Persona 3 Reload Review
Persona games tend to sneak up on me. Having played the original, I expected my time with Persona 3 Reload to be a bit of a chore. Instead, I’ve found myself charmed and compelled at every turn. There’s new content to explore, new visuals to take in, and new mechanics to master. Gameplay feels more modern, and the voice acting has gotten a major upgrade. Maybe it’s been too long since I played the original, but this feels like a major improvement. Actually, what’s new with this version?
You can control every party member directly in battle, for one thing. The voice acting has been re-cast and expanded. There’s a bunch of new music in the soundtrack, which rules. You can play through new side missions for extra content, as well. On the other hand, there’s a couple of things from Persona 3 Portable that won’t be appearing in Reload. There’s no female version of the protagonist, and the game is missing the FES epilogue. So it’s not the definitive version of the game. But if this is your first time playing, none of that missing stuff matters much.
Rebuilt From The Ground Up
Honestly, I haven’t played the PS2 original in so long all of this is brand new anyway. All I’ve really retained is a distant nostalgia for the setting, a sense of familiarity. This is pure Persona, no filters, no filler. The music is dripping with style and the visuals are extra crisp. The gameplay loop contains valuable lessons learned from previous titles. It feels like your time is respected here. You can explore Tartarus at your own pace, expand your social links how you like, and play as you wish. The narrative pacing is a little off, however.
Major game events feel marooned between oceans of routine. I love the school/socialize/dungeons loop, don’t get me wrong. But I waded through hours of that before getting to any sort of serious plot. Things eventually pick up, but they take quite a while to do so. On the other hand, if you’re looking to be eased into the heavy business, Reload is paced perfectly. Plus, a lot of these little moments are quite well-written. I liked learning about my classmates and their lives. The voice acting really helps elevate their stories as well. I just want more main narrative sprinkled in more often.
Battles Are Better Now
Reload elevates combat well beyond the original. Directly controlling your whole party is a serious game changer, for one thing. Things like boss battles and rare enemies feel more approachable. Not easy, exactly. You can just be more specific in your strategies. What does make things easier is the shift system. While criticals and weak point hits still get you an extra turn, now you can pass that turn to another party member. This increases your odds of continuing the chain, which can turn the tide of battle. Theurgy strikes are more of a cool bonus than a serious game-changer. But really, any advantage in a Persona game is a welcome one.
And yet, the improved combat system is also a problem for pacing. Major story events are locked to the calendar. This means Tartarus (the dungeon) has progress gates that only unlock after a certain date. So you can get to the ‘end’ of the dungeon in a couple days, if you’re good enough. So now that school/social/dungeon loop is just school/social. Not only is this a little dull, but ignoring Tartarus can have serious consequences. Like being wildly under-leveled for the final section of the game. Don’t make my mistake, is what I’m saying.
Not to disparage the Social Links sections or anything. Connecting with these people still feels tangible and valuable. Whether it’s the star of the track team or the couple running the bookshop, it’s all gold. Fostering these bonds leads to more powerful Personas, but that’s not why I do it. I want to learn more about this town and its inhabitants. I want to get closer to the exchange student, the student council, and my other classmates. Even if the routine gets a little repetitive, it’s still comforting and engaging. Getting entangled in these little lives is honestly the highlight of the Persona series.
Also, the music? Absolutely top-tier. Both the original and the new tracks are infectious powerhouses that you will never forget. Somehow those jams from 2007 still feel like the future of music. Plus, the new songs slot right in without a hitch. People talk about battle music hyping them up, but these tracks get you moving. Real foot-tapping, bouncing-in-your-chair kind of energy. Find these songs on Spotify or YouTube, and you’ve unlocked a new cheat code for productivity.
The visuals trick you a little bit. They’re so familiar, so essentially Persona, that you don’t realize what’s changed. But make no mistake, this is a huge leap forward compared to the PS2 version. I refreshed my memory with a longplay on YouTube, and it’s night and day. The backgrounds are gorgeous, the level of detail is insane, and the character models! Everyone is so beautiful now. The outfits are more stylish, their animations are more fluid, and their proportions make more sense. We’ve come quite a long way since 2007.
I loved this game when it first released on the PS2. It felt almost too cool for console gaming, too crisp for the era in question. Even now, Reload carries a timeless charm that keeps me engaged. The battle system has been polished, the visuals are totally overhauled, and the game is bigger than ever. There’s pacing problems to be sure, and the gameplay loop isn’t for everyone. Plus, fans of certain versions will find this edition somewhat lacking in features. But maybe that’s okay? I’d rather judge this game on what it is, rather than what it isn’t. And Persona 3 Reload is an excellent evolution of a PS2 classic that fans new and old will almost certainly love.
***A Xbox Game key was provided by the publisher***
- Major visual upgrade
- Combat feels much better
- Soundtrack is still awesome
- New content
- Pacing suffers sometimes
- Missing certain features
- Main plot slow at first