I've never been a fan of anime games, but Persona 3 Reload did a great job of making me eat those words. Having sunk a solid 10 hours into Persona 3 Portable on Xbox Game Pass in preparation for Gamescom 2023, I was already feeling more fond of Junpei, Mitsuru, and the rest of SEES than I feel comfortable admitting.
Persona 3 Reload combines the classic charm of the original with the slick UI, splashy animations, and fixed camera angles as popularized by Persona 5 Royal. This much I'd been expecting. It wasn't until I sat down to play Persona 3 Reload for myself, though, that I truly embraced the fact that I was playing a JRPG and having an absolute blast with it.
Developer Atlus's upcoming remake of its classic PS2 game already sounded impressive, but playing it myself was something else. The visual novel meets point-and-click adventure stylings of Persona 3 Portable have been largely scrapped, but its classic blue and white colour palette remains. The game also retains the on-screen dialogue, which pops up while having conversations with characters around you.
The Gamescom preview session is split in two: the first section, called New Moon, takes me through another night in Tartarus; while Full Moon features the first big boss battle in Persona 3 Reload. I've never played the original Persona 3, so getting to experience proper animations while running around the dark halls of Tartarus is a treat. It's something I enjoyed a lot while playing the first five or so hours of Persona 5 Royal, but I was relieved not to see P5's edgy black and white font busying up the screen during boss battles in favor of a much cleaner blue and white aesthetic.
Combat feels just as slick as I remember from Persona 3 Portable, except this time, the graphics are that much more impressive. It's a morbid little detail, but I'm pleased to see the rather taboo evoker moves return for P3R: one by one, the playable heroes shoot themselves in the head to summon their personas in the heat of battle. It's something I was concerned might get cut from Reload, but thankfully, the game's modernization doesn't sacrifice its idiosyncratic charm.
After playing a few rounds in Tartarus and reacquainting myself with Persona's unique take on turn-based combat, I load into the second half of my demo session. It sees protagonist Makoto Yuki and his fellow SEES members exploring a deserted monorail during Dark Hour, all the humans on board transformed into inanimate coffins. Running through the train in proper animated style feels great in Persona 3 Reload, as does watching the full cutscenes splicing together the action. This first boss battle is a little tougher than I remembered – possibly because I only have access to starter persona Orpheus instead of my own creations – but with a clever mix of abilities and melee attacks, I bring down the Priestess guardian with my crew.
From what I've played of Persona 3 Reload, it feels like a faithful, polished remake that will appeal to newer and long-time fans alike. One errant bone I have to pick is that Atlus has decided to remove the option to play as a female protagonist, something that washed very well with its audience when it was added to Persona 3 Portable. Still, as the male protagonist now officially has a name, the lack of a female option at least makes some canonic sense.
If, like me, you're a bit of a late bloomer to the whole Persona series, Reload could be an excellent place to start. It's well-paced, beautifully animated, and packed with plenty of challenges along the way to help get you familiar with the series' unique blend of social RPG and turn-based monster battles. Persona 3 Reload certainly sold me on JRPGs after a lifetime of living in the dark, but I'll hold off on finishing past entries until Reload launches early next year.
We played Super Mario Bros Wonder at Gamescom and couldn't stop smiling.