To commemorate the series’ 25th anniversary, Famitsu’s 16th July 2020 issue has an interview with brand director Kouno Kazutoki, producer Shimomoto Manabu, and development director Koyanagi Masashi, art director Kanno Masato, and narrative director Itomi Kousuke of Bandai Namco Studios.
The discussion moves on to Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. Kouno says that because of all the passion put into Ace Combat 3’s science fiction themes, they were unsure of what to do with 04; Kanno says that he recalls Kouno asking him if they should put it back on a more realistic track.
In the end, they teamed up with anime film director Katabuchi Sunao for the story, and got Studio 4℃ to handle the animated cutscenes. Because the cutscenes in 3 were divisive, however, they hid the involvement of Katabuchi and Studio 4℃ till the last minute when promoting the game: Itomi elaborates, saying that the trailer for 04 only had gameplay footage and nothing from cutscenes. Kouno says that they were worried about the fans’ reactions, and were relieved when it turned out to be mostly positive
Itomi points out that 04 was the first time they made movie-like trailers, and recalls that they even made a widescreen version for screening in theatres, and Kouno says that 04 was the turning point for them for trailers where they went through trial and error, which lead to them settling on a direction from Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War and on, with Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War being a huge break for them.
Kouno says that the most amazing thing about Zero was how it was the only game in the entire series where development went according to schedule, with the game being completed on time despite there having been only a year between the planning and release of the game, saying that in the case of 5, the schedule was so tight that during the meeting for the completion of the game, someone had been so overwhelmed by the workload that they started doing push-ups in the meeting room.
After Zero the series started expanding to other platforms, with them working on handheld consoles as well. Koyanagi says that Zero, Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception, and Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation were developed at the same time, with The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces following after.
Kanno likes the “Innocent Aces” part of Sky Crawlers’ title, saying that it feels forward-looking and youthful. Koyanagi says that it was perfect for the game because Sky Crawlers itself is about youth and it thus reflects its themes, but found it difficult to handle the themes of youth and life and death because the Ace Combat series usually does not have youthful characters. Looking back at the game itself, Koyanagi recalls that they ran into bumps when coming up with the controls using the Wii remote as the throttle and the nunchuk as the flight stick.
When Koyanagi was working on Sky Crawlers, Kouno and Kanno had been working on Ace Combat 6’s DLC. Among the members participating in the interview, Kanno was the only one who was really involved with 6, with Itomi only having worked on its trailer.
Kanno says that because Kouno and Itomi were not involved, 6’s development was a project led by a relatively younger team. The size of the team was also quite large: There were people who had joined the company because they wanted to work on Ace Combat, and they continuously added such people to parts of the development that needed more help.
As the youngest person participating in the interview, Shimomoto joined the team later on, the first game he worked on being Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. The interviewer asks him what his impression of Project Aces was as a young employee, and he says that he heard rumours that they, and especially Kanno, were “scary”. Kanno says that he gets this often. Kouno recalls that when interviewed on where he would be assigned, Shimomoto said “anywhere but Project Aces”, and Shimomoto laughs saying that he heard later on that his being assigned to the team had already been decided on at that point.
Kouno says that after looking back at the series like this, he feels that Ace Combat is represented by Kanno, and Koyanagi and Itomi agree, with Koyanagi calling him “Mister Ace Combat”. Kanno says that the development of the Ace Combat series is possible because of him being fortunate to be blessed with great precursors, competent colleagues, and passionate juniors.
Next, the interview moves on to discuss the latest game in the series, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, with the interviewer asking the five for any episodes that stood out to them.
Kouno brings up how Shimomoto made the Ace Combat series’ timeline complicated by connecting 3 to 7, to which Shimomoto says that everyone also consented to doing this. Itomi says that they had been wondering about what to do and lining up the series events in chronological order, when Shimomoto zeroed in on 3’s “parallel story” elements and connected it to the rest officially.
Itomi thinks that in the end it was a good decision to connect 3 to the rest of the series: Ace Combat 3’s world is one where civillian companies are advancing rapidly, and the real world is in a similar situation, with successful manned space flights making it so that real life is catching up to the world of 3.
Kouno talks about how, early on in the development of 7, a conversation he had with Katabuchi left an impression on him, in which they were discussing the Strangereal world and having Katabuchi come up with a story. When Kouno wondered about what sort of characters they should have in the game, which takes place in a time where corporations are replacing countries and drones are replacing pilots, Katabuchi came up with the idea of the rival being an older pilot who is a teacher to the drones, which Kouno says gave him goosebumps because of how perfectly it fit in with the past settings and current zeitgeist of the Strangereal world.
The interviewer mentions how Ace Combat 7’s DLC contains links to Ace Combat 3, and Shimomoto says that these were added on his request, though he did try to strike a balance for people who never played 3. Kanno says that there were many requests for the DLC, with Kouno saying that he wanted an assassination squad, and VR and DLC director Tago Hisaharu saying that he wanted the enemy to not be a submarine but a “submersible aircraft cruiser”, and Itomi and him worked hard to get all of these in.
Koyanagi liked the eccentric characters of Rage and Scream, and Shimomoto and Itomi say that they were the sort of character that could only be possible in DLC, as they would be too difficult to add to the main game. Koyanagi agrees, saying that they would not be the sort of characters to appear in mission 1 and stick around to the end, and Kanno says that they are great side characters, who show up, leave a strong impression, and then leave for good.
Kouno recalls that during development, there was a point where Scream’s voice faintly came in over the comms after she was dead, and when he checked with the staff in charge because he thought it was a bug, found out that it was put in on purpose. He was surprised because now Ace Combat was a horror game. Itomi recalls this as well, and says it was so interesting that he went and asked Kitou Masahide, who was in charge of handling comms, about it. Koyanagi adds that the person who added the voice still says even now that it should have been left in.
Finally, the interviewer asks about the response to the DLC, and Koyanagi says it was great. Shimomoto says that they plan to release more content as well, and hopes that fans will look forward to it. Itomi mentions the Japanese short story recital that is being made available on the official Ace Combat Youtube channel, and Kanno says he hopes fans use the 25th anniversary image to think about what comes next. Kouno concludes the interview saying that together they are aiming for a 50th anniversary, and asks for fans to continue supporting them.
What are you looking forward to from the Ace Combat series? Let us know in the comments below!