Anime JRPG Review

Persona 3 Reload – Review

Persona 3 Reload is a complete remake of the 2006 PlayStation 2 title, Persona 3. Modern gamers now have the chance to experience this piece of gaming history in a new form.

This version made in Unreal Engine certainly looks as new as any recent game. Does it otherwise stand the test of time with the new changes? I played through this 84-hour JRPG to find out.

Persona 3 Reload - Dark Hour

Summoning Personas

Every night, there is a hidden hour after midnight when creatures known as Shadows sometimes attack, leaving victims so apathetic that they feel barely alive. Whenever the Dark Hour occurs, only a few special people remain awake while most of the population turn into coffins. Fewer yet have the power to do anything about it.

Persona 3 Reload follows Makoto Yuki (or your choice of name) as he transfers to a new school and realizes that he has the power to fight. Recruited to join the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (S.E.E.S.), they begin to explore Tartarus, a mysterious tower that appears at night. This tower is said to hold answers about the Dark Hour, and perhaps the way to stop it from happening.

Persona 3 Reload - Dark Hour

The power that all members of S.E.E.S. have is the power to summon a Persona: the power of one’s soul, manifested as a creature. Makoto’s awakening to this power is rather unusual though and we soon find out that he can summon multiple Persona’s, unlike anyone else. His role as the Wild Card is powered by his bonds with other people.

As a mostly silent protagonist, Makoto generally goes with the flow. I did find it a little unusual that nobody had many questions at first on topics like how they know what exploring Tartarus will result in, or (beyond a single comment) why a teenager is carrying what appears to be a gun. The more narrative-relevant aspects of the plot are fairly light at first, with going further up Tartarus and meeting new characters as they join being the initial focus.

Persona 3 Reload - Arcade

School Life

Whilst saving the world from Shadows is important, so is school. Persona 3 Reload is separated into days based on a calendar system, normally with an after-school and evening slot for you to fill your time with. Whilst you do need to spend an evening or two a month clearing a segment of Tartarus, most of your days are taken up by school and friends.

The plot typically moves forward once per month. Aside from that, you can choose how to spend your time for the most part. Some of this will be filled by doing repetitive activities like singing karaoke, working part-time, or going to the arcade to improve your social stats (academic, courage, and charm) but most will be spent meeting with friends.

Persona 3 Reload - Junpei and Yukari

Most often seen are the other members of S.E.E.S. who live in the same dorm, and most of whom go to the same school. Whilst all of the characters on the team were interesting enough and had some fun interactions, they came across as somewhat forgettable, aside from a character named Aegis who joins us later. Perhaps it isn’t fair as they’re later installments, but I couldn’t help but find myself comparing them to the teams from Persona 4 with its great group dynamic, or Persona 5 with its much more interesting and fleshed-out characters.

Later on, we see the characters go through personal development due to events in the story. Some of these were quite impactful and handled serious topics, but perhaps weren’t explored much. One character left me questioning if that was everything as it felt like almost nothing happened, at least compared to the others.

Those outside of the team were more of a mixed group.

Social Links

There are 19 social links, which are storylines consisting of ten ‘episodes’ per character, which includes all of the girls on your team. In addition, there are ‘hangout’ events with the guys where you can learn more about them.

I found the quality of the social links stories to be rather mixed and thought Makoto’s behavior was sometimes quite strange during them. That said, I did laugh when he overheard someone arranging to give his friend a beating, and then he walked off without doing anything and ended that ‘episode’ of the social link there. I imagine the police wouldn’t be too happy with some of the advice he gave to a young girl or lack of action in one case either. A number of the characters are outright dislikable too, such as a slimy TV shopping host, which made me question just why he’s spending time with them.

Persona 3 Reload - Yuko Romance

Whilst I enjoyed most of the social links (including the dislikable characters), a few were particularly poor. The one for the ‘Gourmet King’ stood out here, lacking a resolution for the major plot point and generally just not being interesting. Depending on your choices, Yukari’s social link also throws away the build-up which was disappointing.

There are six romance options too (and you can choose them all). Some work brilliantly to get to know the character better, whilst others are relatively sweet and enjoyable, but nothing special. Friendship options are included too if you don’t want to romance them.

That said, some of the social links are genuinely touching. I didn’t expect to get so invested in a story about a drunken monk and his family issues, and the one about a young man with a terminal disease is certainly memorable. The final one that can be unlocked is particularly so.

Persona 3 Reload - Strega


As we get further into the game, we begin to find that there’s more going on here than a group of heroes trying to save everyone.

We meet a group of antagonists who drop hints about some of the secrets behind the Dark Hour. It felt like it was trying to foreshadow here by just giving little bits of information, but I found the broad outlines fairly blatant from those hints. With that said, there was certainly one twist around them that I didn’t see coming. Despite being predictable in some ways, learning the details was still enjoyable.

I felt like the antagonists could have been developed more, but I appreciated that they went beyond that of some other JRPGs by giving them their own motives and showing them not to always be completely adversarial with S.E.E.S.

