Windows Central Verdict
Persona 3 Reload has done a fantastic job reimagining Persona 3 for modern consoles. The revamped combat system is fun, the improved graphical presentation is a sight to behold, and the story and characters have been refined with new scenes that flesh them out more than the original game. If you’re a Persona fan or JRPGs, this game is a must-have for your collection.
Balancing dungeon crawling and attending school is as engrossing as ever.
Story is more intriguing thanks to improved writing and new scenes.
Characters are more likable than ever due to new sidequests and cutscenes.
Packed with many new mechanics and quality-of-life improvements.
Graphical improvements are a sight to behold.
Setting up the premise and characters is long and exhausting.
Not as challenging as the original game due to new combat mechanics.
A tedious rule of ‘game over’ if the protagonist is KO’d is still in effect.
The playable female protagonist of Persona 3 Portable and the 'Answers' campaign of Persona 3 FES is missing.
Why you can trust Windows Central
In 2006, Atlus released a small JRPG on the PlayStation 2 called Persona 3. It was a strange title where you had to balance life as a high school student, building friendships while protecting humanity from disturbing monsters during a hidden hour of the day known as the Dark Hour.
It was regarded as a cult-classic title among JRPG enthusiasts for its memorable characters, intriguing storyline tackling complex themes, and unique gameplay style blending turn-based battles, dungeon crawling, and visual novels. This game would also lay the foundation for Persona’s journey into becoming the popular franchise it is today.
Over a decade and a half later, Atlus has decided to bring back this beloved title and give it a next-gen makeover in the form of Persona 3 Reload. This remake aims to reimagine the original Persona 3 with improved graphical fidelity, new gameplay mechanics to spice up combat, and quality-of-life improvements from modern Persona games such as Persona 5 Royal to make it more newcomer-friendly.
I played the expanded version of the original Persona 3 called Persona 3 FES in 2009 and haven’t replayed it since. So, I was excited about this remake to see if it could improve aspects of the original game that hadn’t aged well or introduce new elements to make it fresh. After completing the game, I am happy to report that this remake has exceeded my expectations and cemented itself as one of my new favorite Persona games of all time and one of Xbox’s best JRPGs.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible thanks to a review code provided by Atlus. The company did not see the contents of this review before it was published.
Persona 3 Reload: Presentation and performance
To say that this remake’s presentation is an improvement over the original game would be the understatement of the century. Persona 3’s graphics have gone from looking like a PlayStation One game to a polished, next-gen HD anime visual fiesta in Persona 3 Reload.
The character models are richly detailed, and the cutscenes and battle special effects animations are well-done and flashy, with vibrant and eye-catching environments. Tartarus, in particular, received the most significant visual enhancement, as each major section of the dungeon is now richly detailed with unique architecture, map layouts, and art styles to make them look more distinct, alleviating repetition while exploring them.
In addition, the technical performance of Persona 3 Reload on Xbox Series X is of a high standard. The game ran smoothly during my playthrough at a 1080p resolution and 60 FPS with no framerate drops.
The audio improvements in this remake are just as impressive as the graphical ones. The English and Japanese voice acting is superb, with every actor bringing their A-game to bring the characters to life with stellar performances.
Even the side characters you interact with through the game’s Social Link events get this treatment, as every major Social Link event is now fully voiced for the first time in the Persona series. I fully appreciate this improvement to the presentation, as the well-done voice acting made the Social Link interactions much more enjoyable to sit through and had me more invested in their stories than in the original version, where they were mostly unvoiced.
On a side note, if you grew up playing the original Persona 3’s English dub version, you may recognize some familiar voices making nostalgic cameos in the remake amidst the NPCs.
Of course, I can’t talk about Persona 3 Reload’s presentation without giving a shout-out to the soundtrack. Persona 3’s beloved hip-hop and rap-rock soundtrack has been remastered for Persona 3 Reload and even features a couple of new songs. The soundtrack is just as incredible to listen to as ever – providing a relaxing atmosphere during calm moments, tension and dread during serious moments, and blood-pumping excitement during boss battles. The soundtrack has even managed to make me feel emotional during the sad and poignant parts of the story.
Persona 3 Reload: Story
The story of Persona 3 Reload takes place in Japan and follows the adventures of a group of teenagers attending Gekkoukan High School. However, these are not your average ordinary teenagers. They are part of the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (or S.E.E.S. for short,) a group dedicated to protecting humanity from a mysterious supernatural event known as the Dark Hour.
