upgrade your academic stat quickly, but more importantly, come with endearing scenes of the crew interacting with each other in believable ways, helping out with math formulas or just venting about the mundane.

You can take your party members on individual activities, too, like gardening or cooking together to get new health items, which also lets them open up to you in ways they hadn’t before. Watching a scary movie with my cheerful bestie Yukari or reviewing boxing matches with my gym bro Akihiko don’t just offer social stat points, they give a bit of insight into their personalities. Reading books with Mitsuru, Aigis, or Fuuka also serves to reward you with both stats and charming little interactions, and even the precious dog Koromaru gets his own adorable side-arc to round him out as a more complete character.

Reload even makes a concerted effort to address the fact that none of the male party members previously had Social Link routes. While they’re not traditionally structured, distinct opportunities to spend time with them now pop up throughout the story and eventually lead to revelatory moments for those characters. Since these are freshly written for Reload, there’s a noticeable contrast in quality compared to the original social sim conversations, making me wish the old dialogue had been punched up to match the heights of these new interactions. They are well-written and honestly touching at times, finally allowing your bros to be fully realized characters. And some scenes get other party members involved to showcase a better group dynamic that feels like a natural extension of Persona 3’s ethos.

New Theurgy attacks can be as destructive as they are hilarious.

All those additions become part of the daily routine and add a genuine texture to characters I thought I knew so well already. But the tangible reward comes in the form of combat perks like permanent stat buffs and status effects, and more substantially, extra Theurgy attacks – basically new Limit Break-style moves that each party member can unleash. It’s one convincing way for the power of friendship to be made manifest.

As is tradition for Shin Megami Tensei games, the turn-based RPG combat revolves around accounting for elemental affinities, knocking down enemies to earn extra turns, and setting up those iconic All-Out Attacks. Persona 3 Reload uses the same foundation as the original but builds upon it in ways that mitigate the monotony of churning through battle after battle. The aforementioned Theurgy attacks are relegated to a meter that fills during fights, each serving a strategic purpose given their limited use and character-specific effects, be that massive damage or major stat buffs – and they all come with some fantastic animations, too. Through the fusion system, which allows your main character to wield different personas Pokemon style, you can unlock a bunch of unique Theurgy attacks, and some of them are as destructive as they are hilarious. Those who’ve played Persona 5 will recognize the Shift mechanic, too, which works just like the Baton Pass; when you hit an enemy weakness, you can pass the extra turn to a different party member who can keep the pain train rolling or hit remaining foes even harder.

Fights come with a swift momentum that’s effortlessly stylized to match the kinetic look and pace of combat. And that’s key for a turn-based RPG, keeping things moving and never letting you get bogged down as you go through the motions of what could otherwise feel like pretty similar battles. And just like watching each of them take an Evoker shot straight to the dome to cast spells, I never got tired of seeing my party’s personas shatter their portrait cutouts when hitting a weakness.

Familiar RPG mechanics are made all the more enjoyable by some challenging new enemies that test your mastery and ask you to engage with Reloads combat systems creatively. As you ascend the randomly generated floors of Tartarus, where all of Persona 3’s dungeon crawling takes place, minibosses will meet you at a steady pace. Sometimes these foes don’t even have weaknesses, so you need to create your own openings with buffs, debuffs, and status effects that can turn the tide in your favor. That often has to be balanced with managing a slew of devastating status ailments and hard-hitting attacks, so things can spiral out of control if you don’t play it smart. The best examples of this come from Monad doors, which are all-new rooms within the Tartarus floors – specifically, the boss gauntlets found at progress checkpoints. These fights throw somewhat unconventional combat scenarios at you that bring out the best of these satisfying turn-based battles whether you line up a sequence of attacks perfectly or barely make it by the skin of your teeth.

Tartarus has been revamped just enough to not feel like a weak link.

Tartarus itself has been revamped to give it a sinister new vibe and a more distinct look for each block of floors. From Giger-like biomechanical labyrinths to shapeshifting industrial halls, Tartarus is at least more visually interesting than before, and the floors themselves are generally laid out less like tedious, sprawling mazes. It’s not a drastic overhaul that will completely stave off the repetitive nature of ascending Tartarus, but it’s just enough to prevent it from feeling like the weak link it could have been. Beyond Tartarus, bespoke story-centric boss fights await you on each full moon throughout the story. Although they’re relatively quick in how they unfold, all the new mechanics and visual flourishes of Reload give these battles a bit more gravity and spectacle, especially as you inch closer to Persona 3’s bold, daring, and moving conclusion.

