Ace Combat 7
Fly the Angry Skies!
Covid-19 has impacted all aspects of our lives, including how we work, socialize, prioritize responsibilities, and even exercise (working out from home has taught me that my endurance was nowhere near as good as I believed, so that’s the one good thing I will take from this experience). However, since my last post, I’ve somehow added even more games to my library despite not having enough time to finish, let alone play, the ones I already have. It’s taken considerable restraint to not immediately buy Persona 5 Royal, Resident Evil 3, and Final Fantasy VII, although I’m waiting for a steelbook physical copy of P5 that are proving difficult to find, and I’m willing to hold out on Resident Evil 3 until some DLC make the purchase seem more reasonable.
In the meantime, I’ve completed a game that I borrowed from a student who is writing a cool thesis. I’ve known about Ace Combat since the original PSX, but I can’t for the life of me recall playing any of them. In general, the flying simulator genre is one that isn’t represented in my library. I can recall one off the top of my head—the PlayStation 2 game Skygunners—but that’s really about it. The reason for this might be because the genre emphasizes precise movements, meticulous aiming, and attention to detail. In other words, I’m not very good. Nevertheless, I persevered and enjoyed Ace Combat 7 despite wanting to throw the controller in frustration on multiple occasions.
Ace Combat 7’s narrative is told through cutscenes that attempt to make sense, but it still feels disjointed in the process. From what I pieced together, two major nations, Osea and Erusea, are perpetually at war (this would have all made more sense if I played the other games in the series). Some substories are wrapped up by the end of the game while others are never solved. The ending also relies on deus ex machina, which isn’t a terrible thing, but it does ignore many of the reason why the two nations got into their current predicament. In any event, the gamer takes on the role of Trigger, a faceless, silent, hot shot pilot who made me look like a bad ass in the open skies. As Trigger, I accidentally murdered an ex-president, was court-martialed, sent to prison, showed off my flying skills while in prison, and eventually became the top pilot of the Osean Air Force. Hot damn! While the main story was a mess at times, and Trigger is unable to contribute much information since he is a silent protagonist, I eventually started to really enjoy the dialogue that came via transmissions with my fellow pilots, each of whom had surprisingly fleshed out backstories that were fun to hear about over the course of each mission.
Of course, to judge a flight simulator by its narrative value or enjoyment sort of pales in comparison to the primary goal of the genre: flying gorgeous jets that very few of us will ever experience. Even though I’ve lived on a few military bases in my lifetime, I must admit that flying jets was never really a fantasy of mine. Sure, I could tell you what each plane is by design, but being a fighter pilot was never even a childhood dream. Yet viewing and flying some of these jets in the game just did it for me, and it was cool to test the pros and cons of each plane while getting into random sorties and dogfights (as an aside, I also think it’s amusing that despite the billions of dollars thrown into the F-35 boondoggle project, the game still recognizes the F-22 Raptor as the best jet currently in production). The game’s graphics are solid, the music is amazing, the controls are responsive (provided you don’t yaw right into the ground or a building), and there was surprising depth when it came to purchasing and customizing aircraft.
With that all said, Ace Combat 7 is not a relaxing game, and it often breaks immersion in very frustrating ways, especially for gamers like me who are relatively inexperienced with the genre. For starters, the game punishes mistakes in unforgiving ways. While some missions have checkpoints that automatically save progress, others do not. If you perish during these timed “annihilation” missions, you must start from the very beginning. On one hand, you definitely feel awesome when you finally accomplish these missions, but on the other hand, it’s a big time suck if you constantly have to start over. There were times when this frustration made me consider just turning the game off as some missions could be completed in about fifteen minutes while others required a couple of hours of trial-and-error. Another issue that triggered my frustration was homing throughout the game. There were times when I was amazing, times when I lucked out, and times where I could not for the life of me figure out how to properly toggle homing, especially if I had no idea what part of the map I had to fly to (especially during later missions). Finally, there were moments in the game that were too laborious and meticulous even for a flight simulator. The two aforementioned concerns can be addressed with practice, but obligatory “tunnel runs” that require precise control just aren’t my cup-o-tea. In fact, the last chapter started well enough, but it ends in a manner that sort of detracts from all the fun I had up to that point. Give me tough bosses any day of the week. Impossible hairpin turns inside a building? Um, no thank you.
Since my blog is focused on looking for genre-melders, where does Ace Combat 7 fall? As far as I can tell, it never seems to stray too far from the model of fly, aim, fire, repeat, so fans know exactly what they are getting. The customization elements do resemble RPGs or certain action-adventure titles as the player earns money to purchase new jets as well as modifications. While this is a fun component of the game, I must admit that after a few sorties, it seemed like the reward system was perhaps a bit too generous as some missions just throw money at the gamer. By Chapter 15, I was able to buy the F-22. Those who wish to get every item in the game might appreciate this generosity, but buying things in Ace Combat 7 just wasn’t a challenge after a while.
Ultimately, despite its frustrating moments, I was very pleased with Ace Combat 7. It doesn’t stray too far off the rails as it prioritizes the flight simulator genre (and rightfully so), but it executes these genre-specific qualities in ways that suggest it might be a contemporary exemplar of how to make such a game. My interest is certainly piqued by the other entries in the series now. Still, it remains a genre outside of my comfort zone, and I must get through a bunch of games before I fly the angry skies again. Although I will have to return the game to its rightful owner, I’ve already decided that I will purchase the game for my library. When the itch to pilot the F-22 Raptor—an itch I didn’t know I had—rears its head again, Ace Combat 7 will certainly be the cure.