Persona 3 Reload, a remake of the classic 2006 RPG, is due to release on February 2. Between 2013 and 2016, AIC ASTA and A-1 Pictures released four animated films on Persona 3. The question is: are they worth watching before Reload‘s release?
For many, myself included, seeing your favorite franchises adapted into a new form is thrilling. So when I heard there were four full-length animated films based on Persona 3, I knew I had to watch them. It’s too good to be true! Well, in a way, it kind of is.
Spoiler alert for Persona 3 and the films.
What are the Persona 3 movies?
Let’s give a bit of context here. The Persona 3 films, under the banner Persona 3: The Movie, were mostly made by A-1 Pictures (with AIC ASTA doing #1). A-1 also tackled the animated scenes in Persona 4, so they’ve worked with Atlus in the past.
The films came out over four years, starting in 2013 and ending in 2016. They launched theatrically in Japan, and while they never made it to the West in terms of dubbing, you can buy them subtitled off Amazon Prime for around $5 each.
In honor of Persona 3: Reload‘s release, I decided to watch all four films and collect my findings here for you all to see. I’ll talk about how the films adapt the source material and make it better, or in some cases worse.
As someone who played Persona 3 Portable, which had no animated cutscenes, the movies made up for that. Seeing the events of Persona 3 done justice through the great animation by AIC ASTA and A-1 Pictures is satisfying. The style is consistent with the original game and outmatched the animated cutscenes in-game, in my opinion. The fight scenes are also given a one-up, feeling just as snappy and rewarding.
The films also give Makoto Yuki, the once-silent protagonist, a full voice and lines. This helps speed things up story-wise and gives him more of a personality and arc. His character development throughout the four films is pretty good and goes deep into the themes of life and death. Furthermore, Yuki’s humanization in Persona 3: The Movie #3. Falling Down with Ryoji creates some great moments of friendship the game never had, if I remember correctly.
From the start, you can tell the films were made by Persona 3 fans. Throughout the four films, you’ll see cameos from Social Links like Akinari and Chihiro, as well as Makoto using fan-favorite Personas like Jack Frost and Thoth.
The S.E.E.S members also have their moments in the spotlight and translate well onto the screen. Junpei is still that lovable goofball, and Akihiko punches anything and everything near him. We even get an “I’ve been waiting for this”, which is a must for any Persona 3 title.
The story of Persona 3 is a long one. I mean, the game takes at least 88 hours to beat, and that’s just sticking to the narrative. While the base story remains, small character moments and events are shaved to their bare bones or cut entirely. Even still, it hurts characters that didn’t get much time in the original, like Shinji and Jin.
While what it adds is good, it doesn’t elevate things as much as they could’ve. For example, the concept of Personas turning on their users is glanced over, being resolved the same way for both afflicted characters.
Another thing that felt off was the unchanged ending. I know some people didn’t like the pacing of the ending and the events that transpire. And, while I was confused and surprised, it felt right. Persona 3: The Movie #4: Winter of Rebirth didn’t change that, and it’s a missed opportunity.
On that note, the pacing was quick and went too fast. This problem came up a lot, as events happen and end within minutes and get pushed to the side. The game had this issue, and to see that adapted doesn’t suit the films well.
I do want to point out that each film has a different director. While the visions for them didn’t change much from each version, it feels like there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room to explore. For example, Persona 3: The Movie #1. Spring of Birth covered the beginning up to Fuuka’s entrance, while Persona 3: The Movie #2. Midsummer Knight’s Dream gave us the rest of the S.E.E.S squad and villains.
Each film was an hour and a half, give or take. I’m unsure if the plan was always four films, but deep down, I feel like adding a bit more time to each would help smooth the pacing and make them unique.
The Persona 3 films are solid showings of the game’s narrative. They stay true to the source material and add small yet welcoming changes. That said, condensing the story and translating its pacing problems to the screen hurt the films, especially the last two. As a fan of Persona 3 and its characters, it’s great to see them as lively as they were in the game.
So, it begs the question: should you watch Persona 3: The Movie and its sequels before Persona 3 Reload? Personally, I would steer clear of them if Reload is your first. The game looks to correct some of the original’s errors and the story flows much better with gameplay. If you’re a returning Persona 3 player, the films would help refresh your memory of the story and characters. Plus, it gives some fun moments that fans will enjoy.
Overall, they act as mementos of the original. Whether they’ll age well come Persona 3 Reload‘s release remains to be seen.
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