7 Reasons Why Ace Combat is the Most Underrated Video Game Franchise EverApr 28, 2019 | 1 Votes by Mikhail 10 rate The Ace Combat series has been around for over two decades, yet it’s still fairly niche and unrecognized. It’s easily one of the most underrated franchises in the industry. If not, the most underrated...and here’s why.
When you mention Ace Combat, people think about fighter jets and explosions right away. When they delve deeper, they discover it has anime-ish writing and stories. Fighter jets and anime, when mixed together, have a narrow audience. It’s a unique and niche combination which unfortunately has a niche and narrow market
Thing is, Ace Combat is more than just fighter jets and anime storytelling. It goes deeper (or higher) than what the general gaming community thinks. The lore has been in the making for over 20 years and its team of developers, Project Aces under Bandai Namco, are constantly innovating and improving the series with every entry (except Assault Horizon which we like to think never existed).
There’s no other way to put it: the series is severely underrated and deserves more recognition than it gets. To be frank, it’s one of the most - if not, the most - underrated franchises in the industry. Why? Well, underneath the wind beneath the jets’ wings, there are a lot of reasons.. (Warning, mild franchise spoilers ahead).
Interwoven stories in a fictional world
Every numbered title in Ace Combat - save for Ace Combat 3 and earlier games - are part of the same, fictional world of Strangereal.
Though the stories themselves aren’t direct sequels, there are references and the events of its world directly influence each other. For example, in the game’s history, an asteroid called Ulysses struck Strangereal in 1999, effectively causing widespread destruction and mayhem. This set the stage for the plot of Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies (released 2001) which occurred in 2004-05 in the game’s timeline and in 2015 in Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (released 2007). In addition, Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War (released), which occurred in 1995, made the events of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (released 2004).
Certain locations and characters even show up in different games. For example, a set of gigantic cannons called Stonehenge which was used to limit the damage of the Ulysses asteroid, are huge screws that drove the plot of Ace Combat 4 and Ace Combat 7 forward. Some newcomers may not get the references, but this is what makes the game so appealing to the franchise’s long-time fans.
Allegory to the real-world
Ace Combat tackles issues which also hold true in the real world and society. Some issues include the horrors and debilitating effects on war and effects on civilians. There’s also a huge focus world politics, clash of philosophies and ideologies, and what propaganda does. Though it is a game centered on war, the games carry subtle messages of peace. Personally, the words, deeds, and policies of President Harling are inspiring and someone like him is what the real world needs today.
Most of the countries in Strangereal are also allegories to real-world countries, though the devs don’t explicitly state it. For example, it feels as if the Osean Federation is the USA, Yuktobania is Russia, Estovakia is Yugoslavia, Erusea is Fascist Italy/First French Empire, and Belka is Germany in WW2.
Different storytelling methods change in almost every game
With every Ace Combat game, you’re assured of getting different storytelling methods and perspectives. Ace Combat Zero went for a live-action documentary style, focusing on journalist Bretty Thompson and the enemy aces the protagonist, Cipher, faced. Meanwhile, Ace Combat 5 centered around the Wardog Squadron and Ace Combat 7 took things up a notch by giving the spotlight to a large cast.
Even if the way they tell the story is different, the tones and themes of each game are consistent with the franchise.
Strong characters and background stories
Ace Combat isn’t just about jets, but also the people inside the cockpits and those outside of it. Although every game has a silent protagonist, the characters around them are pretty memorable. Until today, fans still remember Solo Wing Pixy, the protagonists’ wingman in Ace Combat Zero and his internal ideological struggles. The camaraderie between Wardog Squadron members, Alvin “Chopper” Davenport, Marcus Snow, Hans Grimm, and Kei Nagase in Ace Combat 5 is something to be envious of. Even background characters - especially those in the radio chatter - and even the AWACS haven their own distinct personalities which make them pretty memorable.
The antagonists and rival aces have varied personalities, goals, and possess different reasons to fight. Ace Combat 5’s antagonists were hell-bent on revenge. Ace Combat Zero’s enemy aces each had their own philosophies and reasons for fighting, with the Gault squadron standing out. Erusean aces (Erusea is an antagonist country in two games AC4 and AC7), Yellow 13 and Sol 1 are good people who just wanted to fly in the skies and were just on the wrong side in a couple of wars.
The music is undoubtedly one of the best in gaming
Since Ace Combat 4, the franchise’s soundtracks were composed by Keiki Kobayashi. The quality of the musical score is outstanding and is objectively among the best in the industry.
Tracks vary per game and change every mission, with each delivering a different “feeling” according to the mission objectives. Some can be extremely upbeat, others solemn and somber, while some just give you a sense of fear, especially when you fight enemy aces. Kobayashi’s magnum opus (greatest work), is undoubtedly “Zero” in Ace Combat Zero.
Every game is a complete and polished experience
Though it’s sad that you’d expect games to have their own set of game-breaking bugs, glitches, and large day one patches, Ace Combat isn’t one of those games. For context, we fully expected Ace Combat 7 to have a day one patch, but once you jammed the disc inside a console or PC, it’s ready to play. No patches, no bug fixes, no adjustments. The game - and almost all of its predecessors - was a polished diamond from the get-go. This speaks highly of the game’s development team, especially Keiki Kobayashi, the director.
A bright future ahead as we head to skies unknown
Although the future is uncertain, we can safely say Ace Combat has a bright future ahead. There’s a lot of potential for the franchse, especially if you factor in virtual reality. Ace Combat 7 has a VR mode (PSVR only) spanning for a few missions and it wouldn’t be farfetched to say we might get a full experience any time soon.
Overall, Ace Combat is severely underrated and arguably the most underrated franchise today. Its themes, stories, characters, and musical scores equal and even exceed most triple-A productions. For a niche game with a narrow audience, its quality and attention to lore and exposition are impressive. So, if ever you want to shatter the unknown skies and head into an unsung war and start from zero, don’t hesitate to fly.
See you in the skies, ace.