Persona 3 Reload Preview: The Justice Persona 3 Deserves

Persona 3 Reload Preview: The Justice Persona 3 Deserves

Persona 3 Reload Preview – A Beautiful Remake Of A Beautiful Story

3D visuals on a modern console are exactly what Persona 3 Reload needed to do the story of P3 justice.

When I first had my heart stolen by the Phantom Thieves following the release of Persona 5 in 2016, series veterans told me I’d probably never get to play Persona 3. Originally launched in 2006 before Shin Megami Tensei: Persona became the juggernaut RPG it is today, the third entry has long been left to gather dust in Atlus’ back catalog.

Fast-forward sixteen years, and the global success of Persona 5 has brought more eyes to the series than ever before. Millions of newcomers whet their Persona appetite with the fifth installment, who are now waiting eagerly for what the next mainline entry has in store. But before then, we have a number of spin-offs and remakes to sink our teeth into. Chiefly among them is Persona 3 Reload, and it’s about time for this game to get the respect it deserves beyond an AI upscaled remaster of the portable version. This is the real deal.

I recently went hands-on with Reload at the Sega Summer Showcase in New York City, and from the opening moments, I was already smitten with its dark, watery ambiance. My demo began at the front entrance of Tartarus where you select your party for the investigation ahead. I only had Yukari and Junpei in tow, with Mitsuru back at the entrance for support, but as I sent Makoto and company running up the vibrant stairs and onto the first floor, it felt like I was exploring the dungeon for the first time right alongside them.

makoto yuki and junpei iori walking out of gekkoukan high while akihiko sanada talks to girls persona 3 reload

Immediately, the revamped design of Tartarus grabs your attention and refuses to let you go. The demo took place in the early area of Thebel, which is designed to ape the eerie corridors of Gekkoukan High with its ambient black gloom billowing through the air as we ran through its seemingly endless series of decrepit halls. The sense of immersion was striking – when compared to its 2D counterpart, this is how exploring Tartarus is supposed to feel.

The fluid animations and intuitive controls as I led my group through the dark, and the flavor text from my anime besties were also proudly reminiscent of Persona 5 – it was almost like Mementos, minus the cat car. And when I crept carefully up on my first shadow and entered the fray, I was torn between marveling at the new graphics and actually fighting for my life against demons.

Combat is where you’ll find the most similarities to Persona 5, with a more intuitive battle system and UI than P3P. With gun-like Evokers at the forefront of Persona 3’s moment-to-moment action, the six-shooter style menu was stylistically badass, but the revamped battle menus offer more information at a glance. It’s a small change, but not having to cycle through a whole menu to ask Yukari to shoot her bow makes things flow much smoother.

With a selection of Personas at my disposal, I left Wind and Fire to Yukari and Junpei while I hurled Ice and Electric attacks at low-level shadows with glee. My early team of three covered each type of physical damage, too, and I felt almost unstoppable as we cruised through Tartarus. That is, until the first New Moon mission, at the battle against the Arcana Priestess on the monorail – I got crushed, and it’s my own fault.

yukari takeba firing a bow in tartarus persona 3 reload

I watched with a wide grin as my team stood in the dreary, high-contrast green of the Dark Hour and boarded the doomed train, now made so much tighter and more claustrophobic. I raced through the cars with ease, taking out shadows left and right as I admired the depth of the world around me.

I was confident, until Priestess demolished us. I thought I’d have an advantage with every element at my disposal and having literally written the guide to fighting not only her, but much tougher shadows, but I was wrong – and I’m glad.

Because Persona ought to be about careful combinations, about planning and teamwork over outright strength, and just because I’ve played Persona games before doesn’t mean I get to be cocky in Reload. Persona 3 is a story mainly about depression and death, but it’s also about finding the beautiful moments in between and learning to rely on those around you for support, and I abandoned my teammates in favor of admiring their flashy, revamped artistic prowess.

Persona 3’s central theme is death and rebirth, and it’s never been subtle about that, but so much of the emotion in the story felt underplayed by static imagery and outdated, visual novel-esque visuals in P3P. Reload addresses those flaws while doing so much to establish its own identity.

makoto awakening to his persona for the first time persona 3 reload

When that character dies in P3P, it’s sad, but it’s harder to feel affected by their death when it’s portrayed by a tapering groan played over the image of their annoyed character sprite that you’ve seen a dozen times before. When another character punches someone in the face to snap them out of a self-deprecating trance, the heft of the moment is downplayed when it’s just those two characters standing beside one another, unmoving against a still image of a building in the background.

The soundtrack stays in the same groovy hip-hop vein, the environments are more immersive than ever, and the gameplay is natural, intuitive, and beautiful. Sure, there are things I’ll miss when Persona 3 Reload launches – the female protagonist, to name a huge one – but it’s definitely time for this incredible story to get the remake it deserves.

NEXT: Persona 3 Reload Gameplay Trailer Gives First Look At New English Voice Cast

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