Persona 3 Reload


Review by · February 2, 2024

Oh baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby: Persona 3 is back and better than ever.

The original Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is one of the most important and influential RPGs of all time. In 2006, at a time when dating sims were still largely shunned or misunderstood by Western gaming audiences, Persona 3 eased us into the idea that, yeah, it is cool and intriguing to have gameplay based on developing connections with characters instead of inflicting glorious violence on monsters. Players already flocked to JRPGs for the appeal of hanging out with a cast of likeable characters, so why not make that a core part of a game’s systems? Persona 3 blew people’s minds by offering both: play as a socializing high school student by day and supernatural monster killer by night. Nowadays, there’s a huge variety of pure dating sims and games from other genres with prominent social sim mechanics you can find on every digital storefront. It’s no exaggeration to say they owe some of their widespread success to the legacy of Persona 3.

Persona 3 FES was my first Persona game and remained, on paper, my favorite Persona game. In practice, however, I have to admit that it’s fallen in the wake of Persona 5 Royal’s excellent, hand-crafted dungeon design, eye-popping presentation, and generous quality-of-life features. Despite its influence and strongest qualities, Persona 3’s appeal has become overshadowed by flaws that have only grated worse over time. Still, on paper, it feels like the quintessential Persona game. Only the third entry balances the Megami Tensei atmosphere and themes of its heritage with the revolutionary social-sim mechanics that have become the defining feature of the series.

The protagonist summoning his persona as it emerges above him.
Mid-2000s edginess has never looked so beautiful.

I feel I can now throw that metaphorical paper in the trash bin of history because Persona 3 Reload (P3R) offers such a revitalized package for the game that it’s now the defining entry of the series, full stop. There are no doubt aspects of its two successors that may appeal better to some individual tastes, but I firmly believe this is now the best place to start. The refined presentation, quality of life upgrades, and mechanical and narrative additions blend perfectly with its thoughtful foundation to offer the most focused and well-paced Persona experience to date.

This review won’t spend too much time summarizing the basic features of the Persona series or the premise of Persona 3. For that, we already have multiple reviews of the PS2 and Portable versions. Instead, this review explores what the Reload remake has preserved and changed, and what it means for the game’s legacy.

The Royal Treatment

Many of P3R’s changes come directly from Persona 5 Royal (P5R). I love Persona 5 Royal, but it occasionally overwhelmed me with its sheer variety of interaction options and massive playtime. Both these factors made me drop the game in intervals to recharge before pressing forward. On the other hand, I dropped Persona 3 FES for a time because of the repetitive tedium of Tartarus, the game’s central (and only) dungeon.

However, with its many gameplay refinements, I felt neither form of fatigue during my Persona 3 Reload playthrough. The story and gameplay on-ramp to settle into the game’s core loop is welcomingly shorter than in the sequels; yet, there are enough added features that the mid-late game still provides ample choice for how to spend your time. It’s the best balance of variety and pacing I’ve had with this series.  

The visuals and UI underwent a stylistic upgrade that puts Persona 3’s presentation on par with Persona 5 Royal’s much-celebrated eye candy. But the color palette is still all Persona 3, with its colder, almost clinical blue aesthetic bursting off the screen in the same way as Persona 5’s impassioned red. And it’s not just the UI that’s received a touch-up. The entire game world—including all its environments and character models—now shines with a slick, very HD, cel-shaded coat of paint and more realistic proportions. Significant story moments also get a balance of cinematic cutscenes in both the classic anime and newer 3D styles. The visual overhaul makes Persona 3 feel more like itself than it ever has.

A screen of the game's stylistic menu, with a blue background and the protagonist's face upside-down.
P-Studio’s menu game is unmatched.

The graphics aren’t the only element where P3R learns from its younger, fresher sibling. The game world’s locales are now framed with more dynamic camera angles that smoothly follow your movements. In some places, like Gekkoukan High, the dorm, and Tartarus, you’re now right behind the PC with complete camera control. Hangouts with Social Links are also more engaging thanks to full, well-cast voice work for these side characters. NPCs like Kenji, Yuko, and Odagiri give off a greater sense of authenticity while retaining the more roughly edged personalities unique to Persona 3’s house sauce. But aside from its general thoughtfulness, that sauce still has some sour notes. In particular, the Suemitsu Social Link is mean-spirited and the Maiko one raised my eyebrows a few times. In any case, Reload showcases Persona 3’s world in a fresh new light that makes existing within it feel more vibrant and alive than ever before.

