Conventions & Events

Persona 3 Reload, Persona 5 Tactica and Like a Dragon Gaiden Hands-On at SEGA Summer Showcase

SEGA Summer Showcase 2023 artwork of Persona 3 Reload, Like a Dragon Gaiden, and Persona 5 Tactica

Earlier this month, SEGA invited me to New York City for hands-on experience with a few new games coming out in the next half a year or so. I was even more excited when I heard that Persona 3 Reload, Persona 5 Tactica, and Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name would all be playable at the show, three games I am super excited to play this fall and winter.

The biggest RPG news at the event is that we got a release date for Persona 3 Reload: February 2nd, 2024. As a huge Persona fan, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this remake, as Persona 3 is a game that I love dearly but has not aged as well as Persona 4 and Persona 5. I can also put many fans’ worries to rest on whether or not this remake will be faithful to the original. So let’s start with Persona 3 Reload, and then I will get to Persona 5 Tactica and Like a Dragon Gaiden after.

Persona 3 Reload Screenshot

Persona 3 Reload

As I said, I am a huge Persona fan, and I have played Persona 3 top to bottom and inside and out plenty of times. I know the game extremely well, and I can safely say the two parts of the game I got to play were basically one-to-one recreations of the PS2 FES version of the game. The two parts of the demo were the first day Yukari, Junpei, and MC (he was called Yuki in the demo, by the by) get to explore Tartarus’ first block, Thebel. The second part of the demo was the first full moon operation on the monorail.

Like Akihiko, I’ve been waiting for this, so let’s start with the Tartarus demo. The demo dropped me at the entrance to Tartarus, and I could do everything I could in the original, but this time with the graphical power of the Unreal Engine. The scale feels way more massive than the PS2 version ever did, which makes me excited to do the second full moon boss in the lobby and see what they do with it. You can remove and add Junpei and Yukari from the party by talking to them, and of course, you can talk to Mitsuru and ask her for a report of your progress so far. The teleporter is still here as well, but the biggest change is that the clock from Persona 3 Portable returns. You do not heal by coming back to the lobby like in FES, nor do you pay the clock yen like you did in Persona 3 Portable. Instead, you must give the clock Twilight Fragments to get healed. For the demo, I started with some in my inventory, so I don’t know how you collect more, but it was seven fragments for a full heal. This may be seen as a possible compromise since the fatigue system is thankfully gone for good in Persona 3 Reload. I should note that fragments are used to open locked chests in Tartarus as well. Anyway, that’s all you can do in the lobby, so next, I climbed the stairs to reach the first floor of Tartarus.

Persona 3 Reload Screenshot of the Tartarus entrance
Tartarus entrance

I won’t sugarcoat my disdain for Tartarus. I love Persona 3, but Tartarus has always been such a slog to get through. It was a neat concept when it came out, but done so much better in future installments. That being said, I do have hopes that Reload will make Tartarus a much more enjoyable experience since there are few noticeable changes in Reload. The first thing you’ll notice is the music is the Thebel Block track from FES, so nothing has changed here. Also, you can’t change the BGM when contacting Mitsuru, nor can you force the party to split up like in the original either. Maybe each block will have its own BGM, which would be great. Second, you can swing your sword around and smash fire effigies that are scattered over each floor. You mostly get items to sell for destroying them. You can also sprint or walk around as shadows are patrolling the area. Running makes them notice you easily, but walking makes it easy to sneak up on them and gain the first strike by swinging your sword. Yes, folks, it’s time to baby, baby, baby, baby, baby! “Mass Destruction,” one of the best battle themes of all time, makes its return in Reload, but now there are two different battle themes! By attacking a shadow before they attack you, you’ll enter a S.E.E.S. Advantage and get an amazing track “It’s Going Down Now.” Entering battle normally or getting surprised by a shadow will play a remixed version of Mass Destruction. The remixed version is very well done, and I caught myself jamming to both tunes a few times in the demo.