The Dark Hour is a hidden hour of the day where once the clock strikes midnight, most of humanity gets transmogrified into coffins while they sleep, and Gekkoukan High School transforms into a gigantic tower known as Tartarus. The few unlucky humans who don’t get turned into coffins become prey to horrifying creatures called Shadows, who only appear during the Dark Hour.
Every night, Shadows attack vulnerable humans during the Dark Hour and devour their minds, leaving them mindless husks. This is where S.E.E.S. comes in, for they possess a special power that allows them to exist during the Dark Hour and fight off the Shadows.
This power is called a Persona, a manifestation of a person’s inner psyche that their user can command to perform devastating attacks or heal wounds. As a newly appointed member of S.E.E.S., your job is to destroy Shadows, rescue any ordinary humans who have been pulled into the Dark Hour, and explore the tower of Tartarus to discover why the Dark Hour and Shadows exist in the first place. On top of all that, you also juggle your ordinary life as a high school student during the day and a monster hunter during the Dark Hour.
The plot can be difficult to grasp at first due to its strange premise and the fact that it spends the first several hours setting the stage and the characters you will frequently interact with. However, once the plot gets going, it becomes a fascinating and engrossing adventure that tackles complex themes of growing up, self-discovery, death, coming to terms with your mortality, and understanding the meaning of life.
My investment in the plot is further enhanced thanks to its characters, especially your party members. Nearly everyone in the cast is a likable yet flawed individual who goes through captivating character arcs that will have you rooting for them to overcome their internal struggles and help them find the reason for the Dark Hour.
For the most part, the story of Persona 3 Reload is very faithful to the original game. However, without going into spoiler territory, the remake has included many new scenes that provide new world-building lore details to the world of Persona 3 and new side stories focused on your party members called Linked Episodes.
These new scenes and side stories add additional depth to the main plot and made me love the characters even more as they added further depth to their personal histories and psyches than the original game did.
Persona 3 Reload: Gameplay
Persona 3 Reload follows the same gameplay loop as the original Persona 3. You will spend your days attending school and building up your Social Stats to forge friendships (or Social Links, as they’re called in this game) with various NPCs in town during the day. Then, at night, you decide whether you want to continue exploring the town to level up your Social Stats and Social Links or wait for the Dark Hour so you can explore the depths of Tartarus.
Tartarus is a massive, towering dungeon boasting hundreds of floors to crawl through, with enemy Shadows lurking around every corner. You will need to engage the Shadows in turn-based combat and use your party’s Persona abilities to exploit their weaknesses to defeat them.
Along the way, you will need to open treasure chests scattered throughout Tartarus. There are treasure chests that contain loot, which can be sold to give you money to purchase medical supplies and equipment in town, while others can provide you with gear crafting materials or rare weapons and armor you won’t find in stores. Some treasure chests even contain cosmetic items that can change your appearance.
As you explore Tartarus, you occasionally encounter roadblocks that impede your progress. These roadblocks can only be removed by defeating special boss Shadows, appearing only when the moon is full. So, before a full moon arrives, you must prepare for each major boss Shadow encounter by training your party in Tartarus, keeping their gear updated, and creating new Personas for you to use.
Unlike the rest of S.E.E.S’ members, who can only use one Persona, the main protagonist has the unique power to use multiple Personas and switch between them in battle to become a jack-of-all-trades type of fighter. New Personas can be obtained as a reward for defeating Shadows or visiting a special location called the Velvet Room, allowing you to fuse Personas to create new ones.
This is where building Social Links becomes a crucial part of the gameplay loop. Social Links can provide bonuses allowing you to instantly level up Personas when fusing them in the Velvet Room or unlock new recipes to create powerful Personas you won’t find from destroying Shadows.
What’s new in Persona 3 Reload
Persona 3 was the first game in the Persona series to adopt this unorthodox gameplay formula, and sadly, some of it hasn’t aged well compared to its sequels or its PlayStation Portable counterpart, Persona 3 Portable. Thankfully, Persona 3 Reload has taken great care to refine Persona 3’s gameplay to near perfection with a plethora of quality-of-life improvements and new mechanics to make it feel more in line with modern Persona titles like Persona 4 Golden Persona 5 Royal.
The new Linked Episodes allow you to interact with party members similarly to Social Links. I appreciated the Linked Episodes as they provided more character development for your party members and unlocked passive traits to make them more powerful in battle. Not to mention that spending time with party members in Linked Episodes will reward you with healing items to help you survive longer in battle.