Finally, if you get bored moving through areas on foot over the game’s 70+ hour playtime, you have all of Persona 5 Royal’s intuitive fast travel and other QoL options at your fingertips. Social Links and stores will text you about opportunities to hang or take advantage of an offer, and accepting it will automatically warp you in front of the sender. So, if you’re one of those speedy players whose favorite version of this game is Persona 3 Portable because it lets you bypass traversing the 3D spaces for a visual novel-esque pace and presentation, P3R should meet your needs.

Hanging out with Kenji, the game's first available Social Link.
Kenji’s still annoying, but the new voice work made hanging out with him more engaging.

Tartarus and Other Dungeon-Crawling Concerns

Let’s not beat around the tower-sized bush any longer. We need to talk about Tartarus, the game’s massive central dungeon. Tartarus is the mysterious and ominous source of the shadow creatures that now plague citizens’ emotions around Tatsumi Port Island, the small coastal part of Japan where the game takes place. For many players, Tartarus’s repetitive and grind-heavy original design is a hurdle that has either scared them off previous versions of Persona 3 or at least discouraged the desire for another playthrough. I know I fall into the latter camp.

Tartarus is still Tartarus in its general structure and length (or height, rather), but the funky evil tower got a much-needed facelift. As before, it’s divided into over a hundred floors across several different zones you slowly dungeon-crawl your way through. As you explore, you encounter literal progression gates that unlock after completing major, monthly story events—setting a pace for how quickly you should be moving through it. Whereas those zones were little more than a visual makeover on procedurally generated mazes originally, they now have a bit more character in their look and layout. It’s all still procedurally generated and doesn’t ever approach the creativity of Persona 5’s palaces, if that’s what you were hoping, but it’s a notable improvement that makes the grind feel less grindy.    

The new look of Tartarus, which is far more detailed than before. Junpei found the stairs!
Both Tartarus’ visual overhaul and the addition of party banter help liven up the dungeon crawl.

Other refinements that help make Tartarus more palatable include the revamped combat systems and dungeon crawling mechanics. For one, the controversial Fatigue mechanic from the original is gone, so you can climb to your heart’s content without having the game punish you for it. And whether you’re battling or exploring through Tartarus, there are more mechanics to keep you engaged in decision-making. For fights, you now get P5R’s auto-battle options, a Shift mechanic (a.k.a. Baton Pass) that lets you switch to a different party member upon hitting an enemy’s weakness, and a new Theurgy meter that works like a Limit Break for each character.

Theurgy is my favorite addition to combat. You can fill a character’s Theurgy bar slowly by simply fighting or expedite its growth by doing something specific to that character’s personality/kit during combat. For the PC, this involves using your multiple Personas to hit enemy weaknesses, while for Yukari, it will grow more quickly by using healing skills. Theurgy moves play a short, stylish cinematic that shows a character pop off and are an absolute joy to use. While everyone starts with just one Theurgy move, you can unlock new ones for the PC by fulfilling certain Persona fusion requirements, while party members will learn more at critical story moments. It’s another great addition to how Persona games characterize their party through battle mechanics.

Outside combat, there’s more to do in Tartarus and more options for doing it fast. Crucially, a dash allows you to speed through floors and, in most cases, past shadows to avoid battle freely. The main addition is the menacing Monad Doors, which randomly spawn on a floor and are entirely optional. Entering one will pit you against a satisfying mini-boss challenge (or series of them) and net you some valuable rewards, such as crafting material. Outside of exploration, Persona Fusion—my most dreaded aspect of these games—has all the accessibility of P5R, including the invaluable option to Search Fusion to see a list of fusion combinations you can currently make. I still spent more time being indecisive in the Velvet Room than I’d have liked, but what can you do? There’s also voiced party banter while exploring, which brings more personality into the grind. The bottom line here is that Tartarus time moves faster and smoother.    

Yukari's Theurgy skill, preparing a blindingly bright bowshot.
Theurgy cinematics are always a cathartic joy to watch.

You may be forming the impression that all these additions make the game easier than the original, and you’re right. I mainly stuck to Normal for the review and blew my way through most mobs. Mini-bosses and bosses posed a bit more challenge, but I leveraged my knowledge of the systems to prepare for them properly and hardly encountered a game over. You can now retry a battle immediately after losing rather than loading a save and recreating hard-earned progress, effectively nerfing party wipes. While I think Normal is perfect for players relatively new to the series or those looking for a well-balanced playthrough, I imagine a full playthrough on Hard would be more faithful to the original’s taxing experience if that’s what you’re looking for. Or, if you’re mostly in it for the story, the two easier difficulties would surely reduce the necessary time in Tartarus.

