Persona 3 Reload’s First Boss Humiliated Me and I Loved It
Go big or Goho-M.
The cause of all our troubles greets us at the end of the runaway subway train — cackling, splay-legged, and topless. If my buddies and I can’t stop her, all the oblivious straphangers in the cars behind us would be dead, not to mention the carnage on the other end of the collision.
Thankfully, as Tom Selleck might say of reverse mortgages, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’d played through the various iterations of Atlus’s Persona 3 a handful of times since it first came out in 2007. So going into this 30-minute demo of Persona 3 Reload at a recent Sega preview event, I was feeling confident — cocky, even.
This would be my undoing.
The Persona series is a spinoff of Atlus’s even older Shin Megami Tensei games. Both feature turn-based combat with a heavy emphasis on finding your opponents’ elemental weaknesses — while covering your own. If you manage to suss out their weak point, you’ll take off more damage and earn an extra turn every time you exploit that vulnerability. Stacking attacks is an essential strategy in these games, but you’ve got to be wary, because enemies can do the same to you.
In Persona 3 Reload, your main character can equip a variety of steadily stronger Personas (think magical Pokémon based on global folklore and mythology). During this boss battle, I was testing out my arsenal to see what worked. As one does.
Having used ice against the boss to no effect, I swapped to a Persona that could use fire, which worked a little better, but wasn’t the all-important weakness. Unfortunately, by making that swap, I’d unwittingly left myself vulnerable to the baddie’s ice-heavy attacks. Despite being at full health, the enemy was able to combo me into oblivion in just one turn — and when your main character dies in Persona 3, it’s an automatic Game Over — no revive spells allowed.
As someone who considers themselves a bit of a Persona aficionado, I was embarrassed and delighted at the same time. On the one hand, how could I forget something so basic? On the other, I was delighted to see that P3R has retained the original game’s strict balance of risk and reward. If you bumble into a situation unprepared, as I did, you will get your ass handed to you in short order. These short-term frustrations give way to a satisfying sense of mastery as you learn the appropriate strategy to take down each baddie. You cannot brute-force the major encounters in Persona 3, and it’s nice to see that Reload didn’t dial back the old-school mercilessness of the original.
While the gameplay foundations of the P3 experience are wonderfully unchanged, Reload enhances certain elements that haven’t aged quite so well. Having revisited P3P on Xbox when it came to consoles back in January, I found myself wishing I’d opted for the Switch version instead because the PSP/Vita-era graphics seemed more at home on a handheld. But Reload’s visuals are essentially on the level of a playable anime, every bit as good (or maybe even better!) than those of 2017’s Persona 5.
Character models are far more expressive and engaging than in previous releases of P3, and stylish new eye-catches of each character enliven even the most run-of-the-mill battles. Reload also sprinkles more frequent, cutscene-style animations into smaller story moments as well as boss battles, which makes the overall presentation feel more grand without disrupting the flow of the action. For instance, Reload adds a couple of fun little cinematic wrinkles to the subway boss fight that weren’t there before, which was a pleasant surprise that I’m excited to see play out elsewhere in the story.
Until now, the highly repetitive environments of the massive dungeon known as Tartarus — where you’ll be spending quite a lot of time — have been the hardest part for P3 newcomers to love. Thankfully, there’s a lot more visual interest and interactivity in Reload’s version. Will it be enough to hold everyone’s interest over 100+ floors and plenty of grinding sessions? That remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
While I’m still a little bummed Persona 3 Reload won’t include expanded story elements and characters from the Portable and FES editions, I came away from my demo more impressed — and humbled! — than I expected to be. Sure, I’d love to smooch all the boys as the female protagonist again, but either way, I can’t wait to get back to my demon-slaying high school pals in Tatsumi Port Island.