Tartarus is much more satisfying to explore now
The next major gameplay component of Persona 3 that Persona 3 Reload revamped was the dungeon crawling. I remember Tartarus in Persona 3 FES being a repetitive slog as every floor from top to bottom was a never-ending series of samey corridors with different colored wallpaper.
In Persona 3 Reload, however, Tartarus feels much more enjoyable and rewarding to explore, as each major section of the dungeon has different map layouts, side paths, and mechanics to consider. Some floors are linear corridors like in the original, while others are now labyrinthine-like mazes in which you could become lost if you’re not using the map correctly.
Enemies on some floors will have random status ailments applied to make them act more erratic and dangerous, while some floors will feature rare, stronger enemies that will yield tons of loot and experience points upon defeat.
The biggest change to Tartarus in Persona 3 Reload is the introduction of Monad Doors and Monad Passages. These new side paths contain special, challenging mini-boss Shadows guarding special treasure chests containing rare crafting materials or powerful items that will make your future battles much easier.
In addition, after opening enough locked treasure chests with rare items called Twilight Fragments, you will sometimes come across a special door leading to an object called the Great Clock. Interacting with the Great Clock will allow two of your party members, currently not in your active party, to level up to the main character’s current level, severely cutting down the time required to level grind back-up party members.
There are even some quality-of-life improvements, like accessing a shortcut menu that will allow you to fast travel to the next floor of Tartarus once you have located its entrance.
Also, the Fatigue system from the original game is now completely gone in Persona 3 Reload. Fatigue was a mechanic from the original Persona 3, which inflicted debilitating status effects that severely weakened party members in battle. Players would get afflicted by this if they stayed in Tartarus for too long, studied for too long in their bedroom, or drew a bad fortune prediction at Naganaki Shrine.
It was an annoying mechanic that broke the original game’s pacing by forcing players to stay away from Tartarus and waste their evenings doing nothing to recover. Not to mention that the Fatigue system caused players to miss out on several days of fighting to level up their characters and potentially soft-lock them into unwinnable battles against the full moon Shadow boss fights because they were too low-level.
I was so glad the Fatigue system had been removed for Persona 3 Reload. This meant that as long as I had enough healing supplies to keep my characters’ health and Spirit Points full, I could spend as much time as I wanted in Tartarus without worrying about arbitrary systems forcing me to leave. Not to mention, I didn’t have to fret about starting the entire game over again because the Fatigue system punished me for wanting to be extra prepared.
Combating Shadows has never been more thrilling
The last major gameplay component to receive a revamp in Persona 3 Reload is the turn-based combat system. For starters, it has incorporated the quality-of-life improvements from Persona 3 Portable, which allow you to directly control all of your party members instead of being driven by incompetent AI like in the PlayStation 2 version of Persona 3, making combat much less frustrating to sit through.
Next up we have the addition of new combat mechanics such as Shift, which functions like the Baton Pass from Persona 5 Royal. After landing a critical hit or hitting an enemy’s weaknesses, you can activate the Shift mechanic to swap to another party member even if their turn has already passed to allow them to attack again. Then, once you have knocked down all enemies by targeting their weaknesses, you can finish them off with the classic All-Out Attack mechanic from the original game where all party members gang up on vulnerable Shadows to give them a very satisfying beat down.
Finally, we have the inclusion of the brand-new Theurgy mechanic. Theurgies are special super-moves that characters can activate after filling up a gauge by attacking an enemy or fulfilling special conditions. These Theurgies are an awesome addition to the game as not only do their animations look flashy and cool, but they also deal a metric ton of damage which can bypass enemy resistances. Not to mention, the main character’s Theurgy is a throwback to the Fusion Spell mechanic from the original Persona 3.
Is it possible to have too much quality-of-life improvements?
Overall, I really enjoyed all the gameplay improvements and additions Persona 3 Reload has brought. It’s made combat more enjoyable and less stressful since I don’t have to worry about AI making decisions for my comrades. Dungeon crawling through Tartarus is now more rewarding. There are many interesting new activities to do during the daytime to strengthen your party before the deadline for the next full moon Shadow boss fight arrives.
However, there are some minor caveats that fans may take issue with. For one, this game doesn’t feature the fan-favorite, playable female protagonist from Persona 3 Portable nor the ‘Answers’ campaign from Persona 3 FES. While it is sad not to see these aspects return, I have a feeling they will probably be released down the line as DLC or included in a definitive edition release like Persona 5 Royal and Persona 4 Golden’s extra content.
