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Plants vs. Zombies: GOTY Edition
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Persona 4 Golden
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Played in 2024


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Writing this literally right off the heels of beating the game, I'm kind of at a loss for how to start this review. This game is pretty easily one of my most anticipated of all time. I had played FES, Portable, and watched the Persona 3 movies, but to me, it seemed like they all (excluding the movies) were great experiences, held back by the fact that they all shared their own questionable design choices and some inconsistent writing. Reload excited me so much because it looked like it could be the perfect version of Persona 3 - the version that would make me fall in love with it like so many others did. Now that I've played it, with around half a years hype building up to it, I'm finally ready to write my ultimate, unfiltered review. I'll be looking at this game as a remake but also as a stand-alone experience, so I can be as fair to it as possible.

I got into Persona back in 2018. I've spent a lot of time with this series, and I started my first playthrough of Persona 3 back in 2021. I started it a little while after my playthrough of Persona 4 Golden, which had become my favourite game of all time, so there was quite a lot of hype building up to it. I loved Persona 5 and I loved Persona 4 Golden, so it was a given that I would love FES, and I did. The combat, setting, characters, and whole vibe were extremely charming; it had such a distinct identity from 4 and 5 that I really enjoyed. Fast forward to when I played Portable after the ports in 2023, and my opinion on 3 had taken quite the turn. I had started to notice flaws I didn't see in it my first time through. Tartarus became a tedious slog with very little enemy variety; the characters and writing felt really inconsistent, especially in the case of Strega and Ikutsuki; and the pacing was pretty bad. Despite the uplifting themes and genuinely great character moments from time-to-time, Portable wasn't all that fun to get through, and it really highlighted a lot of problems with the story and gameplay that I hadn't picked up on with my first playthrough two years prior.

With Reload's release, I hoped they could iron out some of the major problems with the originals that I had, keeping faithful to the vision and artistic direction of the original while still bringing lots of new content to keep people like me who had played P3 before entertained. Since I have so much to say about each aspect of the game, I'm going to separate it all into chunks, in which I'll talk about my likes and dislikes with each part.

The easiest part to start with is probably the gameplay. Reload feels amazing; whether it's in the overworld or in Tartarus, there's a real weight to your movement, but at the same time, it doesn't feel sluggish. Exploring old locations I had seen hundreds of times before, all fully remade with new lighting and more freedom to look around, felt really satisfying, and it's a huge improvement from both FES and Portable. The new additions to combat are fun too; shifting, a mechanic taken from Persona 5, feels satisfying to pull off, and they did well implementing it without totally breaking the game's balance like it does in Royal. The area of gameplay with the most notable change, however, is definitely Tartarus. While still being randomly generated, each block has a completely different aesthetic and different forms of terrain, and it just has far more going for it atmospherically. Despite this, however, it is still a randomly generated 264-floor dungeon, so while I was in love for the first few blocks, tedium did inevitably slip in as a lot of the new additions like Monad Doors and Dark Floors really don't switch up the gameplay loop nearly enough, and Monad Doors especially felt practically useless as I was never in need of the materials you earn from them. Reload, sadly, is also a very easy game. I played on Merciless and only died a handful of times, almost never by the Full Moon bosses, who should've ideally posed the greatest threat out of any of the enemies in the game. Even with buffing and de-buffing, these bosses 90% of the time just chalk up to being really long damage sponges that pose no real threat, excluding the Priestess boss, which I felt made good use of the shift mechanic and posed a decent enough challenge for the first real boss of the game. Another criticism I had that surprisingly didn't change from the original to Reload was the lack of things to do in the overworld during nighttime; nearing the last two months of my playthrough, after I had maxed out the two Social Links that were available at night and maxed out my social stats, there was practically nothing to do. Even the hangout events at the dorm were all mostly finished at this time, and it was really disappointing to see there was no change made to combat this, as it made the final month a bit tedious to get through.

