Now that we’ve got the obligation piece out of the way, it’s time to move on to the game that everyone actually wanted to see: Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. This is the third entry in our larger look at the Ace Combat series’ Strangereal-based games. Much like the previous LPs I helped create with my partner in LP Crime Blind Sally, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, and Killzone/Killzone: Liberation/Killzone 2, this LP will also be an in-depth look at the fictional history, politics, setting, and characters of Ace Combat’s Strangereal shared universe as told over the course of multiple games and done in in-universe chronological order.
Before we get going, I feel the need to acknowledge my predecessors in this endeavor, in a sense. Both ninjahedgehog and Terashell attempted to LP Shattered Skies in 2012 and 2008, respectively. So this LP is dedicated to them, and god willing I actually see this one through for them.
Released in 2001, Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies (also known as Ace Combat: Distant Thunder in Europe) was the first of the series’ three entries on the PlayStation 2—a set of games that has come to be known by fans as the “Golden Trilogy”. We’ve already seen the last game in the trilogy, Ace Combat Zero at the start of this project, and we will be seeing the middle game, Ace Combat 5 once we get done with 04.
Set in the year 2004/2005, Ace Combat 04 has one of those dreaded pun/number titles, as it’s the fourth game in the franchise, and is called 04 because it’s set partly in ’04. Set six years after the events of Ace Combat 2, ten years after Zero, and four years after the impact of the Ulysses 1994XF04 asteroid, Shattered Skies brings us back to Usea in the middle of a massive continent-spanning invasion by the nation of Erusea. The protagonist force of the game, the Independent States Allied Forces (ISAF), have been pushed back to the edge of the continent thanks to the Erusians’ superweapon, the Stonehenge railgun network, and the game begins as ISAF begins its uphill climb to liberate Usea from the Erusians. Sounds pretty familiar to what we’ve been through twice before, doesn’t it?
Much like Ace Combat Zero, Shattered Skies is also told through two competing narratives: the in-game narrative focused on the player character, Mobius 1, and a frame narrative between missions told by a narrator character who is looking back on the events of the game from many years later and recounting his personal experience of the war and his relationship with the Erusian pilot Yellow 13. As the game goes on, these two disparate narratives will slowly draw closer and closer together.
Project Aces’ Ace Combat franchise is a sprawling mass of games spread out over many different consoles and handheld platforms with several wholly unrelated continuities depending on which sub-set of games you want to look at. The games most people are familiar with and have played, however, are the ones we will be covering over the course of this Mega LP: the ones set in Strangereal.
These of course are Air Combat, Ace Combat 2 / Assault Horizon Legacy, Ace Combat 3, Ace Combat 04, Ace Combat 5, Ace Combat Zero, Ace Combat 6, Ace Combat X, Ace Combat Xi, and the recently announced Ace Combat 7.
That said, I will not be covering the following games:
- Air Combat – The very first AC game is a sparse arcade-y game with zero real connection to the Strangereal games. It was later retconned into Strangereal with the mightiest of :shrug:s
- Air Combat 22 – A literal arcade game.
- Ace Combat: Joint Assault – A PSP game set on real world Earth, not a part of the Strangereal series.
- Ace Combat Advanced – A GBA game also not set in Strangereal.
- Ace Combat: Infinity – A freemium PS3 game built on Assault Horizon’s engine that takes missions from Strangereal and sets them on our Earth.
- Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Trigger Finger – iPhone multiplayer game designed to hock Assault Horizon. Pass.
- Ace Combat Xi: Skies of Incursion – It’s literally Ace Combat X told from the perspective of the game’s B-Team. It’s also not available on the App Store any more, nor was it available in Canada when it was anyway.
Now, the uninitiated among you might be asking yourself “What the fuck is a Shakespeare Strangereal?” And to that I say “welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Ace Combat!”