Battles in Persona 3 Reload are very reminiscent of Persona 3 FES, but let me quell some potential fears. This should go without saying, but you have complete control over your party members, just like in Persona 3 Portable. So, the good news is no more fear of Yukari not healing or Mitsuru casting Marin Karin with the MC on death’s door. The bad news is no matter how much control you have over Yukari, the girl still can’t hit the broad side of a barn. I guess some things just never change.

Persona 3 Reload Screenshot of Yukari with a bow

There are obviously more changes and some great things to come for Persona 3 Reload’s battles. First, the extremely flashy UI style Atlus introduced with Persona 5 makes its “return” with a Persona 3 coat of paint. It is much more responsive and snappy than the original ring selections. Second, yes, you can baton pass in Persona 3 Reload‘s battles, but this time it’s called Shift, and it’s done with the L2 (or equivalent) button. At the start of the demo I couldn’t use Shift, but after fighting the Venus Eagle boss on floor five, a tutorial shadow fight explained Shift to me. After that, you can use it whenever you knock down an enemy and pass freely to characters that can hit advantages to knock down the rest of the enemies. Shift may get stronger as the game progresses much like Baton Pass, but it’s hard to tell if that will be the case, since if you forgot — or never played Persona 3 — there are no social links with the male playable characters to make them stronger or give them new abilities. Even if it doesn’t get as powerful as Baton Pass does in Persona 5, it is still a welcome addition to Persona 3, as some of the bosses can be a pain to deal with when the turn order is not in your favor.

Speaking of knocking enemies down, if you knock down all the enemies, you of course will have the chance to do an All-Out Attack. Gone are the character cut-ins for it; instead, a group shot of the party is shown before they rush down the enemies. If you’re curious, yes, depending on who starts the attack, and if it finishes off the enemy, that character has an outro and a unique animation à la Persona 5. All in all, battles are very familiar while adding much of Persona 5‘s quality of life stuff, which is very welcome for Persona 3. If you finish a battle with an All-Out Attack, Shuffle Time begins. There is no longer a minigame to play; now you just choose the card you want. All the choices from the original are here, including choosing a Persona, which makes sense since we are fighting the arcana shadows in Persona 3 Reload and not the demon shadows as in Persona 5. So no demon negotiations this time around.

One big change I have to mention — that I almost didn’t pick up on — is that light and dark attacks have actual damage spells this time, much like Persona 5. The original Persona 3 only had the instant kill Hama and Mudo as light and dark, respectively. Hama and Mudo are probably still in the game, but I didn’t run into any shadow that cast them. And yes, slash, strike, and pierce are all separate attributes, much like the original Persona 3.

Outside of battle, Tartarus exploration is very similar to the original, with fancy animations for the gates blocking off sections and the shadows being easier to get around. It even has those weird corner staircases every once in a while. And yes, Tartarus is still randomized on each floor; essentially, a faithful recreation. It’s my hope that there are more changes in the future so it doesn’t become a slog like the original was, but so far it’s definitely a step in the right direction. As mentioned above, on floor five, there is the original boss of Tartarus, the Venus Eagle. A pretty easy boss, but I should mention this boss is no longer weak to Yukari’s bow as its weakness was changed to Agi for some reason. So this told me that other bosses will return, but we can expect some changes to their attacks and weaknesses. This was confirmed for me when playing the second part of the demo.

Persona 3 Reload Screenshot 056

After the boss on the fifth floor, the next floor has the tutorial boss battle for Shifting, and this was about as far as I could reach in the 15-minute hard time limit for the Tartarus part. I tried to speed my way as far as I could when I came back later on my second playthrough of the demo, but was still booted back to the main menu shortly after the Shift battle. So anyway, onto the first full moon part of the demo.

