Persona 3 remains a groundbreaking RPG but we were slightly worried if Persona 3 Reload would live up to its legacy. It's been 16 years since the original game first appeared, introducing life simulation mechanics and a considerably darker storyline than its successors. As the game that reshaped Atlus' popular series, expectations are unsurprisingly high for this full-fledged remake and after going hands-on, we've come away impressed.
Playing a 30-minute demo at Gamescom 2023, Atlus split this into two segments. 'New Moon' showcased the remade Tartarus and its procedurally generated levels from floors 2-6. That includes the first mini-boss battle and at that stage, only Yukari and Junpei are available as active teammates. There's also 'Full Moon', which pits you against Persona 3's first major boss in the monorail segment.
If you never played Persona 3, Tartarus is comparable to Persona 5's Mementos, a hefty dungeon that gradually unlocks upon advancing through the main story. Exploration remains familiar and Reload faithfully recreates this warped version of Gekoukkan High — perhaps a little too closely. Mini-boss floor aside, each area only featured several enemies and the odd treasure chest, lacking that same variety Mementos holds. That said, we might actually prefer the shorter length given how vast the original Tartarus was.
Unlike the original game, you also won't get tired when exploring or potentially become sick the next day, as Atlus previously confirmed the Condition system's removal. This means characters who've been battling for ages won't see stat reductions like decreased accuracy and defence, removing the regular need to swap out characters upon ascending Tartarus. It's a welcome change that simplifies exploration and removes combat limitations.
Combat benefits from Reload's modernisation while remaining familiar. Though not identical in style, Reload uses a straightforward one-button combat menu like Persona 5 that improves combat pacing. Thankfully, the entire party is controllable instead of just the protagonist — something Portable allowed but not the original or FES. Great news for anyone who remembers Mitsuru spamming Marin Karin and other annoying AI decisions. Like Persona 4 Golden, Shuffle Time lets you directly pick a reward card following combat, offering bonuses like increased EXP.
Finally, upon exploiting an enemy's weakness, you can follow up with a bonus attack, pressing the advantage with the same character or 'Shifting' to someone else. It's a useful improvement that's functionally identical to Persona 5's Baton Pass command, adding to combat's tactical gameplay nicely. When all enemies are Downed, finishing off entire groups with a single All-out Attack remains highly enjoyable.
We're really impressed with how clean Reload's art style looks, too. Character models look sharp, performance is smooth, and the art style successfully captures the original's look, recreating the Dark Hour's oppressive atmosphere incredibly well. The iconic soundtrack complements the action nicely, and hearing Mass Destruction when a battle begins provided some nostalgic joy. In another nod to Persona 5, Reload's menus receive a matching overhaul, replacing the red and black colours for a pleasing softer blue palette.
The demo nicely illustrates these improvements but unfortunately, there's not much else we could judge from this. We couldn't explore the Iwatodai dorms, witness any social links, try out school life, or basically anything else. For such a vast game, a demo focused on Tartarus and the first boss fight only scratches this RPG's surface.
Indeed, we're still unsure about the wider decisions guiding Reload's direction. Atlus' focus on the original Persona 3 alone while excluding Portable and FES' major additions is both incredibly disappointing and a huge missed opportunity to create a 'definitive' version, though minor FES changes are present. Of course, The Answer and the female protagonist could be added through DLC or expanded versions like Golden and Royal; Atlus certainly has form here, after all. That would be in poor taste given how long fans have wanted something like Reload, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
As much as we'd love to see those additions implemented, their exclusion doesn't significantly dampen our enthusiasm for Persona 3 Reload. We're still incredibly happy to see Atlus give this classic RPG a much-needed remake. What we've seen in this short demo looks highly promising, and we can't wait to explore this world once again.
Persona 3 Reload is slated to release for PS5 and PS4 on 2nd February, 2024. How are you feeling about this remake? Try to avoid the Dark Hour in the comments section below.