It's difficult to replay older Persona games after Persona 5. They still tell engrossing character-driven stories, but with Persona 5 — and Persona 5 Royal in particular — Atlus evolved the series' core gameplay loop to such an extent that previous titles can feel clunky and monotonous by comparison. And so we have Persona 3 Reload — a ground-up remake of the original Persona 3, which aims to introduce a whole new generation of players to what was once an inspirational PS2 RPG.

In order to achieve this goal, Reload focuses on two key areas of improvement: a complete visual rebuild, and huge gameplay upgrades, both in and out of battle. The result is a remake that falls almost exactly in line with the modern sensibilities of Persona 5.

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But before we dig into the details, let's talk about the game's immaculate presentation. Reload retains the blue-leaning colour scheme of the original release, but as mentioned, everything has been remade (in Unreal Engine, no less). This is a truly sumptuous title; from the crisp character models to the gorgeous hand-drawn dialogue portraits, it's a visual delight, while particle and lighting effects do some very heavy lifting in terms of setting the game's moody tone. Even the menus, with their new, watery aesthetics, are a treat to behold.

In a turn-based RPG where you'll be doing a lot of talking and flicking through menus outside of combat, presentation is so important — and Reload nails it. Is it better looking than Persona 5? Graphically, without a doubt — but we're hesitant to say that it's more stylish. Reload is incredibly neat and tidy — not at all soulless, but meticulous. In any case, it's an absolute feast for the eyes.

When you're not gawking at the game's many shades of blue, Reload follows the same story and structure as the title that it's based upon. Set in 2009, you play as a young man who's moving to a new school — but your arrival on Tatsumi Port Island happens to coincide with a series of supernatural events. As if the education system wasn't stressful enough, you quickly learn that there's actually a hidden period of time that exists at midnight. This so-called 'Dark Hour' is imperceptible to normal people — but those who have the 'potential' are conscious while it's happening.

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Usually, the Dark Hour poses no threat, but there are creatures, named shadows, that take form during this time — and for whatever reason, they're growing restless. Fortunately, you're not alone in having the aforementioned 'potential' — and so you're invited to join the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad, or S.E.E.S. for short. Together with your new buddies, you're tasked with taking the fight to the shadows, and unravelling the mysteries of the Dark Hour.

Conceptually, Persona 3 still has one of the coolest narrative foundations in the series. You're essentially part of a hit squad that hunts down demons while the world remains oblivious — and your hunting ground is a terrifying tower called Tartarus.

The plot is also a lot darker than what you'll find in Persona 3's successors. Right from the start, there are obvious themes of death and mortal consequence, and it makes for some gripping storytelling at times. There's an enjoyable melancholy to Persona 3 that subsequent Persona games fell away from, but thankfully, Reload embraces the original's often horror-tinged atmosphere. If Persona 5 was a bit too Saturday morning cartoon for your tastes, then you might find the brooding tones of Persona 3 more appealing.

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Structurally, the game's basically split into two halves. The first revolves around your day-to-day life, as you attend school, make friends, explore the island city, and improve key traits of your personality. The second half of the release involves conquering the Dark Hour — climbing Tartarus, battling shadows, and levelling up your party. However, in typical Persona fashion, the game's greatness lies in its ability to meld these two disparate halves to create a deeply satisfying whole.

As you forge more meaningful connections with other characters, you're able to create more powerful personas — spirit-like entities that you summon in order to stand against the shadows. And since the whole game runs on a calendar system — meaning that you can only engage in a limited number of activities per day — you're encouraged to live a balanced and efficient life. At its core, Persona is about using your free time wisely, and in Persona 3, that concept is perhaps more important than ever, as on set dates, you'll be forced to partake in S.E.E.S. operations to thwart the shadow menace, and in turn, progress the main story.

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If such a gameplay structure sounds stressful, it's worth noting that Reload makes many positive changes to how managing your time actually works. For starters, friends and part-time job opportunities will text you (on your flip phone!) when they're available — so you no longer have to comb the city for specific activities. What's more, there's no longer a fatigue system, so you don't have to worry about party members growing tired or even sick as you delve into Tartarus. In short, Reload streamlines the Persona 3 experience, and while hardcore fans may argue that the alterations dilute the adventure, the changes are, again, all in service of modernising Persona 3. And in that sense, Reload is a huge success.

But Reload's best enhancements lie in the heat of battle. Combat in the original release had a tendency to drag, especially later in the game when shadows would tout tediously large health bars. Reload addresses that complaint by adopting mechanics from Persona 5, allowing you to 'shift' between characters after hitting an enemy's weakness, while also adding 'light' and 'dark' elements to the existing pool of magic attacks and resistances. Then there are Theurgy techniques — explosive character-specific super attacks that are built up over the course of combat. There are loads of more minor tweaks under the hood as well, but these headline changes allow Persona 3's combat to shine once again.

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Reload's turn-based encounters are often a thrill, and they're always eye-poppingly pretty. All-new animations, artwork cut-ins, and intuitive, one-button command menus make battles a highlight of the experience. Meanwhile, the return of Shuffle Time adds a randomised element to each fight, giving you a chance to pick up some rare loot after claiming victory. It's all very moreish, to the point where the grind for character levels, items, and new personas becomes devilishly addictive.

What about Tartarus itself, though? The shadow-infested tower has long split fan opinion, as its procedurally generated layout can serve up some very samey exploration. Fortunately, Reload transforms Tartarus into a fully 3D labyrinth where each block is visually distinct, and best of all, it throws a bunch of randomised elements into the process of ascending the tower, floor by floor. Initially, there are treasure chests to discover and special shadows to hunt, but as the game progresses, more and more features are unlocked. Monad Doors, for example, provide optional battles against deadly new bosses — without a doubt one of our favourite additions.

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Tartarus is still repetitive by design, but these fresh components make the grind much more engaging overall, and when combined with the numerous updates to combat, this is probably the best-designed dungeon crawling in a Persona game.

The enhancements don't stop there, though. As mentioned, Reload sticks to the story of Persona 3, but it makes a clear and effective effort to flesh things out — specifically where main characters are concerned. In the original RPG, it was the S.E.E.S. members themselves that lacked depth, locking almost all character development behind key story scenes. However, Reload lets you hang out with your fellow shadow-slayers on a regular basis, taking part in shared activities like gardening, cooking, and watching DVDs (2009, remember). The narrative pacing feels way more cohesive as a result of all this socialising, and crucial plot points end up hitting harder than ever.

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When it comes to the gameplay loop and the treatment of its core cast, Reload is easily the best version of Persona 3 — but it's still difficult to call it definitive. That's because the additional parts of enhanced re-release Persona 3 FES and PSP port Persona 3 Portable aren't included — and so we're still stuck with four separate incarnations of what is essentially the same game. Knowing Atlus, there's always a chance that Reload itself will get a re-release down the line that could include FES' expanded story, or Portable's female main character — but we can only review what's in front of us, and right now, Reload is a near essential remake.


Persona 3 Reload is a brilliant remake. In terms of gameplay, it's easily the best incarnation of a classic RPG, boasting countless quality of life and mechanical adjustments that place it alongside the outstanding Persona 5 Royal. Storytelling enhancements make the plot even more impactful, and the remade visuals are a joy to behold. Reload is borderline essential if you're yet to experience Persona 3, while also providing a near perfect way for existing fans to relive a seminal release.