My eyes glaze over as I hit the X button on my controller. I've been loving Persona 3 Reload so far, having already enjoyed what little I played of its stylish Persona 5-infused reimagining in my preview last year, but boy do these teenagers love to talk. Social RPG elements are integral to the game, suffused between the dungeon-crawler segments I'm itching to get back to, so I suffer through them in bored silence and wait for night to fall.
I'm aware that this unique genetic makeup is exactly what makes Persona 3 Reload a Persona game at all. Having played a solid 10 hours of Persona 3 Portable, I thought it would be easy for me to jump back into Gekkoukan High in this fully-animated, non-visual novel-style remake. Try as I might to get into the story, though, the pace is just lacking for me right now; I'm struggling to find my protagonist's day-to-day school life more interesting than his far more action-packed 25th-hour shenanigans, and it's taking everything I've got to not just fast-forward through all the dialogue.
No matter which version you like best, Persona 3 Reload might have the best menus in the history of JRPGs.
Let me get one thing straight: I thoroughly enjoy RPGs and story-driven games. So much so, I can usually often overlook weaker or repetitive combat if the storyline is good enough – Far Cry 5, I'm looking at you. But when it comes to Persona 3 Reload and the whole schoolyard fantasy, I'm having the opposite problem. This is one of the best-loved JRPGs out there, a gothic melodrama told across multiple in-game months. It's supposed to have captured legions of hearts across its myriad remakes and remasters over the years, yet here I am, underappreciating it.
Despite my tepid response to its storyline, I'm utterly taken by the game's turn-based combat. Exploring Tartarus by night and laying waste to the shadows is deeply satisfying to me, as is the trial-and-error approach to figuring out enemy weaknesses and the tactics I can use to exploit them. When I'm not squeezing every drop of HP and SP out of my exploration party by night, I'm stocking up on new gear, medicines, and weapons at the mall after school. At the same time, though, I'm having to balance out the game's demands that I work on my Social Links – relationships with NPCs, basically – so I can strengthen my personas through their corresponding arcana. It all sounds a bit complicated, but at the end of the day, I can't complain about having to roleplay in a roleplaying game.
Right now, it feels all too abrupt: I'm fighting shadows and summoning cool soul-Pokemon one moment, and snoozing through English class the next. It's the kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fantasy I thought I'd adore, but as yet, I'm still waiting to be wowed. One thing I am very ready to compliment, though, is how well the two worlds coalesce by way of the Social Links mechanic.
Being so intrinsic to the crafting of personas, I'm definitely more incentivized to grab ramen with Kenji after class if it means I'll be a better fighter in Tartarus later. However, the fact of the matter still stands: if I weren't so keenly aware of my current persona-of-choice and its associated arcana class, I would have very little reason to explore relationships with my classmates at all – especially this early in the game.
Perhaps I have a touch of RPG fatigue, following the belter of a year that was 2023, but I'm determined to find a way into Persona 3 Reload. Having played up to a certain point already back in P3P, I know the real story has barely been established for me yet even though I've powered through so much of Tartarus. Am I just frustrated with having to retread old ground? Is this my lack of JRPG experience getting in the way of my own enjoyment? I have no idea yet, to be honest with you, but I'm happy to keep my fun confined to fits and starts until the true magic of Persona 3 Reload makes itself known to me.