All these exciting combat encounters, Tartarus floors to blitz through, and heartfelt moments tucked away in the social aspects of Persona 3 Reload provide a rich context for what this game is really about: finding purpose. For as goofy and irreverent as Persona 3 may be, its greatest strength is its emotional sincerity. Its storytelling largely manages to avoid tired tropes and lets its characters be real people who endure tragedy and contemplate the emptiness they feel in the loss of loved ones. But they find their own way to come to terms with that loss and let it be their strength as they fight to the end, even when the temptation of nihilism stares back at them.

Revisiting this story in 2024 through the lens of Persona 3 Reload put a lot of things into perspective. In too brief a period of time, I experienced what it’s like to lose the people you hold dearest and see those loved ones pass with dreams unfulfilled. I’ve also faced my own mortality with health conditions brought on by simply drawing the short straw when I was born. Persona 3 has taken on an entirely new meaning for me, even as the story remains the same. When I see these characters express their pain after loss, I don’t necessarily feel an intense sadness, but rather a certain empathy and understanding I just didn’t have before. When they question their purpose in life and search for meaning in the face of impending doom, I’m no longer shocked, but instead confident they can work through it and make the most of the hand they’re dealt.

Chasing the truth behind the Dark Hour, the existence of personas, and the rising cases of Apathy Syndrome that’s overtaken the world like a widespread pandemic creates an unmistakable existential dread that lingers over this world. And the original story stands the test of time because of how sharp it was in bringing those darker themes together. Several characters examine their will to live when there’s so much suffering to endure, but Persona 3 fires back with fulfilling, bittersweet answers that it doesn’t always have to outright say.

I can’t overstate how fantastic the new voice performances are.

All that time you spend with these characters in Reload, learning about them and going through a typical day together, shows the value of a normal life. But they weren’t brought together by choice; at critical moments in the story, their complicated histories create a believable tension that boils over, sometimes harboring resentment for each other and doubting their trust. Weathering those storms together builds a realistic dynamic that evolves beyond simply tolerating one another. They are the epitome of this classic viral tweet – Persona 3 is Trauma Bonding: The Video Game.

One of the biggest reasons why everything comes together so powerfully in Reload, specifically, is the way the new voice cast brings its characters to life. I cannot overstate how the fantastic voice performances perfectly capture the original spirit of each party member, then elevate them to become even better versions of themselves. It’s impressive considering how distinct each voice was to begin with, but right from the jump, I knew this cast had nailed each role. Big heartfelt scenes, intense battle cries, and moments of levity have a newfound enthusiasm while sounding so familiar, as if these were their voices all along. I’d crack a smile at all their little quips and feel my stomach knot when they pour their hearts out. Although the main story hasn’t really changed, the portrayal of characters I’ve known for so long gave me a new love and appreciation for my favorite Persona crew.

And, of course, the glue that binds any Persona game together is its music. At this point, it feels routine to sing the praises of an Atlus soundtrack, but Persona 3 Reload is a case worth examining because of its fusion of the new and old, and the storytelling embedded in the songs themselves. In the mid 2000s, it stood out for having a wild mix of funky J-pop and the nu metal rap rock trend that was prevelant in the years leading up to its release. Yet that’s what has made it stand the test of time; there’s just nothing like it and the more time has gone on, the more it has been ingrained in Persona 3’s identity. Returning tracks have been rearranged with new singer Azumi Takahashi and I’ve grown to love her renditions. At the same time, there’s something comforting in hearing the deep vocals and distinct flow of rapper Lotus Juice again. For Reload, the brand-new songs not only fit wonderfully alongside the originals, they’ve quickly become some of the series’ best tunes, which I don’t say lightly given its track record.

The new, upbeat battle theme “It’s Going Down” you hear when surprise attacking enemies during exploration complements the soulful classic “Mass Destruction” nicely, and I didn’t mind failing to jump the enemy so I could sing along with an enthusiastic “Ooooh yeah! Dada-dada, dada-dada!” the same as I did years ago. However, it’s the beautifully chill night time theme “Color Your Night” that sets the mood with familiar instrumentation and lyrics that wistfully reflect on the events of Persona 3 – I can guarantee it’ll become a fan favorite. But the one song that brings it all together is the banger of an opener “Full Moon, Full Life,” which uses clever melodic and lyrical callbacks to Persona 3’s musical history while representing the message of its story to a tee. So even if the more granular details of Persona 3’s story start to fade, these songs can evoke the memory of an unforgettable journey.





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