In 2018’s Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, the player encounters the female protagonist of Persona 3 Portable. She is alone, separated from her friends, the members of SEES. Eventually, when the FeMC (as fans refer to her) reunites with her friends, they don’t recognize her — she is a stranger. They know another version of this hero, a man. This sends the FeMC into an existential spiral. Is she even canon to the story?
During the Xbox Games Showcase 2023, Atlus announced the long-rumored remake of Persona 3, officially titled Persona 3 Reload. In an interview with Famitsu, producer Ryota Niitsuma, the game will “remake the original release of Persona 3 for current platforms.” This adds a big caveat to what should have been an easy win for Atlus. Persona 3 Reload will not include the female protagonist from Persona 3 Portable.
Amid a remake craze in the video game industry, Persona 3 is arguably one of the most deserving titles of this treatment. To date, there are three different versions of the game, each with its own unique features that are not shared with any other release. The original Persona 3 (which Reload seeks to remake) was released in 2006. An updated edition, 2007’s Persona 3 FES, included an extended playable epilogue called The Answer, which sees the cast of high-school buddies come to terms with their adventure’s dramatic conclusion. The most easily accessible release is 2009’s Persona 3 Portable, which slimmed down the game's exploration into a visual novel-style map, but added the option to play as a female protagonist along with new romance and friendship storylines. P3P is also the version of the game currently available on modern platforms.
Persona 3 Portable is an important game in the franchise, largely because it marks the only modern installment with a female protagonist. The FeMC is more fully realized than her male counterpart, as her dialogue is injected with much more personality. She also can interact with the male party members of SEES, fleshing out their stories in a way that the original Persona 3 never did. For fans, she is massively important as a representation of female players who finally were able to see themselves in a Persona protagonist. She also has access to some of the most explicitly queer stories in the Persona franchise that aren’t riddled with problematic stereotypes.
Persona 3 Portable is widely held to be the closest thing to a “definitive version” of P3 that currently exists. So, when Persona 3 Reload was announced and Atlus confirmed it will not include the female protagonist, fans were rightfully angry.
The series continues to receive criticism for how it handles its female characters, such as Persona 5’s approach to its female cast. Director Katsura Hashino reportedly told developers that all the game’s women “should basically be on the cute side”, which led to the character of Tae Takemi being redesigned to be more traditionally feminine. the opportunity to bring back a beloved and well-written female protagonist seemed like the perfect opportunity for Atlus to give the fans what they want. But instead, Atlus is choosing to ignore one of their most beloved characters, and in doing so is throwing out plenty of other great content from FES and Portable in service of only remaking the original release.
These additions massively improved the core experience of Persona 3, in addition to adding unforgettable characters and stories. But Persona 3 Reload wants to emulate the original release. Except that isn’t entirely true. In the same interview with Famitsu, Niitsuma stated that “ this doesn't mean that additions included in FES to the main story are not included in Reload." This hints that additions to FES like a social link for Aigis will be included in Reload, but larger things like The Answer will not.
As a complete remake of Persona 3, Reload risks missing so many opportunities. Pulling selectively from FES and Portable without bringing over the social links and female protagonist feels tone deaf, if not purposeful.
As Atlus continues to receive criticism that its games need better female representation, the company is choosing to effectively erase one of its most important female characters. As exciting as Metaphor: ReFantazio, the company’s upcoming fantasy game, seems, it also has a bland male protagonist who could be a carbon copy of Persona 3’s male protagonist.
At one point in Persona Q2, the FeMC explains her existential dread by saying, “Everyone here has had a role that they can fill, right? But, that isn't the case for me. My role was filled by ‘him,’ instead... That's why I couldn't help but to think, over and over... ‘What's my role here? Am I here because of some kind of mistake?’”
With Persona 3 Reload, Atlus confirms all of her worries. She has no role to fill in the company’s definitive vision.
Persona 3 Reload launches in early 2024 for Xbox, PlayStation, and PC.