After nearly a year of silence, the international Ace Combat community is buzzing with theories, hopes and new concerns about Ace Combat 7 (ACE7). With Gamescom 2018 roughly a month away, now is the best time to discuss something most game magazines and news sites have not discussed: the importance of Ace Combat 7 to the series and its fanbase as a whole. This article addresses four points on this subject:
In June 2018 we saw the release of its E3 2018 trailer, translations of the Famitsu interview, analysis videos by longtime fans and a renewed sense of activity throughout flight game communities and chats everywhere. Much of the immediate and strong responses fans of the Ace Combat series expressed after what seemed like the lack of an E3 2018 appearance was caused by a variety of factors.
Over 10 Years Since Ace Combat 6
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (ACE6) was released on October 23rd, 2007. This was the most recent entry in the mainline series. For any game series, a ten-year wait is one that is not easy to manage. This decade-long gap was mitigated with the release of many other Ace Combat titles across handheld consoles, 7th generation home consoles, mobile phones, and even personal computers for the first time. These titles experimented with new game mechanics introduced to the series, remade the story of Ace Combat 2 and explored a new, non-canon part of Strangereal - the original world of Ace Combat.
Two entirely new universes were also introduced and somewhat expanded upon, respectively known as the Assault Horizon universe and Infinity universe. Each was explored through games, novels, and the Shinden II Master File book. When playing Joint Assault, Cross Rumble, Assault Horizon or Infinity, the differences between the mainline series and these releases was forefront in the minds of many longtime fans. The announcement of the next numbered title, Ace Combat 7, comes as a reassurance to the fanbase and catches the attention of those that had moved on from the series because of the somewhat experimental feel the series took after ACE6 or because of the selection of gaming platforms Ace Combat games were released on.
Strategic Choice of Familiar Strangereal
The choice to not only release a new numbered title but to choose the Usean Continent with Erusea and the Osean Federation being involved is a well-calculated set of decisions by Project Aces.
Very well known and long-standing organizations, nations, and territories have been selected to reestablish the series in the eyes of its current fan base, while providing an easy link to past titles for the next generation of players that are about to be introduced to the series with Ace Combat 7. For new fans that choose to delve deeper, they'll be met with an array of timelines, translations, analysis and more which expand upon Usea and Strangereal in a way no single game ever has.
The Usean continent has been featured in seven titles, including ACE7. It is one of the most developed, highly recognizable and frequently visited parts of Strangereal. There are regions of the continent that have been the backdrop for combat missions in Ace Combat 2, 3, 04, 5, Cross Rumble and now 7. The cities, notable landmarks and iconic craters left behind by the 1994XF04 Ulysses are a part of the identity of what many remember Ace Combat to be. It is a part of their memories from their time first experiencing the series in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Erusea is a well-remembered adversary from Ace Combat 04 and Operation Katina (ACE5 arcade mode). Osea has regularly been portrayed as an ally as well, despite some questionable activity outlined in the story of Ace Combat: Cross Rumble. Erusea and Osea in particular also benefit from multiple appearances and references in series lore in one way or another. This includes official in-universe magazines, the personal histories of ace pilots in various games and intentionally unclear lore loose ends which allow fans to dig deep into all types of other official Ace Combat media and merchandise.
On that note, signs of the inclusion of Mobius Squadron in the virtual reality campaign of ACE7 adds a specific link to the first Usean Continental War, seen in Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. Only by selecting the Usean continent would it be possible to once again include Mobius. This is a smart move which adds further links to the established world of Ace Combat.
It should also be noted that ACE04 was the official start of Strangereal, the concept of an original world which ties many of the games together. In a sense ACE7 once again ties the series back to its roots. Ace Combat: Cross Rumble on the Nintendo 3DS was a remake of Ace Combat 2 and was the first time fans had returned to Strangereal (in-canon) since 2007. Despite this return, the platform choice of the Nintendo 3DS and the release of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon were forefront and somewhat doused its impact. With Ace Combat 7 being released after a decade of games which were modified or completely different versions of what many consider the ‘original Ace Combat formula’, it feels as though it is a soft reboot of the series as a whole.
Coming Full Circle with Semi-Automatic Maneuver Systems
The most memorable and jarring inclusion to Ace Combat as a whole was the Close Range Assault (CRA) system of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. CRA was a part of an ongoing evolution of a semi-automatic maneuvering systems which allow players to perform advanced aviation maneuvers. These are maneuvers that would either be very complex or nearly impossible to perform without the parts of the flight game engines of Ace Combat being more simulator like, allowing for more concise control. The concept behind these semi-automatic systems was to add visual flair, more high-intensity battles in offline and online game modes and allow for players to perform complex maneuvers easily. These systems have been evolving since their introduction in 2008, as discussed in detail in the article Sky Crawlers: Ace Combat Testbed.
The adverse reaction to the Close Range Assault system in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon caused this game mechanic to be absent in Ace Combat Infinity. But rather than do away with the concept altogether we see that Project Aces has refined the system, making it more skilled based. The Post-Stall Maneuver system of Ace Combat 7 seems to be the culmination of the previous systems. As stated in interviews and through a demonstration by the series director, producer Kazutoki Kono, Post Stall Maneuvers now require that the player maintain complete control of the aircraft to perform maneuvers such as the Kubilt.
A live demonstration which features him performing advanced maneuvers near the end of it. If this has been implemented in the way it appears, the series has finally found the balance between semi-automatic maneuver systems and skill-based game play.
Multiple Modern Gaming Platforms
Since its introduction with Ace Combat 1 in 1995 (Air Combat), the series as a whole has maintained a level of exclusivity with PlayStation gaming consoles or has randomly become available on other consoles and devices over time. But the inclusion of consoles beyond the PlayStation family continued to maintain exclusivity in its own way. Setting aside the titles available on handheld gaming consoles, we'll focus on in home game consoles and personal computer releases.
Ace Combat 6 was released exclusively on the Microsoft Xbox 360, the first time a game console entry in the series had not been available on a PlayStation. This caused a split in the player base for a time which forced dedicated fans to then purchase the Xbox 360, even if they already owned a PlayStation 3 in anticipation of a release there. The first multi-console release for the Ace Combat series would come with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon in 2011, as it would be available on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and later, personal computers. The reception of Assault Horizon as a game was rocky, to say the least. Its release on the two top game consoles of the time did not seem to have much of an impact in the long term.
More recently when Ace Combat Infinity (ACEINF) was first teased in July 2013 is was surprising to learn that it would be released on the PlayStation 3. The PlayStation 4 was still in development at this time, with its final release date on November 15th, 2013. Creating Ace Combat Infinity for the PlayStation 3, a then well-established game console with millions of units in circulation was a good move in terms of longevity for ACEINF but seemed somewhat counter intuitive with the release of the PlayStation 4 being imminent at the time.Nevertheless, Ace Combat Infinity was frequently streamed with many videos and pictures of game play uploaded on social media and YouTube. Much of this ability was inaccessible to a majority of people since video capture equipment and editing software was required.
Ace Combat 7 will be available on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR, Xbox One and personal computers via Steam. It will undoubtedly be the first title in the franchise to completely benefit from the advances in technology found in eighth generation game consoles and the advanced gaming related software available on PC. Players will be able to share video, live stream gameplay, take high-quality screenshots, effortlessly share to social media and connect in a way the series never had a chance to before. ACE7 has a potential that no other Ace Combat title has ever had.