Last week we had the opportunity to try Persona 3 Reload, the remake of Persona 3 for PlayStation 2 announced last June. Only two numbered installments separate this game from the most recent installment, but the truth is that it has almost twenty years behind it; It was originally published in 2006 in Japan (although it did not arrive until 2008 in Europe). Taking advantage of the boom in popularity of the series after Persona 5 and before announcing an inevitable sixth installment, this complete review of the title is going to be released, which is probably still unknown to many recent fans of the series.
A little context: Persona 3 was the first title in this RPG series by the creative team of P4, P5 and the future Metaphor ReFantazio: Katsura Hashino as director, Shoji Meguro as composer and Shigenori Soejima as character designer; The first two had already met before in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne. P3 was a complete departure from Persona 1 and the Persona 2 duology, originally released on the first PlayStation with another computer. Although some basic elements were maintained, particularly the school setting that originated in Shin Megami Tensei IF, the first Persona posed apocalyptic crises that seeped into the fabric of reality.
Persona 3 concentrated its mysteries in the Dark Hour, a 25th hour of the day that only a select few can perceive; one of them is our protagonist, a teenager who has just moved to the island of Tatsumi. Together with some high school classmates, he will have to investigate the origin of Tartarus, a gigantic tower that appears only during the Dark Hour… but without neglecting his studies or his personal life.
If this premise sounds familiar to you, it is because practically all the elements that have made Persona 5 one of the benchmarks of the genre in the last decade were established here: time management, social bonds, the One More combat system… Persona 3 is a fantastic RPG that probably has the best story of the recent Persona trilogy, but the original PlayStation 2 version can be made difficult by a succession of design decisions that have aged regularly, in particular the impossibility of controlling the characters of the team that were not our protagonist.
This is not the first time this game has been re-released; Last year we were able to play Persona 3 Portable, which recovered the PSP version of the title. In your analysis you commented on the need for a definitive version of the game, but I fear that will not be the case: Reload does not even include the epilogue ‘The Answer’ from FES nor the female lead from Portable. The philosophy of Reload as a remake does not seem to be “the definitive version” of Persona 3, but rather to give the original PS2 game the same treatment that a new installment of the saga would receive.
The demo allowed us to try out approximately a week of gameplay shortly after the initial stretch of the game, with access to both the Tartarus dungeon and social events. The feeling of familiarity was immediate, but the section also served to show us some differences from previous versions of the game. On a visual level the leap is enormous compared to the original, but to a large extent it respects the art direction and decisions such as where to place the camera in each scenario. It doesn’t seem to want to completely eliminate its PlayStation 2 roots, something I personally appreciate.
The first visual change that is identified is undoubtedly in the interface; Although the color palette is the same as in the original game, the fluid animations are immediately reminiscent of the brilliant implementation of the fifth installment. The transitions to combat, the management menus or the new finisher screens give a great freshness to Reload and will surely serve to attract the attention of players who have just started with the series.
In combat we also see inspiration in Persona 5, as evidenced by the presence of the Relay mechanic; If we hit an opponent’s elemental weakness we can give the extra turn we get to one of our teammates. It also has a brand new combat mechanic: Theurgy. It is a definitive attack with a spectacular animation that has its own meter – it does not spend health or magic – next to the icon of each character, and that has the peculiarity that each character fills it in a different way depending on their character outside. from combat (for example, Yukari can refill it with healing).
The aspect in which the jump from Persona 3 to 5 is most noticeable is in the design of the dungeons; P5 limited randomly generated dungeons to Mementos, but Tartarus is that way from start to finish, plus the original layout was pretty similar between sections. From what we have seen, Tartarus continues to work in a similar way: we go up floors until we reach a time block that only opens when the story progresses. The dungeon crawling is undoubtedly the most difficult to evaluate in this short section, but it seems that Atlus has introduced slight changes to make exploration more enjoyable. The plants are smaller in size and seem to be more varied among themselves, constantly marking small objectives. The appearance has been modified quite a bit, giving a more defined identity to each section while respecting the original art direction. Within the saga itself, perhaps it would be comparable to the dungeons of Persona 4, which worked the same from one to another but were better differentiated at a glance.
A slight but impossible-to-miss change is in an unexpected place: the soundtrack. The main themes have been re-recorded and, for those of us who have spent dozens of hours on the different versions of this game, it is difficult to miss. At the time of the demo it has not yet been clear to me whether the new music is better, worse or just different; There are still many hours of listening to Mass Destruction ahead to prove it.
In a later play session I began to investigate whether they had kept certain elements from the original; For example, it seems that the possibility of breaking social ties returns if we do not take care of them. As usual, the death of the protagonist once again represents a Game Over, although options are given to soften its impact. Although, given how difficult it was for me to die on purpose, it is possible that the difficulty adjustment was a bit too much; Something similar already happened with Persona 3 Portable, which by allowing you to control the entire team reduced the general difficulty of the adventure. In any case, it seems like it will be a much more accessible experience.
This article was written after attending a Persona 3 Reload preview event in London. Plaion covered the costs of travel and accommodation.