- "I was just a child when the stars fell from the skies. But I remember how they built a cannon to destroy them. And in turn how that cannon brought war upon us."
- ― Side Story Narrator, Interlude #01
Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies (エースコンバット04 シャッタードスカイ Ēsu Konbatto 04: Shattādo Sukai), published in Europe as Ace Combat: Distant Thunder, is the fourth video game in the Ace Combat series and the first on the PlayStation 2. It was released on September 13, 2001 in Japan, November 11, 2001 in North America, and February 8, 2002 in Europe.
The game's single-player campaign follows Mobius 1, a legendary ace of the Independent State Allied Forces who almost singlehandedly turned the tide of the Second Usean Continental War. A parallel narrative, told between the missions by a young boy living under Erusian control, relates the story of Yellow 13, the leader of the Federal Erusea Air Force's Yellow Squadron and Mobius 1's arch-nemesis.
Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, while over a decade old, remains the most successful Ace Combat installment. It is the only game in the series to have surpassed 2,500,000 international sales, reaching a total of 2,640,000 by 2008. It is also the most critically acclaimed installment of the series, scoring an average of 86.07% on GameRankings and an average of 89 on Metacritic.
Like the rest of the Ace Combat games, most of the game takes place in the air, seen from Mobius 1's cockpit. The single-player campaign is split into 18 missions, which are played in a linear sequence. Before each mission, the player selects an available plane to pilot and steers it through the combat airspace to complete their mission objectives. Some missions feature a "Mission Update", at which point the objective changes, resetting the mission timer. There is no interaction with non-player characters like in later games, and the campaign itself has only indirect relation to the story told in the "Interludes" (cutscenes between the missions).
Compared to the later Ace Combat games, Shattered Skies is more arcade-like in gameplay. Most mission assignments revolve around scoring enough points within the time limit, and then continuing to collect more points until time runs out. Mission ranks are assigned based exclusively on the scores (later games additionally feature time requirements). Non-linearity is confined to selecting from available targets in a particular mission.
Main article: Difficulty
The player can choose between six difficulty levels in the game: Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert, and Ace. The last two difficulty settings are unlocked by beating the game on the respective previous difficulty. Additionally, the player can select either the Normal (full control of the aircraft but complex steering) or the Easy controller settings (simplified steering but less practical maneuverability).
In AC04, the cutscenes take form of stylized anime-style slideshows, set to the narration by one of the characters and sparse sound effects. The cutscenes were produced by Studio 4°C.
AC04 was the first Ace Combat game to feature the Return Line. In each mission, crossing the southern edge of the map automatically transports the player onto an allied carrier or airfield, depending on the selected aircraft, fully repairing and rearming the plane. The plane is not repaired in Ace difficulty. The player is also given an option to change special weapons (but not the plane itself) before taking off. The timer of the mission is frozen upon crossing the return line, meaning that it can be exploited for infinite ammunition and instant repairs during difficult dogfights.
The Return Line did appear in Ace Combat 5, but with different functionality and only appeared in a handful of missions, it was again featured in Ace Combat Zero and Ace Combat 6, albeit not in every mission like in AC04.
AC04 is the second Ace Combat game with a split-screen Multiplayer mode, where two players can go head-to-head in a dogfight or a contest for points by destroying air, sea, and ground targets.
Main article: List of missions in Ace Combat 04
The player takes on the role of Mobius 1, an elite fighter pilot serving in the Independent States' Allied Forces (ISAF) air arm, fighting against the Federal Erusean Armed Forces (FEAF), which have occupied almost all of the Usean continent following the apocalyptic events of 1999. In 1999, a massive asteroid codenamed Ulysses 1994XF04 struck Usea, killing 500,000 people and turning many of the survivors into refugees. Erusea used this opportunity to occupy the continent after a prolonged military buildup. They achieved military supremacy using the superweapon called Stonehenge, a complex of giant railguns that were originally designed to destroy the Ulysses asteroid fragments but were found to be effective against aircraft as well. It allows Erusea to dominate much of the airspace over the continent giving their military a powerful strategic advantage. Consequently, the ISAF were pushed back to the eastern coast of Usea and eventually set up a new headquarters in North Point.