The Darkest Hour

Persona 3 is still uniquely celebrated and differentiated from its successors for the darker themes its story explores. There’s a sense of doom and gloom overhanging the past, present, and future of the main cast and the supernatural phenomenon only they have the power to combat. That power is, of course, the characters’ ability to draw out manifestations of themselves called Personas. They do this by shooting a gun-like tool called an Evoker right against their heads. It’s an overtly edgy but undeniably powerful visual anyone who knows the game is likely to associate with it, and it sets the story’s tone appropriately. We face the implications of Death every day that we live.

Only those with the latent ability to wield personas can experience the Dark Hour, a liminal, sickly green space detached from yet overlapping everyday reality. Its existence is vaguely responsible for the spread of Apathy Syndrome, a mysterious disease that seems to be a manifestation of the lack of empathy and hope in modern society. This works as a poignant framework for a game fundamentally about using the limited time you have to understand people and your purpose in life—whether through the ordinary societal concerns shown in Social Links or the extraordinary responsibility the main cast has been tasked with. Reload even adds extra bits of story content that build on these ideas with thought and care toward the original game.

A close-up of some of the cast before an all-out attack.
It’s nice to see this incredible cast looking so good.

The existential overtones of the story have aged unsurprisingly well, but Persona 3’s greatest narrative strength is its representation of the core cast. I don’t exclusively mean the strength and depth of each individual characterization (although it excels at that, too), but the portrayal of the dynamics between them. In comparison, Persona 4 and 5 have idealized portrayals of their central friend groups. This gives those games a more cartoonish vibe where the bonds between characters can feel unnaturally positive or seamless. Their protagonists function as the nexus of the group, with everyone and everything’s happenings revolving heavily around them—and by extension us, the player.

Not quite so with Persona 3. The Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (or SEES) is a collective of random students (plus robot and dog) who happen to have a power that brings them into the same dorm on a mission that exceeds their understanding. These characters have fixations and hang-ups that stem from pasts of varying traumas. This sometimes gets in the way of their bonds with each other as much as it unites them under a common cause. Party members have complex relationships—and in some cases histories—with each other that make them more multifaceted and believable. The result is an iceberg effect, where the cast’s thoughts and feelings build implicitly rather than displaying them outright. This gives SEES an almost unmatched depth for an RPG party. It makes every new line of dialogue you can squeeze out of these characters around the dorm feel worth reading.

Ahhhh, Iwatodai dorm. It’s one of my favorite hubs in any videogame. The most obvious reason is the extremely catchy song with some seriously “chill vibes.” While I can’t speak for everyone, I prefer this remixed version over the distorted edge-core in the original. It’s been stuck in my head for about two weeks now, and its funky trumpet loop and corny rapping somehow still haven’t gotten old. The dorm’s kitschy green carpets and entire visual layout perfectly balance comfort and Twin Peaks surrealism. But, most importantly, it’s the home for this struggling found family of a cast. I love coming back to the dorm every evening to see what everyone’s up to that night and chatting them up to get their thoughts on one another and the current state of the plot.   

Persona 3 is less episodic in its story structure than its sequels. Persona 4 and 5’s dungeons center around contained plot threads. This structure can be satisfying in its own right, but it means that characters who are the central focus of one storyline sometimes get sidelined in others. Having Tartarus as P3’s sole dungeon can get stale, but the cast has more room to breathe and develop naturally throughout the game since they never have to be the focus of an episode. They grow steadily rather than their arcs being contained in specific segments. 

An example of a new hangout, drinking tea with Mitsuru.
More time to chill in the dorm with the squad is always welcome.

Persona 3 Reload builds upon this by adding new interactions between the PC and the party members within and outside the dorm. While they don’t get full-blown Social Links, you now have more opportunities to hang one-on-one and better get to know your main squad. These events make the dorm feel more alive and further develop the fantastic characters over freshly written and well-acted dialogue. You can cook and garden with teammates to get consumable items or watch TV and read with them to build social stats. Like any regular Social Link, each of these scenes shows you a unique interaction with character development and dialogue choices. Once you’ve completed a set of these interactions, the party member also develops a new passive ability for dungeon crawling. Since you won’t need to spend as many nights in Tartarus now, these interactions are essential additions to your evening plans.

