I'm so glad we have a fourth version of Persona 3, meaning there's an even greater likelihood that OG Persona 3 fans will tell me I played an inferior version! Hooray!

Where do I even fucking begin with this one? It's difficult to summarize my thoughts on a short game, let alone a massive RPG I spent over 100 hours in. Once again I must preface this by stating I'm still coming into this as a relatively new fan of the series. I was introduced to Persona (and SMT at large) through P5 and after falling in love with both it and later its enhanced version, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to play P4G once it was released on modern platforms. And like 5 before it, 4 became another all-timer for me. So I can't really speak in regards to how Persona 3 Reload operates as a remake since I have no prior experience with this title. I held off on even playing P3P since I knew this was coming anyways. All I really know is that in both the original release and FES you couldn't control your teammates' actions in combat. I understand the artistic decision in this case, but playing an extensive JPRG in that fashion just sounds like a huge hassle. But I'm happy to report that Persona 3 Reload had me hooked from beginning to end.

The aspect of P3 that immediately stood out to me the most was the team dynamic. Both P4 and P5 have very similar structures; you face a series of challenges where you help people in need, who are each gradually added to the team as the game progresses. Slowly but surely you build up a close-knit group of friends over the course of each game. P3 is quite different, in the sense that you, the protagonist, step into an already ongoing plot. The SEES organization was formed and has been battling shadows in Tartarus long before the game even began. Your character just happens to be the missing piece of the puzzle in order for them to make real progress. And from then on new teammates kind of show up with basically zero fanfare and join the team just...because they have personas. Not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, just that it's different. It's a refreshing turn of events considering 4 and 5 unravelled in very similar ways. It certainly made the story more unpredictable. And as for that story, I often hear it described as the best in the series. I'm inclined to agree...at the very least it has easily the best ending of the three I've experienced. From a purely thematic standpoint, there's so much to chew on. It didn't quite make me cry like one particular moment in 4, but I was definitely starting to well up during the final cutscene. The level of bittersweet pathos is pitch perfect. I think I still prefer the overall experience of playing through P5, but P3's script undeniably shines the brightest.

Gameplay wise, this is about as good as turn-based RPGs get. If you ask me, P5 set a gold standard for both stylish UI designs and moment-to-moment JRPG combat. P3 Reload meets that gold standard and then some; bringing with it vibrant blues that wash over you at every moment and the battle shift mechanic that I sorely missed in P4. As for the collection of social links, I'd call it a mixed bag. Some are incredibly memorable and really touched me (Kamiki, Maiko, Yukari, etc.) while others left something to be desired (looking at you, Tomochika). And some, like Suemitsu, started off deceptively unpleasant but soon revealed strong emotional resonance by their endpoint. However due to my experience with 4 and 5, I was very surprised to find that none of your male teammates are social links. Which in turn made me feel less connected to Junpei and Akihiko in particular. The team does have those charming, optional hangouts in the dorm which can unlock special abilities, but it does leave something to be desired. I suppose this is just a case of the developers trying to remain true to the original. They weren't S-links then so they aren't S-links now. At least they fixed it so that you don't have to date every girl you max out to 10.

So what's there left to say? I guess I didn't touch on the soundtrack, which absolutely meets the S+++ tier standard set by this series as a whole. A wonderful collection of tracks that is sure to stick with me for years to come. Climbing and fighting my way through Tartarus, despite the monotony, never became boring for me. As for small problems, I do wish there was more to do at night, particularly during the final months of the game. Most of the S-links are during the afternoon and I had maxed out my social stats by around mid-September, so my evenings were fairly uneventful leading up the conclusion. And while I think the cast overall did a fantastic job, Koromaru was very clearly a person making dog sounds, which was a little distracting. Sadly not every VA can be Frank Welker. Also the lack of weather effects left me scratching my head. Again, this could just be a case of remaining true to the original, but after 4 and 5 implemented weather systems and the changing of seasons, the eternal sunshine of Tatsumi Port Island felt...somewhat off. January brings with it a slightly new colour palette, but very rarely do the characters even mention the colder temperatures. That's more of a nitpick and not a real issue, but finding things wrong with this game is really difficult for me. I'm basically splitting hairs here.

What a game. What an ending. What an experience. Now I sadly must continue the long and arduous wait for the inevitable release of Persona 6.

Reviewed on Feb 26, 2024