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Hands-On: Persona 3 Reload Fixes One Of The Original’s Greatest Sins

There’s been a lot of deserved criticism thrown Persona 3 Reload’s way for not implementing Persona 3 Portable’s female protagonist route into its ground-up remake. However, we’re not talking enough about one of the few parts of the female protagonist route that did make its way into the modern revitalization of Atlus’ classic RPG: We finally get to hang out with the best boys Akihiko Sanada and Junpei Iori in a way we couldn’t as a male player character until now.

The Week In Games: Killing Your Heroes, And More New Releases

Share SubtitlesOffEnglishShare this VideoFacebookTwitterEmailRedditLinkview videoThe Week In Games: Killing Your Heroes, And More New Releases

The first (and only) time I played Persona 3, I played the male protagonist’s route on Persona 3 Portable. So when I was given an hour of free rein to play the remake in January, I found myself falling into the same habits I did when I played the original. I go to school, I stop by the stores at Paulownia Mall to stock up on supplies, then I gather my party and journey up the endless floors of Tartarus, fighting demonic shadows alongside my friends. But when I got some free time to just hang out with folks around the city of Tatsumi Port Island, I was able hang out with party members Akihiko and Junpei, learn more about their backstories, and bolster our relationship in and out of combat. These aren’t technically labeled as social links like other relationships in Persona 3 Reload. They’re instead called “linked episodes,” but as far as character development goes, they’re functionally the same thing.

Read more: Hands-On: Persona 3 Reload Remakes The One Thing That Didn’t Need RemakingPre-order Persona 3 Reload: Amazon | Best Buy | Humble Bundle

Looking back, Persona 3’s lack of social links for the male party members was baffling in the original game, and has only become more ridiculous in hindsight. Even if Persona wasn’t bold enough to let a male protagonist enter a romantic relationship with its age-appropriate characters (we do not acknowledge the Ken romance here), the series is, above all else, about the bonds of friendship. Arbitrarily denying the player a chance to get to know its male cast better felt tied up in some heteronormative nonsense.

Atlus West

Thankfully, this inane omission of male camaraderie hasn’t been repeated since. Persona 4 and 5 have social links for the male party members, and those relationships feel more natural in terms of building an intimate relationship between close friends, to the point that it felt abrupt that they couldn’t culminate in romantic relationships. If Persona 3 Reload had recreated this oversight, it would have been jarring for newer fans who came in after Persona 5, and a disappointment to longtime fans like myself who have never understood why these relationships were made exclusive to a female protagonist run. We can talk about the visual update, the new voice actors, and the new music, but recognizing these decade-and-a-half-old blind spots is just as significant an update in the remake.

The men of the shadow-fighting group S.E.E.S. were full characters without social links, and I still consider Akihiko and Junpei some of my favorite Persona heroes from across the series. Reload taking the opportunity to right a wrong from the original Persona 3 shows just how far the series has come…while also highlighting that it still has some ways to go in terms of expanding its view of how men relate to one another.

Atlus West

At the end of last year, Persona 5 Tactica had a scene where the player, as Phantom Thieves leader Joker, was able to express romantic feelings for its male cast, even if it didn’t culminate in an actual romantic relationship. The Persona series hasn’t committed to a queer romance path since Persona 2, but looking back at Persona 3 and revisiting its Social Link dynamics since Reload, it’s clear the series is very slowly making progress in how it views male intimacy. Persona 4 and 5 let you reach proper vulnerability with your bros, and through Persona 3 Reload, the S.E.E.S. boys can finally reach the same closeness. But the natural next step Persona needs to be willing to make is acknowledge that men are capable of being more than friends, too.

Persona’s relationship writing is the best part about it. It revels in moments mundane and massive, and even if its protagonists are mostly silent, I buy into every friendship because there’s an earnestness to each social link that cuts through the parts about this series that leave me deeply jaded. Persona 3 Reload letting bros be bros is a lovely recognition that the team did things wrong the first time. I just hope there’s more growth in how this series handles male relationships in future Persona games.

Persona 3 Reload launches on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on February 2.

Pre-order Persona 3 Reload: Amazon | Best Buy | Humble Bundle

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