Persona 3 Reload - Evoker

The Dark Hours

Persona 3 Reload has a rather dark tone during the more plot-relevant moments, which is unusual for a JRPG with a high school protagonist. Death is never far away. Whether it’s in the imagery of coffins or explicitly mentioned in the narrative, it’s frequently shown. They even activate their powers by committing a faux-suicide, firing a gun-shaped device known as an Evoker at their head.

Most of the characters in S.E.E.S. have had a rather difficult life. We learn early on that several have lost at least one parent, and that they’ve experienced quite a few negative events in their short lives. Makoto is the only early character shown to not hesitate to shoot himself with an Evoker, which made me wonder just how bad his life had been.

While I hesitate to give details due to fear of spoiling the experience, the tone turns near hopeless as we reach the end. As we learn more about the mystery of the Dark Hour, the worse everything else seems to get in the world. We see some of the worst parts of society on display, and there are more than a few moments that may make you introspective or question your choices. Whilst there are certainly plenty of moments of levity, Persona 3 Reload doesn’t shy away from somber moments and a dreary tone which helps it to stand out and these are some of the best moments of the story.

The ending of Persona 3 Reload is rather powerful and works brilliantly as a culmination of everything that the team has experienced. It is left somewhat ambiguous though, so I can see it becoming confusing. Whilst ‘The Answer’, which was an extra episode added in later versions of the original, wasn’t well received due to its gameplay, that it wasn’t brought to Persona 3 Reload is a pity as it does clarify what happened further.

Persona 3 Reload - Tartarus

Climbing The Tower

To reach the top of Tartarus, you need to clear 260+ mostly randomized floors with a layout that changes each day. Whilst I know some people enjoy this type of gameplay, usually I’m not one of them. I was surprised to find out that I enjoyed it significantly.

To start on a negative, they’re split into six blocks. Within the blocks, there isn’t much variation in terms of layout. The set pieces seem to be clipped together. It was to the point that I could sometimes predict the correct way after getting a sense of it, and I had the movements to go from a turn to exactly where the treasure box could be found around a corner down to a practiced motion. Aside from the boss floors every so often, most levels within the block seemed the same.

Luckily it does add in randomization. Higher up the tower, it starts to add objectives to find, or factors like the floor being in near-complete darkness but with valuable items to find. The pacing of adding these in was well done and helped to keep things interesting. There’s also the choice to explore fully or run through quickly.

After battles, there is a chance to pick cards too. Some of these are fairly basic like bonus money or new Personas, but some add an almost roguelike element, giving benefits such as more experience or more powerful attacks for the rest of the run.

I never found that exploring Tartarus got boring. It probably does help that areas are gated to certain dates, meaning that, whilst potentially time-consuming, only one or two in-game nights per month needed to be spent exploring. Teleporters are set every so often too, so it’s easy to take a break and return if needed.

Persona 3 Reload - Battle

Defending The Town

Persona 3 Reload uses turn-based battles where you can control all of the characters manually. I mention that specifically as it wasn’t the case in the original Persona 3, which caused a lot of complaints when paired with some interesting choices often made by the NPC AI.

It’s a rather fun system with an emphasis on targeting weaknesses to knock the enemies down, switching between characters to use one with the best attack for that, and building Makoto’s team of Persona to have the best active and passive skills to survive. His ability lets him switch between any of them once per turn, which affects his weaknesses and resistances as well as the attacks he has access to. He can also fuse Persona to create new ones and have some skills transfer, leading to the ability to make some interesting builds.

The card system gives out rewards every time an All Out Attack is used to finish the battle too, which encourages targeting weaknesses to knock all your enemies down to activate it. Building Makoto’s team to be able to do that in collaboration with his teammates is certainly strongly encouraged.

Another system I enjoyed was Theurgy, which are ultimate attacks. Each character’s gauge charges as they take turns, but they charge faster when acting in certain ways. Koromaru’s gauge fills faster when targeting weaknesses, while Mitsuru’s is about using status effect spells on the enemy. This had me considering how to use each character differently, particularly when planning on entering a difficult fight with them charged up.

SP used for magic skills is another consideration too. Unlike the original, this is the only limit for how long you can spend in Tartarus in a day. It is however very limited, with SP restorative items being extremely rare, particularly at first. For the most part, these cannot be bought, but the chance for refilling it via a randomly activating support skill or a card is there. Items can be created too, but this takes up a precious time slot. It had me keeping in mind whether to use SP for a skill or instead use a skill that sacrifices health points if effective, or to whittle the enemy down with normal attacks. This also had me switching between team members for longer excursions into Tartarus to use ones with full SP.

Battling Bosses

Boss battles are particularly good as they often seem specifically balanced to challenge the player in ways to make them think, and often target player weaknesses. It often isn’t just a case of using electric attacks to win, but discovering their weaknesses through testing different methods and sometimes needing to work around groups of enemies who would support each other well. In one example, enemies would revive each other. In another, a mini-boss consisted of five enemies with different weaknesses, some of which buff, debuff, and heal each other.

