I’ve tried the Persona series a few times but always fell off for one reason or another. I love the style, music, combat, and characters, but it would largely boil down to the game’s refusal to take the story and themes as seriously as it sets out to. I never played the original Persona 3, or Persona 3 Portable, but Persona 3 Reload is the first time I’ve come to appreciate everything about a Persona title, and in this review, I’ll expand on why I think it’s my favorite one so far.
Tatsumi Port Island, Dark Hour, and You
Persona 3 Reload doesn’t waste much time setting up the stage. You play as a teenager who has returned to his hometown, Tatsumi Port Island, after being orphaned as a child. Not a lot is known about you, but one thing is apparent as you step out of the train station, something isn’t right. The moonlight is green, there are coffins everywhere and blood on the street.
Largely unphased by this, you make your way to your new dorm and are greeted by the first few characters that later become part of your party. In Persona 3 Reload, there’s an additional hour at the end of the day called the Dark Hour, and that’s what you’re investigating throughout most of the game.
I think the generally serious tone and horror elements make it a more intriguing game for me overall. There’s a real danger that’s leaking into the world, and you’re directly taking part in understanding, and hopefully containing it before it threatens the existence of the world itself. I like how the characters you meet already know of these things, and you’re an outlier. This helps with the pacing of the story, and defining your goals early on.
While you aren’t battling Shadows, you’ll be spending your day taking part in a variety of activities in Tatsumi Port Island. The school life has enough going on to balance out the grim undertaking of your dungeon crawling, and there are tons of characters you can spend time with.
This balance is essential to creating an experience that never leans too heavily on one side. One thing I do find funny is how most of your responses boil down to the thing you should say and something incredibly rude.
During the Dark Hour, you’ll ascend Tartarus, a massive structure with seemingly unlimited floors. The layout of these floors is random and each contains shadows to fight and treasure to collect. Think of it as a rogue-lite where you’re essentially doing the same thing over and over, but with enough randomization to keep things fresh.
Combat is similar to modern Persona titles in which you’ll target elemental weaknesses, collect more Personas, and shift between party members after knocking out enemies.
While there isn’t anything really different here, I appreciate how snappy it feels. The victory screen is stylish as hell, but not drawn out like Persona 5’s.
Persona attacks are quick too despite some excellent animations and clever use of the UI. I think because of Tartarus’ design, this focus on faster combat makes a lot of sense, and for someone who doesn’t enjoy how slow turn-based games can feel, I’m a big fan of how Persona 3 Reload handles this aspect.
All-out attacks guarantee “Shuffle Time” which lets you pick a combat reward. These can be gold, additional XP, and even Personas. Again, the general combat loop feels very similar to many rouge-like/lite games of the past few years.
You’ll also routinely swap out gear for better weapons, charms, and armor which you purchase during the day at different shops in Port Island. It’s all simple, effective, and without any convoluted stats or inaccessible merchants. Your victory in battle will often boil down to how you approach different shadows’ weaknesses while managing your SP and HP.
Combat and the rewards you reap are also influenced by your social links, which means that improving your bonds with characters throughout the day is encouraged in a way that actually complements the combat gameplay.
If you compare Persona 3 Reload to its original counterpart or even more modern counterparts like Persona 5 you can noticeably see a major leap forward in the aesthetics department. The stylish presentation is always a big part of the Persona series, and it’s no different here.
Every aspect of the interactive UI flows into different menus with ease, retaining the color scheme, effects, and art style. Loading screens are creatively hidden behind similar elements, like when you move from one location to another using the overworld map, you’ll see a little train actively travel to the location, followed by your character’s icon. It’s a neat little effect that makes clever use of space while masking an obvious loading.
Character portraits are varied, have multiple frames of emotion, and you’ll often see detailed animations play out during dialogue and combat during pivotal moments. All these little touches elevate the presentation and dialogue delivery.
The presentation is superb all around, and the world is a delight to explore. Though, while Tartarus has a nice look to it, it can feel a bit repetitive to not only explore but look at as well. Despite different arrangements, the hallways have the same look, and there’s not a lot of visual variety until you pass certain points in the story.
Finally, I don’t have a point of comparison for the music, but I think it’s pretty good for the most part. The regular exploration music is upbeat, and fun, while the combat music does a great job of raising the stakes, and adequately ramps up near the end.
PC and Steam Deck Experience
I played Persona 3 Reload on PC, and it’s a great port for the most part. The game allows you to set the framerate up to 120 FPS, and I didn’t have much trouble hitting that on my RTX 3060 with the highest settings and 125% resolution scaling at 1080p.
There are minor issues though, and sometimes the game ends up on my second monitor upon loading the save file, which can be a bit annoying. Thankfully, I didn’t run into any stutters, crashes, or performance issues.
I also tried the game on the Steam Deck, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag. First, any scene with reflections will plummet the FPS down to the lower 20s, so I had to disable the setting. Despite that, the FPS routinely dropped to the higher 20s in random situations.
Sometimes it’ll run at a locked 60 FPS for a few seconds, only to go down for no apparent reason. You can lower the resolution scaling to get some consistent FPS. A 30 or 40 FPS lock would ideally fix the issues, but I couldn’t get a locked 60 just yet.
I don’t think the visuals are that good to warrant the current performance. I’m sure some patches are underway to address these issues. I also want to point out that performance has improved overall on the Deck since I started playing so the launch version may be in even better shape.
Persona 3 Reload is the first time I’ve been actively engaged with basically every aspect of a Persona title. The combat is fast-paced, the darker more serious tone actively acknowledges the stakes the game sets out, and the multitude of characters are fun to be around during the day, and night. I love how the game looks, and its stylish presentation is a treat for the eyes. If you’re like me and don’t enjoy the filler in RPGs, I say give this one a shot, and you’ll find something to like.
What did you think of our review of Persona 3 Reload? Share what you think about it in the comments below.