The storyline follows two parallel narratives that converge towards the end of the game (around mission 15). The first one is the chronicle of the Second Usean Continental War, as seen through the eyes of Mobius 1. Starting from the defense of the ISAF HQ in North Point, it follows his participation in various missions in eastern Usea (outside of Stonehenge's range) to weaken the Erusian foothold there and culminates in the destruction of the Erusian "Invincible" Aegir Fleet, which gives ISAF free reign over the region. Just before that, Mobius 1 first encounters the elite Erusian Yellow Squadron, the defenders of Stonehenge. Later, he provides close air support for ISAF forces establishing a coastal base on Usean mainland and takes part in several bombing missions within Stonehenge's range. On one of such missions, he saves two planes carrying defecting Erusian engineers, which gives the ISAF a chance to attack Stonehenge. Mobius 1 destroys the superweapon and shoots down one of the Yellows for the first time in the squadron's history. With Stonehenge out of the way, the ISAF forces push inland and soon liberate San Salvacion. Their westward offensive culminates in the taking of the Erusian capital Farbanti, exactly one year after Mobius 1's first mission. Erusea surrenders but just a week later, a group of Erusian officers takes over its new superweapon, Megalith, to attack ISAF, so Mobius 1 makes his way to the Twinkle Islands with his new squadron to face off against the remaining Yellow Squadron flights led by Jean-Louis and, later, Gene. He then proceeds to destroy Megalith, finally ending the war.
The other narrative is told via cutscene interludes between missions and follows a young resident of San Salvacion, identified only as the "Side Story Narrator". His parents died during the Erusian invasion when a plane crashed onto their house, shot down by Yellow 13, the leader of the Yellow Squadron. He now lives in the town bar and plays harmonica for a living, secretly crushing on the Barkeeper's Daughter. One night, the Yellow Squadron visits the bar and the narrator soon starts seeing a father figure in Yellow 13. The Squadron is now based near San Salvacion and tasked with defending the nearby Stonehenge, but they also sortie on long-range missions, where they first encounter Mobius 1. The narrator accidentally discovers that both the barkeeper and his daughter are members of the resistance, and is torn between his sympathies to the Yellows and his duty. He also learns she has a crush on Yellow 13, putting her at odds with his trusted wingman Yellow 4. Just before the Stonehenge Offensive, Yellow 4 is wounded and her plane, damaged by the resistance's bombing and she is subsequently killed by Mobius 1. Yellow 13 blames her death on the resistance rather than Mobius 1, but when he discovers that the Barkeeper's Daughter and the narrator are its members, he lets them go. When San Salvacion is liberated, the two of them follow him to Farbanti, where Yellow 13 is finally shot down by Mobius 1. They then bury Yellow 4's handkerchief, which he kept as remembrance of her and which is the only thing he left behind, too. The final interlude reveals that this story is a lengthy letter from the now grown-up Side Story Narrator to Mobius 1 long after the war.
Main article: List of aces in Ace Combat 04
No main character in the game is ever referred to by their name. Instead, only callsigns and generic descriptions are used to identify them.
- Mobius 1, also known as the "Ribbon Fighter" in reference to his squadron insignia, is the player character of the game and the member of the ISAF air force. Although relatively unknown at the beginning of the game, he becomes a legendary ace of the Second Usean Continental War, universally revered by all ISAF forces and feared by the Erusians. Although referred as "Mobius 1", for reasons left unexplained, he is the only permanent member of this "squadron" until the very last mission, and even then he doesn't have any controllable wingmen. Mobius 1 has since made an appearance in Ace Combat 5 and a non-canon cameo in Ace Combat Zero. Although the player is free to choose any aircraft for him, canonically, he flies an F-22A Raptor.
- AWACS Sky Eye is Mobius 1's AWACS throughout the game. Although focused on performing his duties as AWACS, he sometimes talks with the pilots, such as when he reveals that it's his birthday in the very first mission and during the siege of Farbanti. He is the only character from AC04 to make an appearance in the Arcade Mode of Ace Combat 5 alongside Mobius 1. He flies a Boeing E-767.
- Yellow 13 is a legendary FEAF ace pilot who has never lost a wingman, as well as the permanent leader of the Yellow Squadron. He is the arch-nemesis of Mobius 1, a father figure to the Side Story Narrator despite being indirectly responsible for his parents' death, and, arguably, the central character of the story, bridging the two separate narratives. Much fan speculation surrounds his origins and identity. Yellow 13 is shot down by Mobius 1 in the skies over Farbanti in the penultimate battle of the war (mission 17) and his body is never found. He flies a custom-painted Su-37 Terminator. His unique paint job has since become so iconic that it was featured in one way or another in almost every Ace Combat game since.
- Yellow 4 is Yellow 13's permanent wingwoman and the only woman in Yellow Squadron. Although Yellow 13 is oblivious to this, she harbors intense romantic feelings for him and makes sure to protect him even on land. She is wounded by a bomb planted by the resistance just before the Stonehenge Offensive (mission 12). As a result, she is killed by Mobius 1 over Stonehenge, becoming the first Yellow ever to die in battle. After her death, Yellow 13 is only able to recover her handkerchief, which he keeps until his own death and which the Side Story Narrator and the Barkeeper's Daughter then bury. Like the rest of her squadron, Yellow 4 flies a Su-37 Terminator.