This part of the demo dropped Yukari, Junpei, and MC as they are catching up to the monorail where the large shadow is via the train tracks. This demo section was more story focused and had the full cutscenes with it. The entire monorail played out pretty much exactly as it does in FES. Nothing has changed story-wise that I saw; everything played out exactly like the original. I should also mention the new voices for the main cast are excellent. I will admit it’s jarring at first to hear new voices for these characters I know so well, but the actors did such an amazing job that by the end, it felt natural to hear them like this. I am looking forward to hearing more of my favorite scenes with these actors. Music purists can also rejoice that FES‘ “Deep Breath Deep Breath” — one of my favorite Persona 3 tracks — plays in this section with no change.

If you played Persona 3, you know how this goes. After boarding the monorail, Junpei ran off to be a hero while not listening to MC or Mitsuru, and Yukari and I had to chase him down. As I went through the train cars, shadows attacked me till I caught up with Junpei. Then the three of us confronted the Priestess shadow. A notable change in gameplay is the timer for this section doesn’t start until after you confront the boss, and for a good reason that I’ll talk about below.

The “Master of Shadow” music track is here in all its glory, as the Priestess is now large and in charge in her Unreal Engine form. The fight started with 30 minutes on the clock, and I had to stop her before it hit zero. In FES, you had eight minutes from the middle of the train to get to her fight and take her down. So this should be easier, correct? Wrong — she now has the ability to manipulate the timer via the attack Chaotic Will (note: I didn’t write the full attack name down since the timer was playing, so this might be a bit off). At certain intervals of her life bar, she will perform this move and speed the timer down from 30 to 15 to 3, making the fight a bit harder. Of course, she still summons adds, but this time not just Tiaras but Mayas as well. This meant I had to switch up my Persona a few times since the adds’ weakness changes from phase to phase. Since I had Shift, I was able to use this to my advantage in dealing with them. She still has an AOE ice attack too, but it was a unique spell and not Mabufu. As before, not a super hard boss, but still a bit different than its original version. This should be another welcome change for fans of the original game, and it has me excited to see how the other full moon bosses will be updated. After the boss, the scene about stopping the monorail plays out as usual, including the dialogue choices from FES. I saw the scene with my boy Akihiko and Ikutsuki, both looking great in Unreal Engine. Unfortunately, that’s where the demo ended, and now I must wait till February 2nd to play the whole thing.

Persona 3 Reload releases on February 2nd, 2024 for PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One & Series X|S, Windows, Steam, and will be a day-one release for Xbox Game Pass.

I loved my time with the Persona 3 Reload demo so much that I went back and played it a second time to get as much info out to all you Persona fans. You can see more in the video in the next section. But that wasn’t the only Persona game I got to play at the event. I also got my hands on Persona 5 Tactica.

More New Persona 3 Reload Screenshots

Persona 5 Tactica Screenshot of Erina branding her gun and readying for combat

Persona 5 Tactica

Persona as a TRPG? Sign me up, because I love a good tactics RPG, and I love Persona. With Persona 5 Tactica set to come out in November, the demo SEGA had on hand was more of a vertical slice of the game at certain sections instead of crafted demo portions like the Persona 3 Reload and Like a Dragon Gaiden demos.

To start off, Persona 5 Tactica plays way more like Mario + Rabbids than, say, Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre. The game is very easy to pick up and play and has multiple difficulty levels, so you can make it as easy or as hard as you want. The art style also looks much better in motion than in stills or video, so if that was possibly turning you off from the game, I say definitely give it a try.

The demo let me play the first stage to get introduced to the game’s mechanics, and then I got to play two stages from later in the game. The timeframe for Tactica seems to be after the events of Persona 5, but during the winter before the credit roll of Persona 5. The gang is at Leblanc watching the news about politicians disappearing before they are sucked into the metaverse once again. This time that takes the form of a seemingly French Victorian Era area, complete with musket-wielding shadows and a big bad villain named Marie who obviously is supposed to be some kind of parallel to Marie Antoinette. Unfortunately, I couldn’t watch many cutscenes besides the opening one, but that’s fine. I wouldn’t want to spoil myself or the fans, so that’s about it for the plot.

