2020 is the 25th anniversary of the Ace Combat series, which started with the release of Air Combat on June 30th, 1995. Developed by Namco, it now consists of over nineteen games in nine different platforms. To this day it is one of Namco's bestselling franchises, with an internal team (Project Aces) and a dedicated series producer, Kazutoki Kono. There are way too many games to discuss individually, but now is a good time as ever to go over some of their highlights:
Ace Combat 03 - Electrosphere
After the runaway success of "Air Combat" and its sequel "Ace Combat 2", this is the game that brought the franchise to maturity. Directed by Takuya Iawasaki (that would later produce the RPG cult hit Nier) and Atsushi Shiozawa (a guiding hand for the NAMCO neophytes once they started working on Nintendo's Star Fox Assault), Ace Combat 3, released in 1999, came out in Japan with animation and characters by Production I.G., of Ghost in the Shell fame, a fascinating, technothriller-like plot and great graphics for what was then an aging platform.
The anime cutscenes also took the level of storytelling miles beyond a simulation-like game of that era would normally endeavor to tackle. With branching narratives and multiple ending - one of which, a bizarre and fascinating breaking of the fourth wall, would prefigure some of the most mind-bending aspects of Metal Gear Solid 2.
The art director, Takumi Kudo, would go on to work on the Resident Evil franchise (Dead Aim, Umbrella Chronicles) and on Contra: Rogue Cops.
NOTE ON THE WESTERN LOCALIZATION: Ace Combat 03 had one of the worst Western releases of the late 90s. The US version cut out the vast majority of the plot, the branching paths and served players with a more generic "jet fighters in the near future!" kind of plot. Thankfully, a group of fans released a full ENG patch for the original JP version a couple of years ago.
It also had a pretty good soundtrack, which would not feel out of place in a Mamoru Oshii movie:
Ace Combat 04 - Shattered Skies
Ace Combat 03 was the turning point - 04 was the blockbuster, with more than 2 million copies sold. The first iteration of the franchise in a sixth generation console, it introduced us to protagonist Mobius 01 (who would come back for a mini-campaign in 5, as well as for the VR Mode in 7) and told a story of bonding and betrayal over enemy lines. Using "static" cutscenes that were easier and cheaper to produce than the full motion animation videos of Ace Combat 03, Namco's Project Aces was able to focus on the title's gameplay, which now sported slightly more realistic physics and a greater diversity of planes, environments and biomes.
Ace Combat 05 - The Unsung War
Possibly the best story mode in the franchise, with a more grounded plot than 03. The Unsung War features several nations engaged in a war that broke a fragile peace that followed a previous, even more devastating conflict. It's incredible how the developers at Project Aces managed to meld its story and gameplay together, as the missions you fly during the game mesh with the plot in the background in ways that had not happened before in the franchise. Slightly more arcade-y than 04, the Unsung War was the first title in which one could actually interact with the other members of your squad. 05 basically laid out the groundwork that all the "HD" installments in the franchise would later follow.
Tell us, GAF: What is your favorite Aces title? What games in the series did you play? What would you like to see in the future?