- Side Story Narrator is a young boy living in San Salvacion under the Erusian occupation. Although initially planning to find and confront Yellow 13 about the death of his parents, he finds himself inexplicably drawn to him and soon comes to see him as a father figure and is, in turn, seen as a member of the squadron by other Yellows. He also has a crush on the Barkeeper's Daughter and is torn between his sympathies and his duties when he discovers that she is a member of the resistance. The two of them follow Yellow 13 until his death. The interludes between the missions of the game are revealed to be a lengthy letter written by the Side Story Narrator to Mobius 1 in an attempt to convey Yellow 13's feelings to him and to confirm that he died happy.
- Barkeeper's Daughter is daughter of the proprietor of the town bar in San Salvacion. Like her father, she is member of the anti-Erusian resistance but also harbors romantic feelings towards Yellow 13, which puts her at odds with Yellow 4. It is strongly implied that she was among the resistance members who bombed the Yellows' runway before the Stonehenge Offensive and is thus responsible for Yellow 4's death. She and the narrator follow Yellow 13 until his death. Her fate after the war is unknown.
The ISAF squadrons are featured in most missions, participating in battles alongside Mobius 1. The individual callsigns and names of the squadron members are rarely, if ever mentioned on the radio.
- Mobius Squadron, also known as the "Ribbons" in reference to their insignia, consists only of Mobius 1 and his AWACS Sky Eye throughout most of the game. In Mission 18, however, they are reinforced by 9 more fighter pilots, becoming a full-force squadron. These Mobius pilots cannot, however, be given orders or controlled in any way. All members of the Mobius Squadron canonically fly F-22A Raptors.
- Charlie Squadron
- Halo Squadron
- Omega Squadron
- Rapier Squadron
- Viper Squadron
The FEAF squadrons comprise the majority of enemy aircraft in the missions. Like their ISAF counterparts, their pilots' names are never mentioned, except for some Yellow Squadron members and the hidden aces, who are known by their callsigns.
- Yellow Squadron, officially known as "Aquila Squadron", are Mobius 1's primary antagonists in the game. They are an elite fighter unit led by Yellow 13 and taking pride in having never lost a member before. At the beginning of the game, they are based in San Salvacion and tasked with protecting the Stonehenge but from mission 05 onwards, they begin to sortie on long-range missions. It is mentioned that their turnover rate is very high, with 13 and 4 being the only permanent members, while the rest are regularly transferred out into other squadrons, replaced by rookies. They lose their first member to Mobius 1 in mission 12, and more soon follow during the battle for San Salvacion. After they are forced out of the city, they unsuccessfully defend Farbanti, where Yellow 13 dies, and the fifteen remaining members defend the Megalith (again, unsuccessfully) against the Mobius Squadron in the final battle of the war. All Yellows fly the iconic Su-37 Terminators and usually travel in five-man formations. In regards to gameplay, the Yellows are much tougher adversaries than the rest of the enemy aircraft, thanks to their super-advanced planes and complex flying maneuvers they perform while dogfighting, but they also net significantly more score points when shot down.
- Black Squadron
- Blue Squadron
- Grey Squadron
- Red Squadron
- White Squadron
Main article: List of aircraft in Ace Combat 04
Ace Combat 04 features 21 playable aircraft, including the fictional super-plane X-02 Wyvern. Aircraft are unlocked by completing certain missions (see list) and purchased between missions by spending credits. Credits are gained by shooting down enemies and achieving high scores on the missions. Unlike in the later games, the player has no control over the planes of their wingmen.
In addition to the machine gun and all-purpose missiles, the player chooses a special munition, specialized either against air or ground targets, to equip their plane with before each mission. What kind of special weapons a plane can carry is determined by its model (see list). One special weapon is always purchased along with the plane, while one to two more can be bought later.
Lastly, the player can also select a paint scheme for Mobius 1's plane before each mission. Like in the later AC games, the paint schemes are purely cosmetic and have no impact on the gameplay. They are unlocked by fulfilling certain conditions but unlike in Ace Combat 5 and Ace Combat Zero, additional paint schemes have to be purchased at the cost of the whole plane or more. Unlike the later games, however, AC04 treats each paint scheme as a separate plane, so it is not required to own a plane with the first paint scheme before purchasing the second or third one. Each plane model can have up to three paint schemes:
- First paint scheme is the default scheme each plane is purchased with.
- Second paint scheme is usually unlocked by completing a certain mission (see list) with rank A or S on Normal difficulty or higher. It costs exactly as much as the plane itself (with the first paint scheme).
- Third (Ace) paint scheme is usually unlocked by defeating one of the 18 Erusian Aces that appear in each mission on Normal and above difficulty after completing the campaign mode once. With the exception of S-37A, it costs approximately 30% more than the first two.
