Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies (Distant Thunder in the European version) - In 2003, Erusea has invaded its neighbors and by 2004 controls all of Usea. As Mobius One, top ace of the Independent States Allied Forces, it's up to you to drive them back and take the fight to them.
Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (Squadron Leader in the EU) - In 2010, a series of mysterious recon activities leads to a war between the Union of Yuktobanian Republics and the Osean Federation. However, the real cause of the war is not as straightforward as it first appears.
Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War (Without the Zero in the EU) - In 1995, the Belkan Federation attempts a land grab. As mercenary pilot Galm One "Cipher" you fight to thwart their goals; however, the driving of the Belkans to peace talks is not the end of things.
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception - In 2020, the Democratic Republic of Leasath launches an attack on its southern neighbour, the Federal Republic of Aurelia, nearly overrunning the latter within ten days thanks to their airborne fortress Gleipnir. As Gryphus One, you lead Aurelia's survivors in taking back your nation.
Ace Combat Advance - In 2032, Corporations begin to dominate the world and corpocracies now control as much of the world as independent democracies. One corporation, General Resource, creates the Air Strike Force to help take over the remaining independent countries and use them to gain more resources. As a pilot of the United Air Defense, you are the last hope for the remaining independent republics as you stop General Resource from taking over the world.
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation - In 2015, the Federal Republic of Estovakia, after coming out of years of Civil War, invades the neighboring Republic of Emmeria. Due to the use of high-tech weaponry and grizzled veterans, the Estovakians were able to take over the Emmerian Mainland and drive the Emmerian military to Vitoze. As Garuda One, you lead Emmeria's survivors in taking back your country.
Ace Combat Infinity- The newest game in the franchise, a downloadable title currently announced for the PS3. Set in the real world around the year of 2019, 20 years after an asteroid impact. Aircraft and several superweapons from the older Ace Combat games seem to have been ported over.
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC:
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon - In a departure from past games, Assault Horizon is set in the real world instead of Strangreal (hence why this game is not titled AC 7). You take on the role various pilots in the 108th Task Force, a mixed arms force made up of NATO and Russian personnel. The 108th's mission is to combat a growing rebel movement in Africa, aided by Russian mercenaries who possess a terrifying new superweapon codenamed "Trinity".
Ace Combat: Northern Wings - The player takes command of Grendel Squadron, a secret squadron created by the Kingdom of Nordennavic, a small, neutral nation on the Anean Continent, to covertly influence wars that may threaten their homeland. It is set across a seventeen year period during wars featured in 04, 5 and 6.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy - Despite the name, Assault Horizon Legacy (called Ace Combat 3D: Cross Rumble in Japan) returns to Strangereal. It's a remake and retelling of Ace Combat 2, with you taking on the role of Phoenix (aka Scarface One). AC 2's wingmen Slash and Edge make a return, as does the enigmatic Z.O.E.
Also worth mentioning is The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces for the Nintendo Wii, a Licensed Game of the Sky Crawlers anime. Though it has no direct ties with the Ace Combat universe, it was created by the same team and features the same arcade-sim air combat feel; as a result, many fans see it as a Spiritual Licensee.In 2011, the Strangereal series, specifically the third installment Electrosphere, seems to have been retconned into the United Galaxy Space Force series, also tentatively known as Namcoverse. Said series seems to unite many of the futuristic games previously released by Namco, where the Strangereal games are the chronologically earliest installments. However, since there is still no official information available in English, details on this are very sketchy.It also might interest some readers that Ace Combat Infinity has been announced, staying in the real world for now, but incorporating several story-line elements from games such as Ace Combat 04 and Ace Combat 6.
The original/main continuity of the AC series is set on the Constructed World of Strangereal. The first two games were originally not really part of it but have since been retconned to appear that way.
The series as a whole provides examples of following tropes:
Ace Pilot: Entire series is based on this trope and Improbable Piloting Skills, wingmen and allied aircraft excepted. Supposedly Mobius One may be considered the trope namer for 4, 5, Zero, 6 (and maybe X), especially if you take Ace Combat 5's Arcade Mode ("Operation Katina") as canon, where Mobius One (with the help of AWACS SkyEye) defeated a de facto resurgent Erusean military and at the final battle six X-02 Wyverns using only a F-22 Raptor a year after the events of Ace Combat 04, where he was the lead element in every major ISAF operation of the Usean Continental War of 2003-2005.
