Persona 3 was all the time the most effective one. Persona 3 Reload, the from-the-ground-up remake of the 2006 supernatural, social sim-driven RPG, simply eliminates any doubt. An entire visible overhaul, new mechanics, and new music all reinforce what made the unique a stellar, poignant, and radical sport for its time. Nonetheless, Reload is greater than only a prettier model of an previous sport; It’s the best-realized model of an iconic story that spotlights a number of the magic that Atlus hasn’t fairly lived as much as since.
Persona has all the time been about high-school college students preventing supernatural forces, however P3 was the progenitor of the life-management parts which have grow to be central to the franchise. Reload is an enchanting solution to revisit a second when Persona was extra in contact with its roots as a Megami Tensei subseries and nonetheless establishing its personal distinctive id. The remake is a testomony to how far the sequence has come and the way far it nonetheless has to go.
Broadly, Persona 3 Reload’s story is unchanged. You play as a switch pupil named Makoto Yuki (or one other title of your selecting), who begins attending Gekkoukan Excessive Faculty within the coastal metropolis of Iwatodai. As soon as there, Makoto is confronted with a supernatural phenomenon referred to as the Darkish Hour, a mysterious interval after midnight wherein most individuals transmogrify into coffins. Makoto and a handful of his classmates stay cognizant throughout this time and are capable of transfer by way of the world freely, and they can summon Persona, or residing manifestations of their interior psyche. The group makes use of this energy to combat malevolent monsters referred to as Shadows in hopes of ending the Darkish Hour solely. Whereas the setup is similar, every thing has been fully remade, and it seems to be, sounds, and performs superbly.
Reload is a case examine within the “this seems to be like how I imagined it as a child” phenomenon of remakesr as a result of this sport seems to be beautiful. The riffs on Persona 5’s trendy menus, attractive shade palettes, and smooth transitions make the sport look actually fashionable Persona sport whereas sustaining the sport’s distinctive visible and tonal id. It doesn’t really feel like something’s been misplaced in smoothing out the perimeters of an previous sport for a contemporary viewers, it seems like a contemporary realization of what made it particular within the first place.
Persona 3 is difficult in each its fight and narrative themes, and it’s straightforward to overlook that because the sequence has grow to be extra fashionable and fandom-facing. The turn-based, elemental weaknesses-driven fight is dense and strategic with out having to depend on gimmick fights like Persona 5’s bosses do. These days, Persona tends to fall into the identical entice Pokémon does, the place plenty of fights are nearly discovering the appropriate elemental weak point to poke at till enemies die, however Persona 3 balances enemies who can take in, resist, or mirror sure skills, in addition to use standing results and predictable behaviors to ensnare me in a combat. The Theurgy system, a brand new mechanic that provides every social gathering member a novel, final means, carry new layers to the previous system.
One combat I went by way of throughout the Darkish Hour actually drove this house for me. I used to be confronting a shadow who may take in all bodily assaults, permitting it to heal with every punch or slash of a sword. Thus, my crew needed to depend on magic assaults to take it down. Nonetheless, it additionally was capable of inflict Rage, making it in order that I couldn’t management what my social gathering did for a flip or two. By the point I regained management, it had fully healed itself by manipulating my social gathering into attacking it.
This wasn’t even an enormous, climactic combat, however I don’t keep in mind plenty of moments like this in my playthroughs of Persona 5. I believe I’d forgotten how difficult Persona video games could possibly be. These modifications have made Persona 3 extra distinct in the long term, nevertheless it’s not the one means latest entries haven’t fairly lived as much as the sport that set Persona on its present path.
Going again to Persona 3 after years of Persona 4 and 5 spin-offs makes it actually obvious how the sequence acquired caught up in a method. Makoto and the remainder of the SEES’ story is refreshing to revisit as a result of its setup and payoffs nonetheless really feel singular. The social gathering stands out as a result of, not like their Persona 4 and 5 counterparts, they aren’t dropped by the plot after their designated chapter. Their tales are intertwined in ways in which make every of them essential somewhat than coming off like afterthoughts within the second half of the sport.
Persona 3 Reload feels extra in tune with simply how a lot the sequence’ followers would develop to latch onto its social gathering members and social parts with out compromising narrative weight or integrity. A few of this comes from hangouts you may have along with your social gathering members, akin to making tea with the usually walled-off Mitsuru and studying extra about her wealthy upbringing, or watching previous boxing matches with resident jock Akihiko. Every of those has each a tangible profit by way of offering assets for a dungeon crawl, or bolstering social stats like my braveness, allure, or teachers. I’m most enamored by Persona 3 Reload when it finds methods to let me spend time with characters I already knew and liked however typically didn’t get to simply hang around with one-on-one with out it being excessive stakes.
These informal encounters are a number of the greatest components of Persona 5, so seeing them applied here’s a welcome addition. Nevertheless it’s not simply the small stuff that makes Reload really feel like essentially the most well-realized model of this sport’s solid. The remake additionally goes out of its solution to appropriate one of many authentic sport’s biggest sins by creating full social link-style arcs for the male social gathering members.
Within the authentic, the boys of SEES didn’t get to take part within the social parts that turned the sequence normal, until you have been taking part in Persona 3 Transportable’s feminine important character route, which is lacking from Reload. This time round, Akihiko, Junpei, Ken, Shinjiro, and even the canine Koromaru all get new “linked episodes”storylines authentic to the remake, which allow you to actually get to know every of those characters on a brand new stage. It’s far and away the most effective a part of Reload.
