It goes without saying that Ace Combat is one of the most beloved franchises in both action and arcade flight simulation gaming. The series combines anti-war sentiments in a reality not too dissimilar from our own while asking philosophical questions that could have been pulled directly from a Hideo Kojima title in the middle of intense, beautifully dialogued aerial battles. It’s a truly fascinating way to experience a genre and subject that is either transformed into what feels like a Michael Bay inspired power fantasy or something so steeped in realism that it loses the inherent charm of a video game.
For those not familiar with the series, the majority of Ace Combat’s titles take place in the Strangereal setting, where counterparts to real-world nations attempt to maintain a tenuous peace amidst ever-changing national borders, global disasters, and conflicts that are often decided by a few brave individuals.
“[It] is a very “accommodating” world, so to speak,” says Kazutoki Kono, a producer and director on the Ace Combat series. “But it allows us to do it [with] a sort of sense of reality, it’s not completely out there to the point that it doesn’t seem at all realistic. It’s a balance with fiction with experimental weapons and massive airship carriers.”
Behold the razgriz
While there are many exceptional titles within the Strangereal narrative, Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War is perhaps one of the most beloved of them all. It is all at once an action film, a war drama, and a spy thriller that takes place from the cockpit of a fighter plane.
The Unsung War puts you in the role of “Blaze,” a rookie pilot of the Osean Air Defense Force’s Wardog Squadron. Despite early victories near the opening stages of the escalating Circum-Pacific War, circumstances dramatically change for Wardog Squadron when they are falsely accused of being enemy spies. Discovering that a group of nationalists has manipulated both sides of the conflict, it falls to Wardog – who assume the name of a mythical figure in the Strangereal setting known as the Razgriz – to uncover the truth and put an end to the conflict.
Strange Real World
If there is one thing that the Ace Combat franchise is known for, it is its expansive world-building and the consistency found within the Strangereal setting. Take the sixth entry in the series, Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, for example. Set as a prequel to The Unsung War, the game provides new perspectives and historical context by putting the player at the front of a conflict set 15 years prior that would directly influence the characters and organizations, and events found in Ace Combat 5.
Not only this, but The Unsung War would help to establish the current in-game timeline of the setting by acting as its chronological starting point. Countries, original aircraft, and superweapons that would be featured in other titles can trace their origins (or debuts in some cases) to Ace Combat 5, such as the Estovakian P-1112 Aigaion featured in Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation being a direct descendant of the Belkan heavy command cruisers featured in Zero.
The series also brings characters from previous games into more recent entries. For example, President Vincent Harling, a key ally from Ace Combat 5, reappears as a central figure for 2019’s Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. Additionally, other small nods and mentions of final missions, legendary ace pilots, and iconic squadrons are littered throughout the series as a way to maintain continuity through the series and act as easter eggs. In this way, Ace Combat’s overall narrative is a consistent, engaging work that rewards veteran players and encourages new ones to explore the history of the series even further.
This is your sky
Ace Combat’s appeal has expanded beyond just video games to include model kits that faithfully recreate some of Ace Combat’s unique aircraft, apparel decorated with squadron emblems, and books. The legacy of the series has also gone on to inspire a multitude of arcade flight simulators, the most recent addition being Project Wingman – a game that faithfully brings all of the best elements of Ace Combat together for a newer generation of ace pilots.
If you haven’t had a chance to jump into the cockpit and experience the world of Ace Combat, you can currently find both Project Wingman and Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown on Steam.