Aerial Canyon Chase: Pretty much every Ace Combat game requires the player to do this for some reason. Sometimes there are enemy planes or helicopters skulking in the canyons or other narrow passageways or tunnels, just waiting to achieve missile lock.
This trend was finally broken by Assault Horizon, which had multiple playable characters with visible faces and speaking roles.
AKA47: Weapons are referred to with generic descriptors instead of real names; thus in for example Ace Combat Zero the F-14 Tomcat, Su-37 Terminator, JAS Gripen, and Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon all use XLAAs while the real planes would probably use different missiles for the long range role.
The actual models of the missiles are all different and accurately based on a real missile at least similar to the missile's role; for example on the F-14 the XLAA resembles the AIM-54 Phoenix, whereas the Typhoon uses Meteor BVRAAMs.
Also, Electrosphere gives the airplanes slightly different names as part of the game's futuristic feel, such as the Eurofighter 2000E Typhoon II and the XFA-36A (McDonnell Douglas X-36).
Airborne Mook: Enemy aircraft, naturally. Enemy aces qualify as Elite Mooks or better, especially when they come in squadrons.
All There in the Manual: A number of details, such as the full history of the Ulysses asteroid, aren't covered in-game.
And Now for Someone Completely Different: The only player character to definitely return in a later game is Mobius One (player character of 04 and the arcade mode of 5). The Scarface squadron of the first game returns in the second, though the available wingmen are entirely different.
Armies Are Evil: Subverted in most games after 2. Especially considering when you see cutscenes of pilots and soldiers from the opposing army doing what they were trained to do without any complaints.
Armored Coffins: All the planes in 3 are piloted via a so-called COFFIN system, which is a kind of neural interface that allows you to steer them with your brain but has no ejection seats whatsoever.
Arrow Cam: Holding down the missile button will cause this to happen.
Awesome yet Practical: The Wyvern and FALKEN have been computer-modeled as flyable in X-Plane with modern early 21st century technology, while things like the weapons-grade Frickin' Laser Beams have military prototypes already in progress.
Back from the Brink: Each game typically starts with the air base from which you launch as the allied forces' last remaining base in the area, which you must defend from enemy bombers escorted by starting-game fighters, giving the player a quick "tutorial" in air-to-air combat with easy targets.
Subverted in Ace Combat 5, where most of your flight was killed by an unknown reconnaissance flight during the game's intro during peacetime.
Ace Combat 6 subverts it again in that the "back from the brink" bomber intercept is the second mission (appropriately entitled "On the Brink"), the first mission being an aerial defense of the capital at the start of the war only to be ordered to abandon it.
And it's averted completely in Ace Combat/Air Combat, where you simply enter the contested state and immediately attack recon planes and bombers on their way to attack another target.
Also averted at the same time in 5. The token "Save the airbase from bombers" mission isn't until mission 4, and even then, your airbase is only one of many. The country of Osea wasn't on the brink of losing everything if they had lost that one airbase. In fact, it was only the start of the war itself.
Badass: The player characters, but not the only ones.
Battleship Raid: Most games feature boss stages where you face a giant enemy aircraft, battleship or group of such aircraft: the Aigaion, Hresvelgr, Arkbird and SOLG are all examples of this trope. Averted in Air Combat - it's planes, mostly (ground targets range from a skyscraper taken over by the rebels to oil refineries), though the final mission has a giant battleship.
Broken Aesop: The games like to talk about how terrible nuclear weapons are...Despite that the Strangereal setting needed to be made in the first place because nuclear arms have prevented the kind of all-out wars between major military powers that the plotlines are built around. So nukes are bad, as we are told by a world that collapses into gigantic, pointless wars every couple of years. Historically, nuclear weapons were not developed in Strangereal until the 1980s by Belka (Strangereal's version of Nazi Germany). Superweapons such as airborne fortresses, railguns and laser platforms fill the deterrent role that nuclear weapons normally would, though the fact that large-scale wars break out every few years prove they do a poor job of deterrence.
Justified: real-life pilots actually do that, along with the maneuvers they perform. After all, nobody wants to be a friendly fire statistic.
