This is not a Persona 3 Reload Review, it’s a Performance Review.

This is not a Persona 3 Reload Review, it’s a Performance Review.

TW: conversations on suicide.
One [big] spoiler for the end of Persona 3.

In November 2023 I was laid off from a high-output, low-paying job where I churned out 6-8 articles a week on Caribbean culture. It was a hard job to love. In October we had an all-hands meeting on how to incorporate ChatGPT into our workflow. It was more important to get stuff out fast, a lot of it, than it was for it to be particularly well-written, or even interesting. That’s not just on my former employers, it’s the natural endpoint for online journalism beholden to the SEO and the ad model. The layoff wasn’t totally unwelcome; it would have been nice to have something, anything, lined up but the overwhelming feeling was relief.

Ms Toriumi threatening the protagonist of Persona 3: Reload.

Making Friends…

Now the feeling is dread. Applying for jobs has sparked one of the worst, and most persistent, bouts of depression I’ve ever had to endure. Since January I’ve written and rewritten my resume dozens of times, trying to find the right distillation of me that is marketable. I’ve stared at a blank page for hours, taking full inventory of everything I’ve done thus far. Sometimes I pad it out like I’m trying to hit a word count on a grade school essay. Other times, I just stare at a blank page. Have I ever done anything worth mentioning? I strip out work that I’m proud of because I read once that recruiters look for resumes that pop. I all but beg to be hired. I’m a fucking mannequin in a store window.

Persona 3 Reload (P3R) is the latest remake of the classic PS2 RPG, Persona 3. It’s about high school kids shooting themselves in the head (it’s a metaphor?) to summon psychic manifestations of themselves to kill depression monsters. Who could say if this is a thing I should be playing now? 

Persona 3: Reload Protagonist playing with Elizabeth in the jungle gym

Making friends….

It’s a good game. This is not a review. Persona 3 Reload is missing the fantastic female campaign that debuted in the PSP remake, Persona 3 Portable, and it’s also missing the less than fantastic expansion, The Answer. There’s some mechanics stripped out, like the exhaustion/sickness system that prevents you from spending too much time spelunking in the dungeons or chaining back-to-back visits, and others are added such as theurgy system which gives each character a super move. There’s new voice actors who are all excellent and the series staple social links are all voiced. It’s good. This is still not a review. 

My first time playing Persona 3 was on a PSP I stole in high school in 2009 or so. The PSP was the highlight of a short-lived and otherwise uneventful criminal career. On school nights, after the lights went out around the house, I would huddle under covers to suppress the shine from the screen and examine my prize. It was a well-loved machine: dust had infiltrated the screen, the X button stayed pressed a bit too long -- not enough to hamper playing, but enough that it felt like walking around in wet socks, and if you pushed the analogue stick too far right, it’d be stuck right until you snapped it back into place.

The protagonist of Persona 3 crouching and talking to a dog.

Making Friends…

The fear of God, and my parents (same thing), embedded a fear of M-rated games deep within my psyche. I sneaked in rounds of Mortal Kombat at the arcade before it shut down when I was 10 and was allowed to watch my cousin rack up wanted stars in Grand Theft Auto III but I had to leave the room whenever story missions started. My gaming history before this point peaked at Kingdom Hearts 2. You could trace a straight line from whatever was on TV to what I wanted to play -- Pokémon, Sonic Adventure 2, that one Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy Power Stone clone. Games were expensive, doubly so in Jamaica where consoles had to be imported, and 5-year-old games sold at “for-new” prices. A new game was a reward for topping my class so I played it safe and got something I knew would be good…like the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy Game. I was an idiot. So this modded PSP filled with games curated by someone with much better taste in the medium than I had at the time, that was an education. 

Shinjiro protecting a young boy with a spear from a half naked man with a pistol.

Making friends…

At 15, I didn’t have the vocabulary for depression. I played Persona 3 like a man with a runny nose thanking god he doesn't have the flu. The facsimile of school life drew me in; it progressed when I wanted it to, it had friends who waited for me to talk to them, and it had extracurriculars that had tangible, trackable benefits. At the centre of it was a group of teenagers who had to save the world, it was something only they could do. In a single school year you, the protagonist, touched so many lives, impacted so many people, and then you died. Life stopped. 

I had my second therapy session in August 2023 at 28 years old, 18 years after I tried to kill myself in grade 4. Together, my therapist and I marvelled at the clarity of thought to know “this ain’t it” before even hitting 12. Luckily I was awful at mechanical physics and understanding basic human anatomy, so I’m still here. My therapist started me on APO-fluoxetine, an antidepressant with a side effect of “suicidal behaviour.” We signed a contract -- my signature on the back of a used envelope -- that I’d contact a trusted person if I found myself thinking about ending things at any point during the treatment. The irony of antidepressants potentially triggering suicidal thoughts isn’t wasted on anyone. It’s a common refrain when you’re pushed away from therapy and modern science to faith -- pray the sad away. It played a part in my hesitation to get professional assistance. Nowadays, I think of antidepressants like a flu shot. Sure you might get flu symptoms but you’re gonna curb the rest of it for the season. A bit of suicide to treat the suicidal thoughts.

Junpei lamenting his lot in front of the movie theatre, "My problem is me."

A made friend.

So high school kids shooting themselves in the head to fight depression monsters? 

Playing Persona 3 Reload in 2024 has been a disturbingly vulnerable experience. Every remake, from the most faithful to whatever Square Enix is doing with Final Fantasy 7, is an exercise in nurturing or uprooting nostalgia, often alternating between the two. But what happens when a game that was the right time, right place, comes back to you and it’s anything but? Like comparing notes with old classmates at a high school reunion? What have you done in the last 15 years? How far are you from your 2009 self? Shouldn’t you be doing something else now? Shouldn’t you have done something by now? 

Aigis congratulating you on surviving your illness.i

Making friends…

Shilling, Chilling.

HI! I’m very broke. If you enjoy my writing or me [or the idea of me], continue tossing me whatever you’re comfortable tossing my way here. Thank you!

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