Sadly for everybody else you meet in Persona 3 Reload, there’s a stark hole in high quality between the brand new aspect tales and the previous ones. That’s in all probability the place Persona 3’s age exhibits essentially the most, even with a brand new coat of paint. A few of Persona 3’s authentic social hyperlinks are fairly stable, such because the aged couple who run a bookstore collectively whereas grieving for his or her misplaced son, or a younger man who finds consolation in Makoto’s friendship whereas he offers with a terminal sickness. However plenty of them go nowhere, don’t provide satisfying dialogue choices, or fall into bizarre territory, like fellow pupil Kenji who’s making an attempt up to now a trainer, and the sport clearly needs me to nudge him in that route. Don’t get me began on Maiko, the kid at a neighborhood playground who opens as much as you about an abusive house life, and all of your dialogue choices allow you to do is be like, “That’s loopy,” and let her go house.
The distinction in writing turns into most obvious whenever you examine the brand new tales for the boys with the previous tales for the ladies within the social gathering. Every of those ladies are well-rounded characters in Persona 3’s important plot, however their social hyperlinks are principally the identical as they have been again within the 2006 authentic. Whereas Akihiko and Junpei are coping with heavy storylines that really feel intimately tied to Persona 3’s themes of confronting dying and never falling into nihilism alongside the best way, Yukari, Fuuka, and Mitsuru’s arcs may have used a contemporary rewrite alongside their teammates. Aigis, the shadow-fighting android, continues to be a standout, however even her late-game revelations lack the identical gravitas.
Even when the social hyperlinks differ in high quality, in any case these years, Persona 3‘s story feels simply as related because it did in 2006. Loss of life permeates each side of Reload. Some characters concern or embrace it, however the sport’s complete ethos is about understanding it’s hanging over us all. Hell, the members of SEES summon their Personas by placing a faux gun to their heads and pulling the set off. Loss of life in all its kinds shapes each second I spend in Iwatodai. If I’m not staring it within the face chatting with a dying man in a shrine, I’m excited about the specter of it as I head into battle.
However Persona 3, regardless of the motif and set dressing, was by no means actually about dying. It was about residing. We every stay by way of our personal hardships and combat for each second we get of this life, simply as SEES climbs up the endless, shadow-infested tower that seems within the Darkish Hour. A lot of Persona 3‘s social sim parts exist to strengthen that life, nevertheless lengthy it lasts, is value preventing for due to the connections we share with others. Within the time since Persona 3 initially got here out, that’s solely grow to be extra obvious.
The world is totally different than it was then. Strolling by way of the streets of Iwatodai and seeing dozens of individuals overtaken by the mind-altering Apathy Syndrome feels totally different whenever you’ve lived by way of a pandemic that turned hundreds of thousands of individuals right into a statistic to be routinely ignored. Experiencing the handfuls of kinds grief takes for every member of SEES and every citizen of Iwatodai is totally different whenever you’ve lost your father or your childhood canine. So the world has been endlessly modified, however so have I. The place as soon as I might need been an angsty loner who didn’t care if I lived or died, I now push myself by way of my despair as a result of I’ve individuals who elevate me up, and I attempt to elevate up in sort.
There’s a section in Persona 3 the place the phrases “The ability of friendship surges inside you” seem throughout a combat as your folks cheer you on. That’s the mantra that carries me by way of the neverending onslaught of arduous occasions. SEES’ journey confirmed me each type fatalistic nihilism can take, but in addition underlines that connection is what retains us shifting ahead. I didn’t really feel like I had a lot to combat for after I first performed Persona 3. However having one thing value residing for is all that retains me round today.
Perhaps it goes hand-in-hand with how Persona 3 retains each member of its solid as an lively participant that it additionally feels extra thematically constant than the video games that adopted. Persona 4 posits itself as a sport about accepting who you’re, whereas additionally basically calling the arduous truths its heroes come to phrases with a part they’ll develop out of. Persona 5 needs to be all about preventing towards injustice in service of the little guy, then places the identical victims it claims to be preventing for through similar abuses, however by the hands of their associates. By comparability, Persona 3 is all the time wrestling with what offers life that means when everyone knows it’s barreling towards an inevitable finish. That Reload manages to include what made its sequels particular with out falling into the identical traps speaks volumes about how robust the supply materials was and the way timeless it nonetheless feels to this present day.
Even when Persona 3 Reload exhibits the unique’s age, I’m nonetheless amazed at how effectively it holds up after not having performed it in over a decade. I’ll all the time adore Persona 4 and 5, nevertheless it does really feel like they realized a number of the fallacious classes from P3. The social sim parts stay the draw of the sequence, however regardless of the care these video games and their spin-offs put into creating a celebration value loving, it typically feels just like the video games themselves view them as transient. They’ve a devoted dungeon that focuses on them, however then they sway within the background till you hit them up for his or her day off, or the entire group is getting collectively for a trip or college journey.
In distinction, Persona 3 Reload feels prefer it’s realized all the appropriate classes in taking a double dip. Its authentic story retains everybody within the foreground, whereas new additions to the social sim parts bolster every of them to the purpose the place I typically really feel like they have been simply acquaintances up up to now. In some way, after over a decade of preventing, dancing, and dungeon-crawling spin-offs, I really feel like I’ve met the last word model of Persona’s greatest solid.
To me, that’s what makes Persona 3 Reload the “definitive” model of Persona 3. There’s been plenty of rightful criticism of Atlus doing an entire remake of a sport that has all the time felt fractured throughout a number of variations. It doesn’t embrace the feminine protagonist route from Persona 3 Transportable or the playable epilogue from Persona 3 FES. (Even after throwing all this reward onto Reload, not together with FES’ extra chapter nonetheless feels egregious.) However so far as SEES, their journey to finish the Darkish Hour, and the way the ability of friendship carried them by way of? Reload is the most effective model of this story, and solely makes me recognize the daring steps it took much more.