Canon Welding: The above-mentioned "United Galaxy Space Force" is an attempt to merge a number of their series with futuristic installments into a single continuity with Electrosphere as its first installment chronologically.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Enemies usually can maneuver better and lock-on much faster than you can even when using the same plane as you, and some bosses' superfighters have capabilities you'll never get.
You know this trope is in full effect in AC5 when enemy planes can fly through the goddamn ground to evade you. When it's the last target on a timed mission with 10 seconds left, controllers will be thrown through television sets.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: Both used and averted. Your character does become a One-Man Army with many kills to his name, but any time an ace squadron shows up you will face a much tougher fight since they'll attack together.
Cool Plane: Nearly every single fictional aircraft in any Ace Combat game is either the best plane in the game, one of the best planes in the game, behaves very uniquely or simply extremely good-looking.
Subverted with the BM-335 fictional antiquated bomber, which resembles a WW2 Heinkel and upon killing one will cause an ally to say, "That bomber looks ancient"
Also plenty of the nonfictional ones. It's no coincidence that Ace/Air Combat (at least in the US), 04, X and Joint Assault feature the F-22 Raptor on the cover, since it's a top tier air-to-air king and has a distinctive look. (This is Mobius One's "official" plane, as indicated by its being the only plane usable at least, until you find the way to use the other planes for Operation Katina, aka AC5's Arcade Mode.) Some players, however, prefer the Su-27 Flanker and its variants/descendants, particularly the Su-37 Terminator and the Su-47 Berkut to the Raptor. The Sukhoi planes may be better dogfighters thanks to the Quick-maneuver Air-to-Air Missile (QAAM), while the Raptor has more "standoff" capability. This slightly evens out in AC6, where they are amongst the multiple planes that can use the QAAM (somewhat toned down from the 04 incarnation), so the cool doesn't always have to be useless.
Ace Combat X features a high number of fictional planes; some of which aren't that great compared to the higher-end real planes, though the best planes in the game (the Wyvern, Falken, and Fenrir) are fictional. However, all the made up planes except the Fenrir have the ability to be upgraded with new parts, altering their performance.
Cosmetic Award: Medals and paint schemes, especially ones acquired by downing enemy aces.
Crew of One: In all the games, whenever the player flies an aircraft that in the real world would require a crew of 2 or more to operate effectively, the empty seats are automatically filled in the aircraft's third-person models and the plane is able to execute all functions flawlessly.
There's also severe differences between how to evade all the different superweapons, as well. Stonehenge in 04 requires you to be below 2000 feet, burst missiles from 5 require you to be above 5000 feet, and Excalibur from Zero is essentially a test of how fast you can react to things.
Chandelier from 6 required you to fly as straight and level as you possibly can, since you had to fly down its barrel.
Try switching between Ace Combat and HAWX. The controls are virtually identical... except the buttons for guns and missiles are switched.
The Determinator: The player-character is often this; surviving countless attempts by the combined armed forces of entire nations to kill him with barely a scratch.
Dodge by Braking: The Pugachev's Cobra and its variants are maneuvers both you and some enemy aces can pull off. Just make sure that they're not flying at the same altitude as you are, or they'll opt for a very humiliating machine-gun-kill. The Yellows are fond of doing this. On the other side, if they try to Cobra and you are going slowly enough to not overshoot, it's a big invitation to light 'em up.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: The series insists, firmly and often, that War Is Hell. However, you play as an Ace Pilot, arguably the most glamorous combat role of all time, and frequent radio chatter indicates that your arrival on the battlefield singlehandedly restores friendly morale and causes enemies to panic. Also, as an AFGNCAAP, you are spared the pathos-inducing family deaths that plague so many other characters. War Is Hell...for everyone else.
Dude, Where's My Respect?: Beautifully averted; by the time you're halfway through a given game, your Improbable Piloting Skills will be legend among friend and foe alike. Half the fun is listening to the enemies panic when they find out you're on the field.
That said, despite their legendary accomplishments, every playable pilot disappears from history shortly after their final victories. Probably voluntarily. The sole exception seems to be Mobius One, who at the very least continues serving ISAF for a year after the end of 04's Usean Continental War.