The gameplay tutorial had Ryuji, Morgana, and Joker face off against these musket shadows. You can freely move any of the characters in your current party in any order until they take action. The main gist of the gameplay is to hide behind cover and attack shadows who are not behind cover. If the target line is red, you can freely shoot enemies with your gun from a distance, but if it’s black, it will be completely blocked. The same goes for the enemy attacks as well. The trick is to move characters and use their Persona’s abilities to blow back enemies out of cover or sneak around and use melee attacks to push them around, all while trying to stay behind cover yourself. If you catch an enemy out of cover and attack them, you will knock them down and get a “once more.” The same character can then attack again that round until you knock them all down. This can also happen to the party, so you need to gauge the risk of leaving your cover to blow the enemy out of their cover. You always have an advantage over the enemy since Persona skills are not affected by cover like gun and melee attacks.

Persona 5 Tactica Screenshot of Joker with his gun scoring a critical hit
Joker lands a critical hit.

That’s the basics, but the two stages I got to play — which seemed to be further into the game — are a little more complicated, and that’s the Triple Threat Triangle Attack and the charge system. I also met the new character, Erina, who joined the group on their adventure. So the first of these two new mechanics is the Triple Threat Triangle Attack. If you manage to knock down an enemy and get a “once more,” you can position your characters to surround the enemy in a triangle formation and unleash an All-Out Attack. The more enemies you ensnare in the attack, the better, and it only requires one enemy to be down, not all of them. It’s pretty simple to execute and does a lot of damage, but doing so might leave your characters in a position for a counterattack if you don’t finish off the enemy with it—basically a high-risk, high-reward kind of deal.

The other mechanic is the charge mechanic. If you choose to do nothing for your turn for all your characters, they will charge up and get access to special skills. For example, newcomer Erina’s special charge skill is that she can shoot at enemies behind cover without fear of it getting blocked. Each character has something unique to them, but I didn’t get to mess around with Morgana or Joker’s in these stages. The game did hint at a talent tree for these skills, and you can pick loadouts before stages to best suit your needs for that stage. So there are a lot of choices to be made, which is welcome in any TRPG.

Each stage also has bonus objectives, such as finishing in a specific number of turns or not letting your characters die. So there are definitely reasons to come back to stages in the future to get these bonus objectives completed. All in all, Persona 5 Tactica was a very fun demo and something I am looking forward to playing in November. Be sure to check out the video below for more of my thoughts on both Persona 5 Tactica and Persona 3 Reload:

Persona 5 Tactica releases on November 17th for PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One & Series X|S, Windows, Steam, and Nintendo Switch.

More New Persona 5 Tactica Screenshots

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name Screenshot of Kiryu playing darts

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name

Kiryu is back… or should I say “Joryu” is back and ready to kick some ass again. The last of the three RPGs at the event was Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. I do enjoy the Like a Dragon games (formerly known as Yakuza in the West), and Kiryu is one of my favorite characters in any video game. The man has a heart of gold, and I am happy to play as him once again. The demo was barebones on the game’s story, but that’s okay because the gameplay was all I needed for this one. Kiryu is flown to a floating barge out in the middle of the sea to the Castle, a place people are calling a Yakuza paradise. On the outside, it looks like any ordinary ship, but inside, it’s like a mini Las Vegas with lights, gambling, music, and all the gang fights you could ask for! I should note that English voice acting wasn’t available for this demo, so I did not get to hear Yong Yea as Kiryu, so I can’t comment on that.