Also, thanks to all the quality-of-life improvements and new combat mechanics, Persona 3 Reload’s difficulty is much more lenient than the original game, even when played on the harder difficulty modes. While old-school fans of Persona 3 may be disappointed by this, I didn’t mind it as Persona 3 was only as difficult as it was because of the aforementioned Fatigue system and that you couldn’t control your AI-driven party, which tended to do inane things like waste healing items or attack enemies resistant to their special moves.
Of course, I speak as an experienced Persona fan who is used to the series’ eccentricities and obsessed with planning ahead to ensure my party is fully prepared. If you’re a casual JRPG fan who has never played a Persona game before and you don’t take the time to learn Persona 3 Reload’s complex mechanics, like planning your daily activities, this game can and will kick your butt without mercy. Thankfully, there are plenty of tutorials to help newcomers get up to speed on how to play the game.
My biggest and most personal gripe with Persona 3 Reload is that if the main character falls in battle, it's game over, and you have to begin again from your last save point or restart the battle you died in from the beginning. This ‘game over’ condition has been a mainstay in the Persona series (and its big brother franchise, Shin Megami Tensei) and I’m disappointed to see it is still here as it’s a nonsensical and cheap way to artificially increase the difficulty. It goes against the ‘power of friendship’ message the Persona series is based on.
If my main character goes down and the other party members are still alive, then why should I not be given the option to revive them? After Soul Hackers 2 and Persona 5 Tactica ditched this rule and incorporated smarter and more logical penalties for not keeping the main character alive, I thought Atlus had finally decided to remove it from future mainline Persona titles. Alas, it was not meant to be. So, for all you newcomers out there, make sure to keep the main character at all costs to prevent yourself from an unnecessary ‘game over’.
Persona 3 Reload: Should you buy it?
You should buy it if...
✅ You enjoy story-rich JRPGs with in-depth turn-based combat and dungeon-crawling
Persona 3 Reload has an emotionally gripping tale that will pull on your heartstrings and a cast of complex heroes you will love and villains you will love to hate. In addition, the original Persona 3’s turn-based combat system and dungeon crawling have been massively enhanced in the remake to be faster-paced and have new mechanics to make them more engaging.
✅ You’re a new or old Persona fan
If you’ve played the original Persona 3, you’re going to love how much this game pays homage to the source material while standing on its own merits. On the other hand, if you’re a relatively new Persona fan who discovered the series through Persona 5 Royal but were too hesitant to try Persona 3, Persona 3 Reload is now your best option to experience it. The graphics have been upgraded to next-gen standards and it features many of Persona 5 Royal’s quality-of-life improvements.
You shouldn't buy it if...
❌ You don’t enjoy Persona games or games with turn-based combat
Persona games aren’t for everyone as they often feature strange premises that take a long time to get going, cutscenes with hours’ worth of dialogue, and atypical gameplay loops of balancing school life with dungeon crawling. If that doesn’t sound appealing, you’re better off looking for more traditional JRPGs with more grounded settings where you go off on a journey to explore the world and save it from evil villains.
Also, if you’re not a fan of turn-based combat and prefer real-time combat, then this game won’t change your mind as it fully embraces the former.
After the credits upon beating the game, I was in awe of how much Persona 3 Reload improved the best aspects of Persona 3 while getting rid of aspects that held the original version back. The story was more captivating thanks to the improved writing and new scenes and the characters were more endearing. Also, the combat system and dungeon crawling were faster-paced and more fun to play.
While the difficulty isn’t as challenging as the original Persona 3, that didn’t stop me from having a blast playing this game. Persona 3 Reload is one of the best remakes of a game I’ve played since Capcom’s Resident Evil remakes and one of the best Xbox games I’ve played thus far in 2024 that both Persona fans and JRPG fans should not miss out on.
Persona 3 Reload is now available after releasing on February 2, 2024, for Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC via the Microsoft Store & Steam.
Persona 3 Reload
A textbook example of how a remake should be done. It has an in-depth storyline and complex characters. Its unique gameplay blend of turn-based combat, dungeon crawling, and high school simulator is addictive. And it is packed with tons of improvements and new content which old and new fans alike will enjoy.
Alexander Cope is a gaming veteran of 30-plus years, primarily covering PC and Xbox games here on Windows Central. Gaming since the 8-bit era, Alexander's expertise revolves around gaming guides and news, with a particular focus on Japanese titles from the likes of Elden Ring to Final Fantasy. Alexander is always on deck to help our readers conquer the industry's most difficult games — when he can pry himself away from Monster Hunter that is!