Easy Logistics: You can run out of regular missiles and/or special weapons, and some games and difficulties give you limited ammo, but you never run out of fuel; aerial refueling is just an interactive cutscene. In missions where you can Return To Base, once you successfully land or skip the landing interactive cutscene your plane is immediately repaired (except on harder difficulties) and rearmed. If you switch special weapons for yourself and your wingman (the latter in Zero and 6), the change and reload occurs instanteously.
This in and of itself is an example of Gameplay and Story Segregation, as storywise logistics do matter; just see the 04 missions where you take out a group of Erusean transport planes and then a forward operating base as the prelude to wrecking the "Invincible" Aegir Fleet, then afterwards destroy solar power generator facilities to both damage the enemy war machine and divert attention from an upcoming invasion. The third and fourth missions in 5 force you to keep flying the F-5, as well, because there's no time for you to switch. In Zero the mission to Avalon has such a long travel time that from mission 16 to the end, you cannot switch, buy, or sell planes or special weapons (although you can save right after the final battle over the Round Table before the attack on Avalon and then load the save to choose a different plane and/or special weapon). Heck, just see in-flight refueling...
Lets not forget that the... 3 minutes that take place between the end of "Avalon" and the beginning of "Zero" completely restocks and repairs your already flying plane who has no support to speak of from anyone but a nearby AWA Cs unit.
The Playstation 1 games do have a fuel meter, but this is really just a disguised timer, since it empties at a steady rate regardless of how you fly.
Enemy Chatter: A staple of the series, it seems that everyone and his mother — including allied ground units in the middle of raging battles, enemy air and ground units, police CBs and even civilian radio stations — are all broadcasting on your presumably encrypted and frequency-shifting channel, and (other than your wingman commands) vice versa. Strangely enough, it compels the drama factor of the series. Lampshaded late in Ace Combat 5, when one of your wingmen incredulously announces: "The radio is picking up the enemy communications!" Which it's been doing the whole time.
It is likely that the enemy chatter isn't actually broadcasting over the radio ALL the time; more realistically, only the player can hear it, which is why the game will occasionally have the characters take notice when the enemy IS speaking on the same channel, for the convenience of knowing when the characters can actually hear the enemy.
Assault Horizon dropped it altogether save for when some enemies (mostly Markov and Illich) state that they deciphered your radio encryption and knew your frequency and the mission where you save the Russian prime minister.
Fighter Launching Sequence: A few times, naturally. Sometimes you have to actually play through the takeoff sequence yourself, to boot.
Fragile Speedster: The X-29 has consistently tended to fit this archetype, though its missiles aren't weaker than usual. So is it's "cousins" the F-5E and F-20A in their respective games.
Friendly Fireproof: Go ahead, drop that cluster bomb ten feet from friendly ground forces. They won't feel a thing. Or try to send a couple rounds through your wingman's cockpit if he's being annoying.
Genre Blindness: Oh my God, the genre blindness that gets perpetrated in this series! At least once a game, a character will say something that will make you have to pause the game and cover your face in shame.
Ace Combat 6´s "final" mission. You've won the war, people are celebrating, and your "mission" is to do a patrol while fireworks explode in the sky. Then one of your wingmen says "I'd like to say: Mission Accomplished". Cue enemy fighters and transcontinental missiles.
Germanic Efficiency: Being the Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Germany, Belka has the most advanced technologies (many of the original fighters and superweapons in the series are attributed to Belkan Engineering), the most efficient air force (they have the most Aces in any Ace Combat game to date, out of 169 named Aces, 139 of them are of Belkan Nationality) and very skilled engineers (in the form of Gault 1/Anton "Dr." Kupchenko, who designed the superweapons of Ace Combat Zero as well as the ADFX-01/02 Morgan, and Gault 7/Lorenz "Feniks" Riedel, who designed the Battle Fleet for the Eastern Faction during the Estovakian Civil War and the subsequent Emmerian-Estovakian War.)
Glass Cannon: The F-5E and MiG-21 in the PS2 games, and the A-4 in 2 is this, though since you usually get these in the beginning of the game, the player doesn't need to worry about biting the bullet. The Mobius F-22 and Yellow Su-33 in AC6, (as Downloadable content) is also this, but it pays off when you have wicked manuverability. On Ace mode all your planes are a One-Hit-Point Wonder against missiles so the question is how much Cannon and Speedster/Lightning you're packing.
Good Colors, Evil Colors: Radar signatures. The colors used change depending on the game, but typically retain green for allies and red for required targets.