The demo started with Kiryu in a scrape with the ship gatekeepers who are looking for some invitation from him. In typical Yakuza fashion, the only invitation you need is your fists. Here, I was introduced to a new stance for Like a Dragon Gaiden, which is the secret agent stance. By holding one of the face buttons, Kiryu can perform one of four ridiculous attacks, each based on James Bond-like gadgets. The first lets Kiryu throw a mini explosive device anywhere he wants, which blows up everyone, including himself. The second is rocket boots, which allow Kiryu to hover off the ground as you hold the button and then plow through enemies. Think of it like ice skates but with rockets. The third allows him to call in a mini drone to rain bullets down on enemies. The last — and my favorite — was the wire grab. You can lasso up groups of enemies to incapacitate them, and then fling them around the arena in any direction. You can also grab bosses with this move and drag them to you in Scorpion-like fashion. I enjoyed this stance immensely, especially the wire grab.

After the fight, I was free to explore the Yakuza paradise to my heart’s content, or in this case, the 15 minutes the demo allowed. The first thing I did was gamble in the two different gambling areas. One had your typical Western games, such as Poker and Blackjack, and the other had a more Japanese flavor with games like Koi-Koi. But I digress. We’re in Yakuza Vegas; we need to dress to impress. So I headed over to the Boutique where I gave my man Kiryu some fancy new threads. You can really gussy up Kiryu in this place and customize almost every aspect of his wardrobe from head to toe, including his earrings, watch, and lapel. There was a lot of attention to detail here. The best part is it has two auto loadouts as well. One can be set so that when you’re in the coliseum, it automatically equips this loadout so you can look like a badass when fighting while staying classy and cool around the strip. You can also make Kiryu walk the catwalk with his new threads to see what it looks like in motion.

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name Screenshot of Kiryu in the Boutique
Looking good is essential.

After grabbing some new threads, I headed over to the cabaret club since it’s back for Like a Dragon Gaiden. This time around, the cabaret dating minigame is actually live-action. Only one lady was available to enjoy some time with in the demo, so I spent some time talking and enjoying high-quality champagne with the million yen the demo gave me. You would think it would be jarring to have a live-action section in a video game nowadays, but as someone that grew up in the ’90s with live-action PC games like The 7th Guest, I was really digging it. It also helps that the women they got to do these parts are — as far as I know — really popular Japanese actresses and are great at their jobs.

Like a Dragon Gaiden The Man Who Erased His Name Screenshot 021

So after gambling and having a great night with the ladies, there was only one more thing to cap off the night: to beat up everyone at the coliseum! I should note that before I did, there was an awesome dart minigame to play and invite people to. Seriously, what’s with every modern RPG having a dart game in them nowadays? Anyway, the coliseum is an awesome mix of solo fights and team fights. You can take on waves of enemies with just Kiryu as you would normally throughout the game, or you can build a team of crazy characters to fight alongside you in teams of four or 12! You can have anyone on your team from Majima, to a ninja, to the convenience store clerk, to a guy wearing a chicken mask. It’s really awesome, and the fights with everyone are crazy. The best part is you can also not play as Kiryu if you want. You can control any of these characters, all with their unique moves, and let the CPU control Kiryu. For one fight, I even played as Majima, which was fun even if he was nowhere near as strong as Kiryu. A very fun addition to the game, which will have so much replayability.

Unfortunately, my time with the demo ran out as I was enjoying the legion of goons I was beating up, but it was a blast to play. I normally don’t get super hyped up for Like a Dragon games, but I really can’t wait to play this one.

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name releases digitally on November 9th for PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One & Series X|S, and PC. The game will include a trial version of next year’s mainline game in the series, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.

More New Like a Dragon Gaiden Screenshots

There were a few more games at the show that I got to play that fall outside of our coverage, all of them extremely fun. The standouts from that crowd were Endless Dungeon and Samba de Amigo: Party Central, so keep an eye on these in the near future. I want to thank SEGA again for an awesome opportunity, and I hope I have made the wait and anticipation a bit easier for many fans until these awesome games release!

Scott Clay

Scott Clay

Scott streams games for our Twitch channel almost every night! He enjoys playing games on stupid hard difficulties, creating unnecessary challenges for games that don't need them, speedrunning and telling everyone why Lunar 2 is the best RPG ever made. You should stay awhile and listen!