By Joseph Walter
It opted for a less melodramatic storyline, a more diverse, less stereotypical cast of characters, different aircraft and, most controversially, retooled gameplay leaning even further towards to arcade-y destruction than its predecessors.
While plenty of folks liked it, a solid portion of existing fans did not. Of course, we all know how fanbases tend to be, and the Ace Combat gang thinks the games are so realistic that they could literally be fighter pilots after playing one. But that's besides the point.
However, after quite some time, it appears Ace Combat 7 is just beyond the horizon. While there's a decent amount of information known about it, particularly that it will feature dynamic clouds and VR support, I also wanted to put my two cents in as to what I feel it should draw its inspiration from the most.
The Physics of "Ace Combat Zero"
Zero manages to have an excellent feeling of weight and power while never veering off into hair-trigger acrobatics. This is a must for the feel of Ace 7.
The low-end of the spectrum would be the overly-silky Ace Combat 6 feeling. It was as if your plane was nothing more than a lubed-up cursor that was able to twist and turn without any real sense of weight, power or speed.
The Story-telling of "Zero" and "ASSAULT Horizon"
Assault Horizon, while not telling a mind-blowing story, managed to eschew the more bizarre quirks and instead opted for a convincingly realistic, contained and grounded tale. The element that I'd most want to carry-over, however, would be the outstanding cinematics. Excellent shots, framing and mo-cap work made each cutscene a reward unto itself.
Similarly, the unusual documentary story-telling of Ace Combat Zero, while still loaded with bizarre elements like the deification of pilots, was a very clean break from the tired anime tropes of Ace Combat 5. Moreso, the radio chatter was used to great effect with pushing the story forward.
The Mission Structure of "Ace Combat 6"
Unlike a mission in Ace Combat 5, which is are often a standard "go here and destroy this" thing, Fires of Liberation would have differing objectives within, sometimes up to six simultaneously.
For example, during the "Liberation of Gracemeria," the player has the option to capture the airfield, aid in the naval battle, retake the skies, cover a hostage rescue operation, aid in liberating the capital palace and so on.
Every time you play through the mission, you can approach it from a different way, adding a great deal of replayability to the game, along with immersion as you hear the radio chatter about the progress of the operations, your assistance or lack thereof.
The Progression of "Zero"
One was the "Ace Style." Depending on your actions, you would be labeled as a "Soldier," "Knight" or "Mercenary" and the money you received, planes you could unlock, enemies you would face, the overall difficulty and how other characters and pilots would treat you were all affected by this reputation. This encouraged multiple playthroughs, while also catering exactly to the play style you wanted.
If you wanted to be a heartless, money-hungry mercenary, do it. Shoot down neutral targets or escaping aircraft. Revel in hearing enemy pilots fearful of your presence: "Mercenary bastard! He's going after our retreating forces!" Or don't. It's all up to the player and their style.
Similarly to Ace 6, certain missions had different paths you could take, such as choosing to do the air-to-ground portion, or sticking with the air-to-air section. Taking the pre-mission choice, and then adding in operations for the chosen route would do wonders for keeping the experience fresh.
A Re-Tooled DFM/ASM from "Assault Horizon," Along with Allied Assault from "Ace Combat 6"
What this means is that when you would approach an enemy aircraft, if you got close enough you could engage this mode and the camera would zoom in, and you could shred your enemy with your powerful cannons and faster missile reloads, leading to a satisfying kill. Conversely, for certain airstrike missions, you'd engage ASM and lay waste to the ground with a cinematic strike, wiping out your enemies with cannon fire and bombs.
The issue here was that DFM and ASM were occasionally game-breaking in the campaign, and quite powerful (it was much easier to counter in multiplayer, which is where its value truly shined.)
A great way to incorporate it into Ace 7 would be to have it as a temporary power boost that could only be used by filling up a meter. That way it couldn't be abused, and it would be extra satisfying to unleash a limited chain of savage destruction and bleeding metal.
The Arcade Mode from "Ace Combat 5"
Like so many other features on this list, it's only appeared in a single entry, which is a shame because it's a great change of pace, especially if you want to get right into some breakneck action without worrying about how anime characters feel about war/the symbolism of doves.
The Online Multiplayer of "Assault Horizon," the Local Multiplayer of "Zero" and "Ace Combat 4"
Capital Conquest was akin to a classic Star Wars: Battlefront match. In it, opposing teams would launch from their bases with the aim of destroying the opposing base. Along the way, they would capture points that could be used to respawn, inching ever closer to the base, which needed to have its defenses obliterated before it could start being damaged.
The coolest element of this mode was that each an every aircraft had a role. Helicopters were perfect for covert assaults against hostile respawn points, A-10s laid waste to enemy defenses, F-22s covered the choppers and warthogs, and, if need be, B-2 Spirits could turn the tide in a blistering carpet-bombing swath of destruction.
Horizon also featured an interesting class-esque system, where your planes could be modified for better armor, more armament, etc. Callsigns and paint schemes were awarded for different tasks, as well. All in all, it was a blast, but it sadly failed to deliver a fun local experience.
That's where AC04 and Zero come in: Both feature a variety of co-op and competitive modes with a multitude of scenarios, whether it's teaming up to defeat Yellow Squadron, or racing through caves.
It'd be great to see both of these multiplayer experiences come together again, although I have a feeling local play will be slashed once again due to hardware limits and graphical fidelity.
The problem with going orchestral is that any step backwards will look embarrassing. However, if they opt for a electronic score, this won't be an issue.
But as I said, if they go back to the synthetic orchestra of 6, it'll be a cringeworthy moment, especially when considering how fantastic and organic the musical realm was with AH.
It gave a name, face and history to the countless crafts you face-off against, and it added further replay incentive to track them all down.
This is an excellent way to flesh out the game's world, while also giving players one more thing to do after they've conquered other portions of the game.
Unfortunately, replays were only a shell of their former selves in Assault Horizon, so here's to hoping that Ace 7 restores this awesome function to its fully glory, especially considering the Share-happy culture that we currently live in.