Good Plane Evil Plane: It has been noted that in almost every game, the protagonist squadron and sometimes his allies usually fly Western Fighter Aircraft (usually American) while the antagonist ace squadron(s) usually use high-tier Russian fighters (often a variant of the Su-27 Flanker). This is however subverted multiple times.
Scarface One from 2 prefers to fly the Su-35 Super Flanker (which is statistically the best normal plane in the game, surpassing even the F-22) while four of the five Z.O.E. aces use American jets. This is played straight however in the remake when Scarface One uses the F-22 as his Aircraft of Choice.
In 04, ISAF would deploy a mix of Western- and Russian-made fighters during missions that are considered pivotal story-wise: a flight of MiG-29s fly top cover for you and a few other F/A-18s during the assault on the Stonehenge whereas the Siege of Farbanti has you accompanied by a mix of F-15s and Su-35s at its beginning.
In 5, the 8492nd Squadron flies the F-15S/MTD up until the final mission, where they fly Su-47's instead.
In Zero, out of the 12 major ace squads you face in the game, only three (Gelb, Gault and Schwarze) play this trope straight.
In X some of the Redshirts fly Flankers.
Various trailers of Infinity have seen a good number of F-15Cs getting decimated by both the player character and his/her allies alongside the familiar fare of MiGs; the Alpha vs Bravo trailer shows mixed formations of F-14 and Typhoon teaming with PAK FA and MiG-29, but it's likely a case of players doing as they please.
Harder Than Hard: Ace Combat 04 and subsequent games have Expert and Ace difficulties. They also have an Easier Than Easy difficulty (Very Easy). Note though that some goodies (mainly ace appearances) only occur on certain difficulties. Just to clarify for anyone not clear on the concept: on Expert difficulty, one missile instantly kills you, and that's not the hardest difficulty.
He Who Must Not Be Seen: You never get to see the main character either which is especially obvious in Ace Combat 5, where the between-mission cutscenes show the rest of your squadron frequently, as well as some other allies and enemies.
Heroic Mime: The main character almost never speaks — bizarrely enough, this is true even in later games, where you have dedicated wingmen to whom you can give orders with an almost too simple "Yes/No" command, or call for Attack or Cover. (Fanfic retellings have been known to fill these in.)
Hyperspace Arsenal: The least number of missiles any plane in the series carries is around 50, frequently you'll have many more, and then you have special weapons on top of that - don't be surprised if you use third-person view and see ordnance 'magically' rematerialize on your plane's wings! Oh, and ditto for the gun both due to a lot of — or on some difficulty levels infinite — ammunition and a slower rate of fire than in real life where you have cannons with hundred round bursts.
In The Style Of: Directly comparing the "Megalith ~Agnus Dei~" with the standard rendition, or "Zero" with "Unsung War", the differences in rendering make it difficult to tell that they are meant to have the same lyrics.
"First Flight" from 5 is listed in the OST as an arranged version of "Blockade" from 04, but there's really not much similarity between the two. Operation Katina also has a remix of "Elemental Particle" from 2.
Infinity+1 Sword: Almost all the superfighters have hard-to-achieve requirements, but the effort's well worth it.
Infinity–1 Sword: Of course, if it's too much effort for you, you can get the F-22 and Su-37 much more easily.
Instant Expert: The player characters can switch between plane types with ease.
Instant-Win Condition: Some missions only need you to make a point limit and then it will be completed when time runs down regardless of enemy survivors. In some others focusing on only the needed targets is enough to win. Subverted, however, as it's still possible to crash in the time between "Mission Accomplished" and getting to the results screen, causing a failure (from AC4 onward,) or in AC2's case, still finishing the mission but losing money due to having your downed plane replaced.
Interface Spoiler: In most games there will be unselectable or empty boxes in the plane buying and selecting screens, giving away the total number of available planes.
Also, in Zero, the named aces list has 169 entries, in rows of 5, leaving a blank space after the 169th (Pixy). Even if there is a lot of space after that due to the page-like layout, it still suggests that maybe exists a 170th secret ace. There is. Mobius freaking One with his signature Raptor. Subverted, however, as there isn't a profile to unlock, since he appears in an bonus mission out of the storyline.
