Atlus are certainly spoiling us over here on the green side of the fence, aren’t they?
After years of no Persona games at all on the Xbox ecosystem, in the recent past we have had Persona 5 Royal, Persona 4 Golden and Persona 3 Portable, not to mention Persona 5 Tactica. Well, strap yourself in, as the bus analogy continues with the release of Persona 3 Reload, a remake of the seminal Persona 3.
When I reviewed Persona 3 Portable, I gave it a 4.5 score, stating that although the gameplay was bang on, it looked a little bit dowdy compared to the rest of the series. Well, Atlus must have listened, as there are a raft of improvements promised for this remaster. But has it been worth all the time and effort? Come with me, back to High School…
Story is our first port of call, as this is where any RPG lives or dies. The news here is good. It’s not a new story that is found in Persona 3 Reload, being the same as the previous game, but I am a firm believer in the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”.
Now, the narrative involves a secret hour in the day, a so called “Dark Hour” that occurs every day at midnight. At this time, normal people end up encased in coffins and the world is prey to creatures called Shadows that attack anyone they find outside a coffin. The victims fall to a disease called the Apathy Sickness to waste away. Luckily, there are a group of people who not only don’t end up in coffins, but can actually take the fight to the Shadows using the power of Persona; the power buried deep inside.
Most people in this select group can use one Persona, but we are special, and can have several Personas inhabiting us at the same time. Each Persona has its own powers, based around the elements, and luckily the Shadows we face have elemental weaknesses. This means that choosing the right attack at the right time is vital. In the Dark Hour, the school we attend turns into Tartarus, a labyrinth crawling with shadows, and maybe the location of the answer to the problems we face. Can we find out what is going on and put an end to it?
Persona 3 Reload is also pretty fantastic in terms of presentation, mostly as the quibbles I had last time have been more than addressed. From the reworked anime style cutscenes, right through to the running about and fighting, the game absolutely oozes style. When you consider how a fight ends, with the characters nonchalantly strolling away without a care in the world, and it gets even more stunning. Hell, even the everyday attendance at school or running around Tartatus now looks great.
The voice work is also top notch, and while the music has been remixed a little, which I feel will upset a few of the die hard fans, I personally enjoyed them very much. All in all, Persona 3 Reload has more than modernised the old game, ensuring the style is now cutting edge. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that this game looks as good as, if not better than, Persona 5 Royal.
In terms of how it all plays out and it comes with the usual mix of the entirely mundane life of a Japanese schoolboy, going to lessons, and so on and the extraordinary world of the Dark Hour and the use of Personas. The juxtaposition is so strange that it just works; you really feel like you are some kind of superhero working hard to keep your identity a secret!
In that normal world, the daily grind of being a school kid is recreated perfectly, as we have to sit through lessons, every now and then answering questions posed by the teachers. And don’t think that the old trick of looking up the answers in an old guide will do you any good – these questions are all new, and it turns out I don’t know quite as much about algebra as I thought I did… Anyway, in addition to the lessons, you also have to try and forge friendships, work part time, find time to study and also go shopping. It isn’t easy being a school age child in Japan, it appears!
As we go through school life, we can interact and form friendships with various people and it is these who are the key to getting better and stronger Personas. Each person allows us to forge a new bond with one of the Arcanas of Personas, different categories of Personas. That means when we come to merge Personas, having a strong social link with the Arcana of the Persona you want to make will make them stronger. It is much simpler than it sounds, honest. Basically all you need to do is listen to these people talk, answer questions in a way that will coincide with what they want to hear, and then new levels of social link will unlock.
Running about in the Dark Hour is where the proper RPG elements of Persona 3 Reload come into play. As we explore Tartarus, we will see Shadows roaming the floors, and the first thing we need to do is run up and smack them with our sword. Doing so will enable us to have initiative in the upcoming fight. Once battle is joined, there are a number of ways to play, including just letting the team use physical attacks to kill all the enemies, but this isn’t where the combat impresses.
No, to get the full experience, you will want to take control of your team and supervise their every move, choosing which attacks to use when. As you progress through the tower, you’ll find that certain enemies are weak to specific elemental attacks, and so learning the weaknesses of your opponents is vital. Hitting a foe with an attack that it is weak to will knock it down and allow you to attack again straight away, a “One More Time” attack. Tactics come into play here, as quite often the enemies will have a mixture of weaknesses, and so when you have an extra attack, you can pass it to another team member. As an example, Yukari’s Persona uses Wind attacks, while Junpei’s uses Fire attacks; by mixing and matching their attacks, you can knock all the enemies down. When you do, you have the option to unleash an all out attack, where everyone piles in and finishes things off if they are weak enough.
This also looks super stylish in this new version, and is well worth doing, as finishing a fight on an all out attack will guarantee the team a Shuffle Time bonus, gaining extra Personas or extra EXP, for instance. There is a lot more to the combat than I can go into here, but just take my word for it, it is a great deal of fun.
So, a conclusion is required now, and it is this – go and play Persona 3 Reload. The only thing I could pick fault with previously was in the visuals, but Persona 3 Reload brings things screeching up to date. The result is a truly stunning game. The gameplay and story are still as good as ever, and the way that it is presented now means that it is no longer all mouth and no trousers. If you have the slightest interest in PRGs, you need to play Persona 3 Reload.