Thanks to the lovely people over at Atlus and SEGA, I was given the chance to do another hands-on impression of Persona 3 Reload at a recent event. A few months ago, I had the privilege of playing the game’s first demo and wrote about my initial thoughts on the game. This time, however, I got to play an actual real portion of the game and not just a demo. I am limited in what I can divulge given the limited play time I had this time around, but I can say with certainty that Persona fans should get hyped for February 2nd.
In my previous experience with Persona 3 Reload back in August, we only got to check out the game’s combat sections. This time, we also got to check out the social link parts as well. I can’t go into detail on what dates or sections I played, but it was at a point in the game where social links and exploring Tartarus opened up to the player. What was most interesting was to see the differences between Persona 3 Reload and other previous versions of the game.
The first noticeable difference was that I could hang out with both Junpei and Akihiko during social link sections. Unlike its sequels, Persona 3 never allowed the player to spend social link time with the male party members as they were not social links. The lack of social links with the male party members was changed in Persona 3 Portable during the female main character route, but if you choose to play the male main character, like the original versions of the game, you still do not have the chance to hang out with them. Reload changes this glaring fault of the original games by including outings with the boys. It should be noted that they are not social links, and the boys are still not connected to the arcana in any way, but the events offer other benefits if they are watched. Junpei, for example, has you go out to the arcade with him, and your choices affect the event’s outcome much like in the social links proper. In the end, Junpei gets a boost to his stats, which will help him in battle later. Notably, these events were fully voice-acted, which I was delighted to hear.
Akihiko’s outing was even better since it happened at night. Reload fixes another massive issue with the original Persona 3. The nighttime activities for all previous versions of Persona 3 are super limited compared to its sequels. There are very few social links, and most of the time, you need to spend the night either going to Tartarus or increasing social stats. At some points in the original game, if you were caught up with Tartarus and your social links, you would spend a lot of time just going straight to bed or studying multiple nights in a row with nothing else to do, wasting the night portion of the game. As a big fan of Persona 3, I am glad there are more nighttime activities in Persona 3 Reload. Akihiko’s outing was also entirely voice-acted, and it bestowed benefits not only on Akihiko but also on the main character, who got a stat power-up. These events are a welcome change to Persona 3.
This portion of the game also had a forced Tartarus section that started with a fancy anime cutscene to show off the character’s new SEES clothes as well as one of the new mechanics of Persona 3 Reload‘s battle system, Theurgy. Previously, in August, I got to mess around with the Shift system, which is Persona 3 Reload‘s version of Baton Pass, but Theurgy is unique to Persona 3 Reload. In its simplest form, Theurgy is a super meter for each character that builds up depending on their actions in battle. So, for the main character, you fill the meter by summoning your Persona, a very basic and simple approach. For Yukari, she needs to heal people to build up hers, but for Mitsuru, you need to hit enemies with status effects, so bust out the Marin Karin because it’s not just for memes anymore. When the meter is filled, the character in question gets to do their super move, which is also unique for each character. Mitsuru, for example, does a powerful Ice attack that will ignore enemy resistances. The main character gets access to the fusion spells from the original game depending on his current Personas. It’s flashy and fits the style of the game so well. Combat, much like last time, is super smooth and feels even better now with the added strategy of Theurgy. I can’t wait to bust out Koromaru’s super move when the game gets released.
This section of Tartarus, by the way, was the Arqa section. In the original Persona 3, this part of Tartarus was certainly more creepy than the first block of the dungeon, but the game didn’t put too much emphasis on the scenery within this section. In Persona 3 Reload, however, you can see the H.R. Giger design approach to the walls and the floors. One of the coolest animations as I explored was watching the stairs to the next floor connect to each other and open up almost like they were alive. Tartarus had so much potential in the original game but always felt lacking and dragged out. From what I have seen from Reload so far, it seems to understand the look and mood much better.
I got to mess around with a few more social links before my time was up. All the original links from Persona 3 are still there, as far as I can tell, along with a plethora of new activities to partake in. You can grow vegetables on the rooftop, go and see the actual movie this time around, work jobs for extra money, read books with Fuuka, and so much more. It feels fleshed out and is much easier to navigate this time because each day you receive emails on your phone reminding you to hang out with social link characters and do other stuff. It is a welcome addition taken from Persona 5 and retrofitted to work for Persona 3 since it still takes place canonically in 2009.
Now, for my favorite part of the game: the music. I can’t stress how much I love the original Persona 3’s soundtrack. Shoji Meguro’s original soundtrack is remixed so well and beautifully this time around by Atsushi Kitajoh that I can’t wait to hear even more than I already have. It was a pleasure to listen to Lotus Juice and the new lead vocalist, Azumi Takahashi, work so well together in tracks I have loved for years. I once again found myself jamming out to the music of the dorm room and the battle tracks and almost lost track of time, which isn’t a good thing when I only had a limited amount of time to play. This soundtrack is straight fire and will get into my playlist after its release.
For all those worried about Persona 3 Reload not living up to the original, you can rest easy. All the things you love from the original, such as the social links, mood, and style, are still there and better than ever, with so many more options as well. I wish I had more time to spend with it, but I will also have to wait a few more weeks until release. Persona 3 Reload releases on February 2nd worldwide for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Learn more at the game’s official website, and look forward to our review as well in the future!