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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Persona 3 Reload

The fourth version of Persona 3 to be released brings some new features into the fold while controversially omitting several from prior releases and replacing almost its entire voice cast.  But is there enough new here to appease long time fans and newcomers alike, or is this undefinitive-by-choice release one for newcomers only?

Remakes seem to be the flavor of the month in gaming - taking old games that already did well, keeping the familiar elements intact and reworking the rest to modern standards.  In fact, they seem to be more common than original games these days, with companies like Capcom, Sony, Naughty Dog, Square Enix and even Nintendo commissioning them now; sometimes less than a decade after the original game was released. They inevitably draw complaints from fans for not staying "faithful enough" to the originals for any number of reasons (almost invariably longtime fans trying to hold onto whatever imaginary 'cred' they believe they have and vindictively nitpicking every last minute difference they can find to prove how much of a "real fan" they are), though I really don't get that mentality; I mean, if the original game is so 'perfect', why did they even buy a remake in the first place?  And if the remake is really that awful, why did they buy multiple copies?

That said, the announcement of Persona 3 Reload drew criticism right away from many fans, myself included.  The game has already had three distinct versions - there was the PS2 original, which was followed by an enhanced version called FES which made various design tweaks, added a new social link and an extra story chapter (The Answer) that expanded on the original game's ending. A few years after came Persona 3 Portable - a PSP port which brought several more tweaks and added an alternate story mode with a female protagonist and many new Social Links.  It sadly lacked the Answer chapter and most of the FMVs owing to space constraints on the UMD medium, but it's downright impressive how much content they managed to fit in there regardless.  So with Reload they had a perfect opportunity to collate all the content from FES and Portable into one game, add in some new graphics and voiceover, and create a new, definitive release of Persona 3 at long last.

You can probably guess from all that leadup that it didn't happen.  In fact, from the moment it was announced they made no secret that it was going to be a remake of the base game's content only, excluding the Answer and the Female Protagonist route from Portable, with one or both likely to be sold later as DLC or an "enhanced version" a year or two down the road (and wouldn't you know it, fans have since discovered that the Answer will likely be released as paid DLC at some point in the future).  Seems a bit silly and/or money-grubbing to do something like that, especially in a time period where the industry's reputation is on shaky footing with mass layoffs and scummy business practices.  One of which is that numerous other Sega-released RPGs have started selling you basic features as "premium content" and charging exorbitant prices for it (witness having to buy the $90 Digital Deluxe Edition of Infinite Wealth just to access New Game Plus - a decision that led to me boycotting the game entirely).

All that said, I do endeavor to judge games on their merits here on RPGreats, rather than what I think they should be; I don't always succeed, but I try.  So, putting all the stigma aside, does the fourth edition of Persona 3 have enough to set it apart?  Well, the presentation definitely gets a nice upgrade, adding much more voiceover (with even the social link characters having voiced scenes now) and adding more glitz to the UI, with animated character portraits, some flashier stylized menus and Persona 5 style splash screens for winning via an All-Out Attack.  Cutscenes and FMVs are all redone and brought up to modern standards to show off the game's higher budget, and they even re-recorded the vocals on all the game's music tracks make the lyrics more distinct and less phonetic.  The major voice roles in the game have all controversially been recast, though I didn't find much cause for complaint - the new cast all perform their parts exceptionally well and add a lot of personality to their characters.  In short, it's easily the best looking and sounding version of P3 to date.

In terms of design P3R is is at least not a retread of the earliest versions of its line.  Several new mechanics (some ironically grandfathered in from Portable) make an appearance here, including the option to have full control over your party members rather than giving broad orders, and there are five difficulty selections to allow both newcomers and die-hards to enjoy the game.  New mechanics include "Twilight Fragments" used to unlock certain chests in Tartarus; some are strewn about Tatsumi while others must be found in special, randomly placed floors of Tartarus or earned as rewards for building Social Links from Elizabeth.  Monad Doors also return from Portable, allowing the player to challenge tougher battles against previously defeated bosses for extra rewards.  Similar to Persona 5 Royal's Baton Pass, one can also Shift - effectively passing their bonus turn to an ally - after getting a One More, letting you conserve MP or switch up tactics.  Tartarus in general is also more tightly designed and the combat faster paced, cutting down considerably on the tedium from earlier versions.

Some of Persona 3's core mechanics are reworked too.  Shuffle Time is no longer a minigame and is more consistent (you'll always get one if you finish a battle with an All-Out Attack) and the rewards change up significantly.  A substantial new addition here is Arcana bursts - cards with new, temporary buffs that gradually unlock as you defeat story bosses.  Each character now has something akin to a super move or a limit break in the form of "Theurgy" - each character has a meter that is charged in differing ways (dealing damage, healing allies etc.) and can be unleashed once full to powerful effect.  The game also does away with the pointless tiredness mechanics and party splitting in dungeons, and events that formerly relied on them (like getting medicine from the school nurse) can be done at one's leisure.

All in all, Reload is a solid, if not entirely necessary, remake.  It's worth a pickup if you've never experienced P3 before and the new enhancements are quite welcome if you've played the older versions, but at $70 for what's essentially another rerelease of a nearly 20-year-old game at this point it feels a touch overpriced.  Not to mention that the Answer will probably be paid DLC and you'll still have to buy Portable too if you want to experience that version's extra content (which, conveniently enough, was made available digitally on all the major platforms a year before P3R launched).  Unless they decide to release it as paid DLC in the future too; either way, you'll be paying well over $100 to get the entire P3 experience.  I would love to give a version of Persona 3 a 3.5 or even a 4 star rating instead of adding a fourth 3-star to the pile, especially as it's one of the games that revived my interest in JRPGs in the mid-2000s; you'd think Atlus would want to give it the best possible treatment too considering how instrumental the game was in making them the powerhouse name they are today.  But alas, the wait for the definitive version of Persona 3 continues. 


Developer: Atlus 
Publisher: Sega
Released: 2024
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, XBox One, XBox Series, PC
Recommended Version: All versions are pretty much the same.  The PC version already has a fan mod to reimplement the female protagonist from Portable too, so if that's your jam it may be worth picking up that version.