The majority of the Ace Combat games are set in a shared universe setting that has been dubbed by fans as the “Strangereal” world. The name originated from a trailer for Ace Combat 04 which contained the phrase “A strange, real world.” Fans compacted the phrase into the portmanteau of “Strangereal” to describe the setting of the game. As you can see by the two world maps (the left one is “canon”, the right one is fan-interpolated conjecture), the world of the Ace Combat series shares a number of similarities to our own while also being radically different. Namco itself would come to adopt the term Strangereal to describe the setting in more recent Ace Combat games such as Ace Combat: Infinity. It has also been implied that the Ridge Racer series also takes place in Strangereal, as background worldbuilding elements and settings from the Ace Combat games appear various Ridge Racer games, particularly the character of Reiko Nagase, who is implied to be a relative of several other Nagases who appear throughout the Ace Combat franchise.
Project Aces also previewed a trio of concept games at the dawn of the PlayStation3-era that used the Strangereal setting as well. They were, in no particular order, Brave Arms, a Metal Gear Solid 4/Bionic Commando third-person action/espionage game set in the Kingdom of Sapin; Second Season 01, a first-person cop drama game which appeared to be set in Oured, Osea; and Chain Lim!t, an Alpha Protocol-style action spy game with multiple user-determined solutions to action problems. All three games were either cancelled shortly after their announcement or were just internal proof-of-concepts that somehow were teased to the public as actual games before being pulled. Either way, they remain just another aspect of the enduring enigma that is Strangereal.
The Strangereal world is a massive, intriguing, and reactive place that gets developed a little more with each Ace Combat game set in it and elements of this setting speak to each other across multiple games. We’re going to be looking at this setting from a near-pedantically scholarly viewpoint, so I hope you all have your over-analysis caps on like I do!
Because this is a thinking man’s LP, not one of those “Shoot Visari in the face—RICO NO!!!” LPs. (Actually it is one of those LPs, don’t tell anyone though!)
For the purpose of this LP series, we will be following the games in in-universe chronological order from 1995 to 2020. The order we will be going in will be Zero > 2 > 04 > 5 > 6 > X > 7 (depending on where it falls in the timeline when it eventually comes out). We even might do Air Combat and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon in some capacity for shits and giggles at the end as a bonus depending on how burnt out I am of Ace Combat in general and how good you’ve all been.
For more information about the Ace Combat franchise, please consult Acepedia, the Ace Combat Wiki. (Note: there’s a lot of bullshit conjecture stuff on the AC Wiki, so read at your own risk. Also, lots of unmarked spoilers for the whole franchise.)
I’d prefer you didn’t post spoilers, if you are one of those people who do know what happens in this and subsequent games. So try to avoid letting huge things that could ruin the game for people who are experiencing it fresh slip out like how Mobius 1 [INSERT DUMBFUCK DASH RENDAR MEME HERE], or Yellow 13’s real name is Dave… maybe(?).
Because that shit just sucks.
- Let’s Play Ace Combat 04 Complete Playlist
- Mission 1 – Operation Umbrella, September 19th, 2004
- Mission 2 – Operation Harvest, October 5th, 2004
- Mission 3 – Operation White Out, October 10th, 2004
- Mission 4 – Operation Hunting Hawk, November 7th, 2004
- Mission 5 – Operation Early Bird, November 19th, 2004
- Mission 6 – Operation Rough Seas, November 23rd, 2004
- Mission 7 – Operation Blackout, December 16th, 2004
- Mission 8 – Operation Countdown, December 31st, 2004
- Mission 9 – Operation Bunker Shot, January 24th, 2005
- Mission 10 – Operation Woodpecker, February 28th, 2008
- Mission 11 – Operation Noah’s Ark, March 14th, 2005
- Mission 12 – Operation Stone Crusher, April 2nd, 2005
- Mission 13 – Operation Blindman’s Bluff, May 7th, 2005
- Mission 14 – Operation Aurora, June 18th, 2005
- Mission 15 – Operation Firefly, July 10th, 2005
- Mission 16 – Operation Sandstorm, August 15th, 2005
- Mission 17 – Operation Autumn Thunder, September 19th, 2005
- Mission 18 – Operation Judgement Day, September 26th, 2005
- Mission 19* – Operation Katina, March-August, 2006