Seeing the reveal of Persona 3 Reload at the Xbox Games Showcase felt like a bit of a monkey’s paw. On one hand, it’s awesome that the game that molded the current formula of Persona is being brought back with a visual and gameplay makeover to bring the 2007 PlayStation 2 original more in line with something like Persona 5. However, news that this version would be lacking many of the beloved features added in both the Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable editions makes me realize that there will never truly be a definitive version of Persona 3, and that kinda sucks.
As a quick refresher, Reload will ostensibly be the fourth version of Persona 3. There’s the PS2 original, which we can largely remove from this conversation. And then there’s Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable. Persona 3 FES for PS2 is the only version with “The Answer,” an extended epilogue to the story that’s a slog to play through, but it contains enough great character moments that make it worth experiencing for folks who just want more time with the S.E.E.S. crew.
Persona 3 Portable, which was originally released for PSP and is now available on all modern platforms, lacks The Answer but makes up for it by including the option to play as the female protagonist Kotone, who is a genuine delight and has way more personality than most of her fellow Persona heroes. She’s also playable in Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, and you best believe I had her in my party throughout that entire game.
There are a bunch of other differences, but the point is that no matter which version of Persona 3 you chose to play, you’d be missing out on features that only existed in the other one. And while we had a slight glimmer of hope that Persona 3 Reload would cobble together all of those disparate pieces into a single experience, the game’s producer Ryota Niitsuma confirmed to IGN that the remake would not include those specific major additional elements from FES and Portable, although Reload does have quality-of-life changes like being able to directly control your party members in battle.
Last summer, The Escapist’s own Jesse Lab wrote a piece arguing that Persona 3 Portable was, in fact, the definitive edition of the game. And in some aspects, I can absolutely see where he’s coming from. Trimming the fat of wandering around 3D spaces by leaning into a more visual novel aesthetic, having full control of your party in battle, and the additional main character make P3P the most playable version of Persona 3 around. It made sense that P3P was the version that Sega and Atlus chose to bring to all of the modern platforms alongside Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal.
But when a newcomer asks me which version of Persona 4 or 5 they should play, my easy and direct answers are Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal, respectively. They lose very little from their originals and instead add great new characters, scenarios, mechanics, and quality-of-life changes. It’s kind of like how whenever I rewatch The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I always choose the extended editions. To me, those are just now what I consider to be the core texts.
But when it comes to Persona 3, that ease of answer doesn’t exist, and Reload is only further muddying the waters. Reload seems like it will be the best-looking and most modern-feeling version, but the lack of The Answer and the additional protagonist makes it just another option, as opposed to the one to rule them all.
Of course, given the series’s history, it’s possible that we get a Golden / Royal-eque version of this remake down the line that adds those things in, but I have a hard time seeing that happening. Also, as of right now, Persona 3 Reload is confirmed for Xbox and Game Pass, PC, and PlayStation. There’s no (official) word of a Nintendo Switch port yet. But the same thing happened when the previous Persona ports were revealed, and eventually the Switch versions were announced at a Nintendo Direct — so I imagine a similar thing might happen in this situation.
Persona is in an interesting spot right now. Despite the glut of ports, remakes, and spinoffs, it feels like we’re nearing the end of this chapter for the series. We have Persona 5 Tactica coming in November, Reload in 2024, and the mobile Persona 5: The Phantom X, which will probably be making its way to the West at some point. But these feel like the end of an era, a kind of holding pattern before the franchise’s next evolution.
We know that the core creative leadership behind the Persona 3 – 5 trilogy formed a new team inside of Atlus years ago called Studio Zero, and Metaphor: ReFantazio is their first project. This includes Director Katsura Hashino, Character Designer Shigenori Soejima, and Composer Shoji Meguro. Though Persona 6 hasn’t been announced yet, it’s undoubtedly been in development for quite some time. And with new blood making up its leadership, it’ll be fascinating to see if it feels like another gradual evolution of the familiar formula, or a complete redesign similar to how a new mainline Final Fantasy game feels completely different from what came before it.