I found it refreshing that these hangouts aren’t actual Social Links. Whereas the Social Link system essentially gamifies relationships by rewarding you for pandering to the thoughts and feelings of the NPC, there’s no such incentive here. You can just be yourself while hanging out with your dormmates and select whatever dialogue option you want without getting rewarded or punished. Friendship is, of course, a core theme of these games that somewhat clashes with the idea of spending time with someone because you ultimately want something out of it or choosing dialogue choices based on what you think they want to hear. Taking this gamification out of the social interactions with SEES reinforces the idea that they are the PC’s real friends, rather than somewhat sociopathic test subjects for understanding people. It’s a subtly meaningful variation that’s pleasant in the moment and hits home in the larger context of the game’s story.

On the romantic side of things, many players may likely be pleased to hear that an overhaul to dating for the six romanceable Social Links makes them less… weird. For the male PC route in previous versions of Persona 3, entering into a romantic relationship was a requirement to complete the bachelorettes’ Social Links. This created a conflict where players who just wanted to get to know these girls were forced into dating them all to see their questlines through. These Social Links have been revised so that at Level 9 of each one, you receive a prompt whether you want to profess your love or just stay friends. And if you already opted into a committed relationship with one girl, the game warns you of this potential conflict. This much-needed change allows players to properly roleplay their romantic investments and gives the girls more autonomy as characters not to be hopelessly complacent with a harem situation.

Shadows… of the Other Versions

The people who really love Persona 3 love it, warts and all. So, has anything from that original experience been lost in this shiny tune-up? A bit, I would say. With its more forgiving design, Tartarus doesn’t quite feel like the threatening force it used to. Much of the tension of pushing yourself further up a single run or moving through its claustrophobic corridors hoping to avoid a bad encounter is lost. The loss of this isolating atmosphere is compounded by the additional hangouts and scenes with SEES members. While I feel they’re remarkably executed and respectful to the characterizations of the original game, the overall experience does smell more strongly of the Power of Friendship now. The trade-off with Reload is that you get a more playable and enjoyable game. I still appreciate Persona 3 FES for what it is, but I would much, much sooner pick this version up again.   

Yukari's victory splash screen, decorated with a pink background with the text, "There you have it."

For most people, Persona 3 Reload should now stand as the definitive version of the game. But I still must address the fact that it’s missing some content from previous versions that might frustrate some fans. The major omissions here are the “The Answer” epilogue from Persona 3 FES and the female protagonist route from Persona 3 Portable. The former is a patch of interesting post-game story content wrapped in a tedious grind-fest, while the latter offers a unique playthrough from a female perspective that many players better identify with and have grown attached to. I really wouldn’t be surprised if Atlus was holding out to release these extras as DLC or, lord forbid, in a full-priced Persona 3 Re-Reload package later. These packs of content were, in a sense, already expansions, but the lack of the female PC option is especially unfortunate when it would have made this release more immediately appealing for players who better resonate with that playthrough.

Oops! I almost forgot to talk about the soundtrack. Silly me. I suppose this is the last area where your take might vary. It’s completely re-recorded and, in my opinion, has come out sounding better for it. Sure, the original can still hold some nostalgia appeal if you grew up in the mid-2000s (which I did, mind you), but the arrangements sound great and are more palatable to the modern ear. No matter your personal preference, the quality of the re-recordings and brand-new tracks can’t be disputed. In fact, the OST might be a microcosm of the whole Reload package. It’s not quite what you remember, but it’s exceptionally well done and retains the unique soul of the original where it matters most. And it’s sure to make that soul more appealing to a new audience that can fall in love with it for the first time.   


Revitalizes a beloved classic, Additions that further strengthen an amazing cast, as stylish of an audiovisual presentation you can get.


Missing important content available in other versions of Persona 3.

Bottom Line

Persona 3 Reload is a near-perfect case of a videogame remake preserving, strengthening, and building upon its source.

Overall Score 97
This article is based on a free copy of a game/album provided to RPGFan by the publisher or PR firm. This relationship in no way influenced the author's opinion or score (if applicable). Learn more on our ethics & policies page. For information on our scoring systems, see our scoring systems overview.
Aleks Franiczek

Aleks Franiczek

Aleks is a Features writer and apparently likes videogames enough to be pursuing a PhD focused on narrative design and the philosophy of player experience. When not overthinking games he also enjoys playing them, and his favorite genre is “it’s got some issues, but it’s interesting!”