Persona 3 Reload – Japanese School Teen Heroes Save the World with Their Inner Demons

REVIEW – Atlus has dusted off its cult-classic RPG from 2006, Persona 3, and given it a modern makeover, resurrecting it (once again) as Persona 3 Reload. This iteration is not merely a simple facelift of the classic; Atlus has decked it out in a new-gen, vibrant color palette and significantly updated gameplay mechanics. Snagged from the Game Pass lineup and tested on our Xbox Series X, we confirmed that the essence of the game – with all its charm and awkwardness – remains untouched, while almost everything else has been amped up for a more polished experience.


When Persona 3 burst onto the PlayStation 2 scene in 2006, it was like a Japanese tsunami changing the fate of JRPGs. Its uniqueness wasn’t just in having school kids summon demons and inviting us into special “otherworldly” dungeons, but it was one of the first to really emphasize the importance of maintaining relationships among the teenage characters. It felt like a high school drama, only spiced up with demons, bizarre creatures, and magic. Though the game attempted to break away from the shadow of the Shin Megami Tensei series, it sometimes seemed to grope in the dark for success. Then came Persona 5, whose refinements and innovations opened new dimensions in the series, bringing profound changes that not only refreshed the game experience but elevated it to a new level, as if the series itself had been reborn.



Beyond Teen Romance, School Bromance Emerges Among the Demon-Summoning Teens


As for our test subject, Persona 3 Reload, like a fine sake (best served at the right temperature!), it only gets better with time. Atlus brilliantly compensated for the lack of Social Links with male roommates through the so-called Link Episodes, adding depth to key figures such as Junpei, Akihiko, and Ken – a real opportunity for bromance, which was merely a dream in the original game since, back then, it was assumed female characters’ “date potential” was of more interest. Thankfully, that’s in the past now.

Moreover, from schools to dormitories to shopping malls, every social setting has become more open and lively. Tatsumi Port Island is no longer just a dull spot on the map; the school now buzzes with extra NPCs and all sorts of high school noises, ensuring the experience is anything but a plain math lesson.



The Tartarus: The “Dark Side” of School Life No Teacher Dares to Enter


When Atlus embarked on the Persona 3 Reload project, they drew inspiration from Persona 5 for social interactions and eye-catching graphics, yet preserved one of the original game’s most iconic features: the Tartarus. This place, where school social life switches to night mode, and where regular gossip is replaced by facing real darkness. Unlike the modern Persona games’ palaces, where every dungeon is a uniquely designed world, Persona 3 Reload returns to basics: a single, but challenge-filled location, the Tartarus.

This place, appearing every midnight at the location of Gekkoukan High School like an ominous shadow, is a tower where teens must confront not their academic achievements but demons, known as Shadows, that emerge during the dark hour. But fear not, you’re not alone in this battle: you have the Persona users, who can manifest their “dark souls” into physically manifested demonic forms using an Evoker – a special device – thankfully, these beings are on your side! Of course, you’re one of these heroes, a member of the “Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad” (SEES), tasked with uncovering all the secrets of the Tartarus, a tower that is nothing but a randomly generated labyrinth, where each level brings new surprises, except for the map and the strength of the enemies.



You Can’t Dodge the Hardcore Grinding – But Do It Smartly!


It’s fair to say that wandering through the Tartarus isn’t exactly a walk in the park. You can’t zoom through the levels like someone rushing to leave class at the bell. Instead, you need to assemble your Personas like a survival kit for the zombie apocalypse – every piece counts if you and your buddies want to stay alive. If you neglect this, you won’t be able to complete the monthly Full Moon missions, where you must defeat much stronger Shadows that have escaped from Tartarus and are terrorizing the city. Fortunately, visits to Tartarus are no longer as mentally draining as in the original game.

Additionally, the Reload package includes several graphical and gameplay tweaks that significantly enhance the overall experience, ensuring even seasoned dungeon raiders encounter new surprises. For instance, the tower’s various “wings” are visually and artistically much more developed, making exploration somewhat unexpected. The Tartarus is no longer a monotonous labyrinth but a thematically varied amusement park, where every ‘wing’ promises a new adventure, from dark underworld settings to palatial halls adorned with marble columns.

The turn-based combat system has also undergone a facelift, akin to a classic rock band’s comeback tour. The Shift mechanic, a beefed-up version of Persona 5’s Baton Pass, allows you to reward a teammate with an extra turn after hitting a Shadow’s weak spot. Moreover, Reload assigns each SEES member a Trait – a passive combat effect akin to Pokémon abilities – and a Theurgy attack. Theurgies are powerful attacks with flashy animations, activated under specific conditions like using healing spells. This adds an extra tactical layer to Persona 3’s combat system, ensuring battles remain engaging and far from monotonous.



The Best Persona Story, Rich with Complex and Conflict-Ridden Relationships


Despite a slow start, akin to a sloth at the beginning of a race, once the first major plot twist hits, the game firmly grabs your attention and refuses to let go until you reach the end. Persona 3 offers the best narrative among all Persona games. Its emotional and intellectual depth surpasses the rest of the series, and with psychological themes such as identity and death, it draws strong parallels to other “serious” anime released around the same time, like Death Note and Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood.

The cast also merits applause. The SEES is not a group of friends united by a common goal like the Phantom Thieves of Persona 5, but rather a mix of teens bound together by fate. This results in a less than peaceful atmosphere within the walls of the Iwatodai Dormitory. There’s mistrust between Yukari and Mitsuru, jealousy from Junpei, and even a lurking desire for revenge. Unlike later Persona entries, the relationships among the characters are so complex, enhancing the sense of camaraderie and authenticity.

Every character remains relevant throughout the story, not losing their significance after a particular storyline concludes, which is often the case in anime-based games. I especially empathized with Junpei, who initially seems vain but later reveals his struggle with depression, doubting his own talents and the meaning of his life.

He’s not the only one in the group dealing with mental issues, often stemming from the loss of loved ones. That’s precisely why these teens symbolically shoot themselves in the head to summon their Persona: to confront their traumas and overcome their fear of death.



Worth the “Reload”!


With the release of Persona 3 Reload, a new generation of Persona fans gets the chance to dive into the franchise’s richest story. While reaching the high points requires considerable effort, the investment of time, energy (and occasional hair-pulling), ultimately pays off multiple times over!

As for the Tartarus, this place is now less like a twisted, abandoned sanatorium and more like an exhilarating adventure park with a turn-based combat system that’s sure to keep you hooked. Atlus once again delivers on its promise that their RPGs always look top-notch – Persona 3 Reload is yet another testament to that.

-Gergely Herpai (BadSector)-


+ The best story of the Persona games
+ Serious topics that make you think
+ Graphic style inspired by Persona 5


– Routine gameplay with too much grind
– The story starts slowly
– Tartarus’ track design is very repetitive

Publisher: Atlus

Developer: Atlus

Style: Turn-based JRPG, adventure

Release: February 2, 2024.

Persona 3 Reload

Gameplay - 8.2
Graphics - 8.8
Story - 8.6
Music/Audio - 8.3
Ambience - 8.4



Persona 3 Reload is not just a reimagining of the original but also offers a deeper, thought-provoking, and emotionally rich experience. A traditional Japanese RPG that places a significant emphasis on routine gameplay and collecting experience points. The depth of the story, the complexity of the characters, and the gameplay improvements all contribute to making Persona 3 Reload more than just a simple remake: a true work of art worthy of the Persona series' reputation.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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