Tom's Guide Verdict
Persona 3 Reload is exactly what fans of the game have been asking for offering modern visuals, quality-of-life improvements and a brand-new voice cast. The game’s story may be a slow burn but it’s well-presented and will keep you engaged and guessing throughout. However, this is the most expensive Persona game to date, even though it’s a remake and not a new entry in the series.
Faithful to the original
New English voice cast
Quality of life improvements
Redesigned menus, interface and battles
Story is a slow burn
Dungeons can be monotonous
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Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S (reviewed), PC
Release date: February 2nd, 2024
Persona 3 Reload is a remake of Atlus’ acclaimed 2006 role-playing game which was the first in the series to introduce a social simulation aspect to complement its turn-based combat. Unlike other Persona games, its tone is much darker and it features more mature themes. However, the game still manages to be very entertaining and lighthearted at times.
While previous Persona games were exclusive to Sony’s PlayStation consoles, Atlus has broken from this tradition in recent years by bringing Persona 5 Royal to PC, Xbox and even the Nintendo Switch. This continues with Persona 3 Reload which is available on the Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4 and PC, but not on the Switch.
Although its story remains mostly unchanged, Reload gives Persona 3 a complete visual overhaul. Other upgrades include a brand new English voice cast and useful quality-of-life improvements. This is the best way to experience the darkest Persona tale — whether you’ve played it before or are diving in for the first time. Persona 3 Reload may not be as stylish as Persona 5 with its iconic black and red color scheme but after Persona 5 Tactica and the other spinoffs, the switch back to blue is a welcome change and ties in nicely with the game’s overall theme.
Our Persona 3 Reload review will help you decide if it’s worth exploring Tartarus all over again (or for the very first time) and whether or not this modern remake of the epic RPG holds up compared to newer entries in the series.
A stylized redesign
Persona 3 came out in 2006 for the PS2 and the following year saw the release of Persona 3 FES which added a new playable epilogue and other improvements. Then in 2010, an abridged version of the game called Persona 3 Portable (P3P) was released for the PlayStation Portable. Due to the limitations of the PSP hardware, Persona 3 FES had to be stripped down. Combat remained unchanged but parts of the game felt more like a visual novel as the ability to control your character directly was removed.
P3P was ported to modern platforms last year and if you want to experience Persona 3 on a budget, it can be bought for just $20. However, for those who want to enjoy the game’s narrative with all of the modern conveniences found in the latest Persona games, Persona 3 Reload is the way to go, although the steep $70 price tag may be off putting to some.
If you’ve played Persona 5 before, then you’ll immediately notice similarities between that game and Persona 3 Reload from the combat to its user interface. Its menus have that same familiar flair, albeit with a black and light blue color scheme as opposed to Persona 5’s now iconic black and red motif.
During my playthrough, I really appreciated the visual refresh Atlus has given Persona 3 Reload All of the new animations are fast and responsive while the new cutscenes pull you further into the game’s story.
A slow but steady burn
In contrast to Persona 4 and Persona 5, which immediately pull you into their respective stories, Persona 3 Reload is a slow burn. During the 20 hours or so I’ve played so far, the story has yet to build momentum.
Persona 3 Reload starts with its silent protagonist on a train heading to the fictional Tatsumi Port Island, a decade after his parents died in an accident on the island. You are quickly introduced to the Dark Hour, a key part of the game’s story, but you aren’t given any more details about the protagonist or their backstory.
This is one of the biggest flaws with Persona 3 Reload’s narrative. Even though other games in the series also feature a silent protagonist, you learn a lot more about them within the first few hours of play. Fortunately, the rest of Persona 3 Reload’s cast is well-fleshed out.
Your time in Persona 3 Reload is spent attending classes at Gekkoukan High School during the day and exploring a procedurally generated dungeon called Tartarus at night. You do get glimpses of the larger story from time to time, and collectible documents fill in some of the blanks. Still, there’s a lot more filler between key plot points than in other Persona games.
Climbing the dark tower
The Dark Hour is an event that occurs every night in Persona 3 Reload at 12:01 AM and during that time, most people are completely unaware of its existence. But for those that are, the world stops completely, electronic devices stop working and enemies called Shadows appear and attack people who aren’t sleeping inside a coffin — I told you this game was a lot darker.