In my opinion, the new story content in the game kind of varies in quality. I understand the new Link Episodes are intended to give more development to the male party members who don't have SLs, but some of them really drag and feel like they overstay their welcome. I did really enjoy Ryoji's and Koromaru's, though, especially Ryoji's since he's my favourite character in the game. On the topic of the characters, the new voice actors all do a pretty stellar job. There's no one performance I can really call out that I didn't like, and the Social Links hit so much harder since they're all fully voiced with each rank up now. A lot of the characters that felt like they needed more development and screen time, like Ikutsuki, Strega, and Ryoji, got it here, and it made the major story beats involving them a lot more effective in return, and while there was still some down time, the pacing felt a lot more consistent than it was in FES and Portable. The cutscenes are another part of this game that I feel vary in quality. A lot of the cutscenes in this game are just straight-up downgrades from the original, some of them looking stiff and lifeless or just lacking the charm and interesting direction that was present in the original. I actually feel like this game is sorely missing the atmosphere and aesthetic that made the original so unique. It was clearly inspired by a mid-2000s digital type of vibe which oozed from the UI, the cutscenes, the opening, etc. Reload takes a different approach, focusing on a more minimalist water-based design with its menus and UI and while it does look very clean and I can't particularly call it a negative because of how it's utilised, I do feel like this game misses a lot by not trying to adopt the aesthetic and direction that the original was so heavy on since it was so integral to the game's identity and helps you better immerse yourself in the time period and location the game is set in.

In terms of graphics and generally how the game looks, it's pretty great, though it does have a few notable blemishes. Most notably on the rooftop, especially in a cutscene, a lot of the bushes and greenery in the background are just flat textures that really don't look great. Normally, I wouldn't mind, but when you notice it, it's hard to ignore it, and the same goes for the dorm. An early complaint people mentioned before the game released was how the lighting in Iwatodai Dorm was pretty bad, and they chose not to fix this at all. Not only is it not as saturated as in the original, so it looks really bright; it looks like there's no shadows on anything. The more you play, the easier it is to adjust to, but it is still a glaring issue, and the fact they still haven't fixed it after all this time since it was first shown in the trailers is really strange since it's arguably the location you visit the most in-game. Other than that, the lighting in most of the outdoor locations - Gekkoukan, Paulownia Mall, and Tartarus - is pretty phenomenal. It was constantly impressing me with how it adapted with the seasons and each Tartarus block, which is why it's pretty obvious when it's not used so well in some locations. The music of the game is also pretty good; while it is debatable on whether it's an overall improvement on the original or not, it is nice to hear a fresh take on these tracks, and the new ones are all standouts and memorable. It is kind of inexcusable as a remake for you not to be able to switch to the original soundtrack, and in general, the music selection options are pretty embarrassing with how the DLC tracks only allow you to pick ONLY either the Persona 3 songs or the DLC tracks in battle, never allowing you to have the choice to have both on at the same time, but that doesn't hinder the core experience since it's primarily a DLC problem, so I won't count it as a criticism of the main game.

There's a lot more detail I could go into with this game. I still remember the hype when the trailer for it got leaked a couple days early and how I stayed up all night just to play it as soon as it released on Steam. It's not the perfect version of Persona 3 I wanted it to be; I kind of feel I was setting myself up with a lot of the expectations I had. It loses a lot of the charm and interesting direction the original had; it doesn't improve on the activities you're able to indulge in on the more sparse points in the game; it lacks a lot of elements that a remake should ideally have; and this is far from a 'definitive' version of P3. I feel, as much as I'd want to, I can never truly see this game as the masterpiece so many others can, despite its moments of greatness. Considering all this, I still think Reload is worth playing and experiencing. None of the parts I critiqued soured my experience to the point of me wanting to drop the game. For what it does right, it does it well, and even if it isn't the definitive edition people (including I) had hoped it would be, it's a unique and new experience that I definitely wouldn't be against to going back to if I ever felt like playing more P3.

Will most likely never go back to this, so take everything I say from the perspective that I gave up at Ozaki Hope Towers.

Easily the most bland and uninteresting MegaTen game I've played so far. Everything the original Soul Hackers had is missing here: boring characters, an uninteresting story, bland and unfun combat, awfully tedious side quests, and dungeon design that somehow feels more dated than the original Soul Hackers.