Persona 3 Reload was recently announced during Xbox’s Summer Showcase. While we might have a ways to go before its February 2nd release date next year, it already looks stunning and like a much larger project than you’d assume at first glance.
A Mash Up, Not A Remix
Playing the game at Gamescom, the thought we couldn’t stop having was, “Oh, Persona 6 is a long way away,” and we mean this in the best way possible. P3R feels much more like a fully-fledged new game than a simple remaster or even most remakes. We’ve recently seen plenty of SNES RPGs get modernized - including Live A Live and Super Mario RPG - and P3 Reload feels like the same ethos is being applied to a PS2 game.
This isn’t just a new coat of paint that lets new gamers experience one of the best Shin Megami Tensei adjacent games. Reload feels like a combination of the story and characters of the almost two-decade-old high school sim, paired with the gameplay, sensibilities, and style of Persona 5 and P5 Royal.
Everything here is new from top to bottom; the music takes on a livelier beat than even FES or Portable, with a strong emphasis on lyric-backed songs performed by Azumi Takahashi. Level layouts of dungeons are randomly generated, but an added sprint function and tighter controls make exploring them quicker and easier. Turn-based combat has been layered with the depth introduced in later games, with the Shifting Pass mechanic acting almost identically to One More from P5. New animations and stylish character cut-ins look stunning, running at 60 frames per second. Exploring Gekkoukan High School is now done from a third-person perspective instead of an isometric one.
Reload seems like a retelling of the events of P3 that also doesn’t invalidate the original. It stands on its own. Even the menus are crafted with such style and movement that they are hard to compare to the original's serviceable, if comparably plain utilitarian design.
What remains to be seen is how these modern adaptations affect the story. Like all Persona games, parts of P3 were notoriously dated even at release, and the developers at Team Persona have shown a willingness to change fundamental aspects of the lore already. This is best seen in all the characters changing out of their school clothes during the Midnight Hour and into much sleeker and/or armored combat gear, inspired by what they were wearing. This is a choice that brings the metamorphosis of characters when they enter Mementos in line with the Phantom Thieves' heist gear in P5, but is pretty different to the original P3.
Hopefully, this means that some of series’ infamously homophobic and uncomfortably sexualized moments, like the embarrassing “Operation Babe Hunt,” will have also been updated just as much as the characters’ designs. If not, you can look forward to having to sit through a deeply unfunny joke at the expense of the trans community in the Persona franchise… Yet again, at which point we will all have to take a deep look at this series troubling portrayals of the queer community for decades.
Persona 3 looks incredible, and there’s plenty of time before it releases on the 2nd of February next year, but RPGs are incredibly hard to judge off of 40 minutes with a roughly 100-hour game. Can Team Persona truly drag this aged classic into the modern age? We certainly hope so.
These impressions are based on an on-site demo from Gamescom 2023. It may not be representative of the final product.