6 Years Later, Persona 5 Remains the Best Heist Game Ever Made
When Persona 5 was first released worldwide 6 years ago, nobody was ready for how great the game would be. While the series did have fans, it could still be classified as a cult hit outside of Japan, especially with the cult status of Persona 4 Golden received on PlayStation Vita. However, Persona 5 shot to massive success and popularity, becoming one of the best RPGs in recent memory. While the game has incredible characters and interesting plot twists, the game would be nothing without its unique twist on Persona dungeons — this time it’s a heist.
At their core, the Persona games are dungeon crawlers. The main gameplay loop of any Persona game centers around exploring dungeons, defeating monsters, and leveling up. Each entry does it differently. Persona 3 is a somewhat boring iteration in which the game only has one massive dungeon to explore in blocks.
Persona 4 improves upon dungeons by tying them directly into character and plot development. Each Persona 4 dungeon is a dark reflection of the inner struggles and thoughts of the character whose dungeon it is. However, Persona 4 still doesn't mix up the actual combat enough which leads to the same old burnout that comes with endless dungeon crawling. Persona 5 sought to change that.
One of the most enjoyable parts of Persona 5 is the main plot which casts the protagonist and party members as a band of honorable thieves, called the Phantom Thieves, in the vein of Robin Hood. They are dripping with style, both in how they dress and how they go about committing their crimes. They have calling cards and everything. To sell this fantasy, Persona 5’s dungeons are more than just a dungeon crawl.
Every dungeon in Persona 5 is structured like a heist.
The Phantom Thieves are trying to change the hearts of evil people in the world, which they accomplish by stealing their hearts inside the Metaverse (no not that Metaverse). To accomplish this the Phantom Thieves have to go full-on Ocean’s Eleven. They must plan the heist, stake out the dungeon (now called a Palace in Persona 5), and then execute the heist.
This isn’t just handwaved through in cutscenes. Palaces cannot be rushed through in one go. The first time you enter a Palace the objective is not actually to steal the target’s heart, instead the objective is to do reconnaissance. The Phantom Thieves plan their route in, locate the heart, and then decide what the best escape route is. With a foolproof plan, you get to send your calling card to your target. This sends them into a panic that sets their heart up to be stolen.
At this point, the Phantom Thieves make their second journey into the Palace. This is the actual heist. By following your plan you can sneak past enemies and avoid battles on the way to the heart. Easy as that. Except every good heist story needs a wrench thrown into the plan, something that you could never plan for. Those moments exist in Persona 5, but I won’t spoil the fun.
By breaking the monotonous dungeon-crawling experience and turning it into part of the narrative of master thieves at work, Persona 5 makes dungeon-crawling exciting and essential. It maintains the thematic link that Persona 4 pioneered but fixes the lingering problem of making dungeon crawling actually fun. Leading the Phantom Thieves through a series of high-stakes heists is thrilling, and manages to be the best heist game around. With dungeons this good, it's hard to not let the game steal your heart.