On that, while bosses were typically immune, mini-bosses and stronger enemies had me using status effects, buffs, and debuffs which is a rarity. In most JRPGs I play, it seems like it’s never worth poisoning or confusing anything, as it’s either too weak to bother or strong but blocked by immunity. I found this a pleasant surprise. Enemies tend to use a lot of status effects too, particularly the instant death one.

I played on Normal difficulty and if I just used any attack, I wouldn’t have gotten past some normal enemies, never mind the bosses. Having to consider battles made them much more engaging than a lot of other JRPGs.

Generally speaking, I found the difficulty to be challenging enough, but not too much. That said, there was a notable difficulty spike near the end. I went from easily taking out a boss on one floor, to having a miniboss kill three of my party on near full health in one hit despite being debuffed. It was a good reminder to look at my build and equipment more carefully before reaching the final boss.

Tied Together

One thing I really appreciated about Persona 3 Reload was how everything ties together.

Completing certain character questlines will open up new abilities in battle. Fusing certain personas will allow you to become closer to specific people more quickly. Spending time to hang out can provide useful items. There are a lot of examples of this, and having everything tie together makes it feel like your time is never wasted and everything is worth doing.

Persona 3 Reload - New Game+

Is This What They Meant By Reload?

The phrase memento mori flashes up early, which means “Remember you must die”. Along with other interpretations, this can be taken as a reminder to make the most of what time you have left. This seems appropriate enough for a game where you have a limited number of time slots to use. New Game+ comes in here.

Unless you’re following a guide to the letter, and perhaps even then, there’s just too much to do in Persona 3 Reload for one playthrough. Beyond social link events and hangouts that you don’t have time for, there are missable variations on scenes such as seeing two girlfriends come in during an event if you’re dating both at the time and early dialogue that is impossible to get the first time. This is a good motivation for playing through again.

Persona 3 Reload - Invites

A lot of your schedule is filled up by increasing your social stats. Reaching the top level during your first run carries over to the new game+ mode which frees up a lot of time and allows you to access certain social links with social stat prerequisites as soon as they become available.

Beyond that, it gives you the chance to play with foreknowledge. Knowing the correct answers to dialogue prompts, how to unlock social links that are locked behind others, methods to improve relationships, and which events are missable will help to 100% it. It’s easy to use the carried-over level to speed through every available floor of Tartarus and wipe the bosses out too, at least until the endgame comes close again.

Some optional bosses may be suited to a second go around too. Even at level 99, the final optional boss managed to one-hit kill me. That ultimate gear and build may pay off here.

Persona 3 Reload - Anime Scene

Visuals And Sound

Perhaps using Persona 5 as inspiration, Persona 3 Reload has a wonderful sense of style. Little touches like the menu transitions are beautiful, and there’s a lot of detail put into moments like shifting the attack from one character to the next. Character models and their sprites include a lot of movement, from eyes blinking to smiles and mouth movement when speaking to turning heads when referring to something in that direction. It’s a lot more effort than many other titles would include.

While Tartarus isn’t the most interesting-looking place, the environments of the town and school look great. The world feels very alive and conveys the atmosphere well, which was a weakness in Persona 3 Portable.

I didn’t mind it much, and it even played into guessing weaknesses for new enemies, but I did note quite a lot of enemy asset reuse. There are variants of an enemy called Maya from the first to the last floor, and most of them reappear multiple times as new variants and bosses. Unique bosses are a rarity here.

A few anime scenes play out for key moments. These looked good and were an improvement on the ones from the original Persona 3, but I found myself more impressed by the in-game 3D scenes.

The soundtrack is excellent and makes frequent use of vocal songs. Whilst the vocal tracks stood out the most, the ones without vocals were also great. I particularly liked a theme for sadder moments. Overall the soundtrack worked well to add to the emotion of both the highs and lows of the story and underpinned the excitement of battle scenes.

Voicing is a bit more limited than I’d like, with more parts of the game than I would’ve expected being partially or non-voiced. Japanese and English are both available. I thought Yuko, Mitsuru, and Aegis’ Japanese voice acting stood out, but the rest in both languages were just good.

Persona 3 Reload - Aegis


Persona 3 Reload is a top-tier JRPG with gameplay to match. Whilst the story and characters may not match up to subsequent entries in the series, they’re good in their own right, becoming far stronger as it gets closer to the end.

In terms of gameplay and presentation, it goes beyond most other JRPGs would ever dream of. It successfully brings the original Persona 3 story into the modern era, making it feel like this was always how it was meant to be.


Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
Purchase: Humble (PC Steam)

If you are looking for another JRPG, you should check out our review of Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth. Alternatively, if you’re looking more Persona titles, you can take a look at our review of Persona 5 Tactica.

Thanks to SEGA for providing a PlayStation 5 review code for Persona 3 Reload.

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