The development of Ace Combat 04 began after the release of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere between mid-1999 and 2000, and the game was designed from the start to be a PlayStation 2 launch title. The technical upgrades offered by the console's hardware led the Electrosphere staff to view the game as a "return to zero" that was chosen to retain the core dogfighting mechanics of the previous titles, leading the game to be tentatively titled Ace Combat 01 in early design documents to represent its status as a "reboot" of the series. The "It's Changing Everything Again" slogan of the game, which was devised by Kazutoki Kono, was directly influenced by their design philosophy. The single-frame Side Story concept was originally conceived by Studio 4°C as a cost-effective means of showcasing the storyline after the large costs of Production I.G's animated cutscenes from Ace Combat 3 proved too expensive to be afforded again.
An early build of the game, simply titled "Ace Combat 4", was revealed to the public in a teaser trailer released in December 8 during Tokyo Game Show 2000, although the game itself was not officially listed in Namco's planned line-up for the event, which included MotoGP and Tales of Eternia. The remaining members from Electrosphere, meanwhile, renamed themselves "AC04 Project" mid-way through development. A second trailer was released in late March 2001 during the Spring Tokyo Game Show, in which the final "Ace Combat 04" name was revealed. A playable demo was also included in the event.
The Japanese release date of September 13 was announced on July 6th. To promote the release of the game, Namco held a special exhibition during the annual Atsugi Air Show at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in late July, where merchandise such as posters and demo discs were given to the public. The promotion also involved the base's "Red Baron" stunt team, which flew aircraft painted with the logos of Namco and Shattered Skies. Immediately after Atsugi, the company held a contest where 30 Japanese inhabitants would be given demo copies by expressing their opinion on the game at an special email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, before a deadline in August 5th.
A Japanese TV commercial for the game, scheduled for release on September 12, was postponed in response to the September 11 attacks. The catastrophe forced Namco to alter the design of the "Invincible Fleet" mission, which contained towers that would become wreathed in the smoke of the sinking Tanager battleship. On the tenth anniversary of the attacks, director Kazutoki Kono commented on his experiences that day and the resulting changes to political considerations in the gaming industry, citing the cancelled commercial and the alterations to the ending of Konami's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. A demo and trailer were later included in the initial production copies of Soul Calibur II in 2003.
- With a damaged game disc, a bug titled the "infinite loading screen" has a chance of occurring if the player selects a carrier aircraft, in which the loading dots before a mission never stop appearing, making carrier aircraft unplayable.
- In early pre-release reports, the site Gamespot described the Su-33 Flanker-D and the MiG-25 Foxbat as being included in the game's aircraft roster.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies (2001) PlayStation 2 release dates
- ↑ 『エースコンバット』シリーズ全世界累計1,000万本突破! Data accurate as of January 30, 2008. Retrieved on February 8, 2015.
- ↑ Reviews and News Articles. GameRankings. Retrieved on February 8, 2015.
- ↑ Advanced Search Results for ace combat at Metacritic. Retrieved on February 8, 2015.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 http://twitter.com/kazutoki/status/351737232375291906
- ↑ http://twitter.com/kazutoki/status/351739220995489794
- ↑ http://twitter.com/kazutoki/status/351738010624208896
- ↑ http://twitter.com/kazutoki/status/351742400588288000
- ↑ http://twitter.com/kazutoki/status/351743379001974785
- ↑ http://tgs.cesa.or.jp/2000autumn/li/list.html
- ↑ http://totalplaystation.com/ps2/ace-combat-04-shattered-skies/news/1362/
- ↑ http://www.ign.com/articles/2001/04/03/tgs-2001-direct-feed-video-of-the-ace-combat-4-trailer
- ↑ http://www.ign.com/articles/2001/03/28/tgs-2001-hands-on-impressions-of-ace-combat-4
- ↑ http://www.ign.com/articles/2001/07/06/ace-combat-4-japanese-release-date
- ↑ http://www.ign.com/articles/2001/07/16/ace-combat-4-at-atsugi-air-show
- ↑ https://web.archive.org/web/20041209123929/http://www.itmedia.co.jp/games/gsnews/0107/28/news01.html
- ↑ http://www.ign.com/articles/2001/07/31/namco-releases-ace-combat-4-demo
- ↑ http://www.ign.com/articles/2001/09/12/ace-combat-4-tv-ad-suspended
- ↑ https://twitter.com/PROJECT_ACES/status/112897733567856640
- ↑ https://twitter.com/PROJECT_ACES/status/112899661672611840
- ↑ http://www.ign.com/articles/2003/08/21/soul-calibur-2-ps2-extras
- ↑ http://www.gamespot.com/articles/ace-combat-4-preview/1100-2681406/
- ↑ http://www.gamespot.com/articles/spring-tgs-2001-ace-combat-04-shattered-skies/1100-2703037/