In addition to this, a giant tower called Tartarus appears each night at Gekkoukan High School. Since it emerges from the ground each evening, the tower’s layout almost entirely changes every time you visit. Once you awaken your Persona — which is a manifestation of each character’s personality that aids you in combat — you join a group of like-minded students and form the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES).
The members of SEES are tasked with exploring all 263 floors of Tartarus to uncover more about the Shadows within and the Dark Hour. The team’s ultimate goal is ending the spooky phenomenon once and for all. This is no easy task and as you progress through Persona 3 Reload’s story, you’re joined by nine other team members to support you in combat. However, you can only have four active party members at once.
For those who have played Persona 5, progressing to the top of Tartarus feels a lot like exploring Mementos. Since the floors are randomly generated and change each time you return, you never quite know what you’ve find. However, even though the look of each floor changes as you move between blocks of floors, dungeon-crawling gets repetitive after a while. This is largely because you’re fighting similar Shadows on each floor.
As for combat, Atlus has made some significant changes to the original Persona 3 to give the game a more modern feel in Reload. These changes include the ability to give direct orders to your teammates and a Shift mechanic that lets a character pass an extra turn to a teammate. This is similar to the Baton Pass system in Persona 5.
If you haven’t played a Persona game before, the most important aspect of combat is discovering and exploiting enemy weaknesses. For example, If an enemy is weak to lightning and you use the spell Zio, they’ll be knocked down and you’ll get an extra. Knock down all of the enemies and you can perform a powerful All Out Attack that can usually bring a battle to its end.
More than 10 hours into the game, you’re introduced to Theurgy Skills which can be activated after filling up a party member’s individual meter. This allows you to perform a special, situational attack and each character’s Theurgy Skill is unique. This new mechanic helps mix up combat but I wish you were introduced to it earlier.
Overall Persona 3 Reload’s combat is just as satisfying as previous entries in the series and is complex enough that it will keep you coming back for more, even if the floors of Tartarus start to blend together after a while.
When you’re not exploring Tartarus with other members of SEES, you spend your time attending high school classes and improving your relationships with your peers. The activities you engage in after school are a great way to pass the time until the Dark Hour and learn more about Persona 3 Reload’s other characters. Plus they also help you during combat.
If you have a Persona with the same Arcana as someone you’re spending time with, doing so will allow you to level up that Arcana and create more powerful Personas. These Arcanas are based on Tarot Cards and in the Persona games represent the core personality of specific characters. This tie between your daily life and your extracurricular activities at night is one of the hallmarks of the Persona franchise but it all started with Persona 3.
From helping a classmate with a crush on a teacher to befriending an elderly couple that runs a bookstore to participating in the track, art and student council clubs, there’s a lot to do in Persona 3 Reload when you’re not exploring Tartarus.
In addition to improving your social links and in turn your Arcanas and Personas, you also have the opportunity to level-up the protagonist’s three main attributes: Academics, Charm and Courage. These stats can be boosted by engaging in several activities like working part-time at a coffee shop or answering questions correctly in class.
Although there isn’t quite as much to do in Persona 3 Reload as there is in Persona 5 Royal, I found the side activities to be enjoyable and interesting. They also allowed me to get to know the city of Tatsumi Port Island and its residents better.
Persona 3 Reload review: Verdict
Remake or not, Persona 3 Reload certainly has some big shoes to fill as the first mainline Persona game since the release of Persona 5 Royal back in 2020. For the most part, it delivers the kind of high-quality experience that fans of the series expect. However, Persona 5 still casts a large shadow over this new release and Persona 3 Reload will certainly be compared to the game that finally made Persona a household name in the West.
As someone who skipped the re-release of Persona 3 Portable to play this reworked version, I’ve really enjoyed my time with Persona 3 Reload even if its presentation isn’t quite as stylish as Persona 5. The quality of life improvements, new animations, vibrant visuals and fresh voice cast certainly give this 18-year-old story new legs. However, I wish the game had launched at $60 as opposed to $70 given it’s a remake. Even Persona 5 Tactica cost less at launch, and it’s an entirely new game.
If you’ve played the original, you’ll be more than happy with the changes Atlus has made to modernize this darker Persona tale. Likewise, if like me, this is your first time playing Persona 3, it’s an enjoyable experience held back slightly by the huge success of the last mainline Persona game and its steep launch price. However, Persona 3 Reload is especially worth experiencing if you’re playing on Xbox or PC as it’s available on Xbox Game Pass.
Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.