It's Up to You: The main character (and sometimes his squadron) can always and sometimes is singlehandedly turning the tide of the war. It also becomes a driving factor in the game where radio chatter reflects the infamy and fear of your allies and enemies when you appear on the battlefield, especially in Ace Combat 5. Lampshaded in the arcade mode of Ace Combat 5, where it's revealed that the hero of Ace Combat 04, Mobius One, was more effective than an entire squadron.
And generally even when you do have a squadron, their AI is so passive that most players will end up with ten kills for every one they make between them.
Just Plane Wrong: Averted for the most part, although it does indulge in Rare Vehicles quite a bit. Also subverted as some implausibly cool-looking superfighters have been successfully modelled as airworthy under the limitations of early 21st century flight technology.
Except of course, the Neucom's R-series (at least the more advanced ones). The R-211 Orcinus and R-102/3 shouldn't be able to fly with what we currently know about aerodynamics...
Questionable with the ADF-01 FALKEN; It flies well enough in X-Plane, which is one of the most realistic flight sims, but some things have been done IRL that simulators could not replicate and vice versa. Short of an extremely rich and well-connected fan building his own, we may never know. It also one of the most over the top Superplanes, oddly. (see Serial Escalation below)
This trope can also go the other way with very old aircraft that have been long out of production or retired. The most notable would be the F-14, of which most were retired and subsequently destroyed, while a remaining handful are sitting in museums. Unless you count the ones Iran has, of course.
The F-22 Raptor (which is only in service with the United States Air Force) is in service with just about every nation in Strangereal.
Also, the Su-37, which was only a prototype of an Su-35, is a mainstay advanced fighter in Strangereal. In reality, it was designed as a technology demonstrator and was declared technologically obsolete with the advent of the Su-35BM in 2010.
Kaizo Trap: In almost all the titles you can still crash or even get shot down after the "Mission Accomplished" but before you go to the mission results screen. Averted in 2, however - control of your plane is completely taken away after you complete the mission, so in ones where that would normally result in a crash no matter what, your plane just de-spawns entirely. In others, if the plane manages to crash anyway, you still complete the mission, but lose credits to replace the plane.
Kill Sat: Featured in Ace Combat 3 and Ace Combat 5. The one in Ace Combat 3 was available as a special weapon.
The Main Characters Do Everything: In real life, air superiority and ground attack missions are generally given to units dedicated to those roles. In these games, not only do you get multiple types of missions, but you can easily swap out your planes to match whatever role is needed.
Mission Briefing: Every mission starts with a summary of objectives and a map displaying enemy forces and any allied ground forces, zooming in on certain areas by pushing left or right on the directional pad, as well as hinting by the number of each enemy type which plane type would be best-suited. 6 would dub these Operations, since in these areas you're to provide close air support against surface targets, achieve air superiority over aerial targets or both, and letting you benefit from a captured airfield, electronic (increased missile guidance) or fire support courtesy of the assisted allies. The briefings are more useful for some missions than others. If a briefing suggests that the flight will be quiet, such as a ceremonial flight above a rally or a patrol during ceasefire, assume the worst. The only truly non-eventful flight is a Free Flight, which can only be done after you clear the campaign at least once.
Mission Control: An Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft constantly supervises you, providing mission and story updates as well as things like reminding you that you've locked on to an enemy or vice versa, that you or the enemy has launched a missile at the other, or you're in gun range, as well as whether a missile hit or missed. Amazingly, it's not actually as irritating as it sounds. To the developers' credit, his information is usually useful and the guy comes off as friendly and genuinely concerned about the pilots. It also helps that there is enough dialogue played infrequently enough to keep it from getting stale.
Mook Chivalry: Generally averted; enemy squadrons have no qualms against taking your lonely self on all at once. It gets justified later in each game, where you're infamous enough among them that they can't possibly expect to take you out one-on-one.
Mooks: Although wide and varied, and still capable of damaging you significantly, it's present in all games where you take on whole squadrons of fighters. Especially early on in the American version of Electrosphere, all of Neucom's fighters are the same plane. Averted of course by the ace squadrons; even when your plane is superior (in their first appearances on non-SP playthroughs it's not) they tend to be better pilots. Gets iffy though when for gameplay reasons the difference becomes really marked. (Espada 1 in Zero flies a starting plane!)
Musical Spoiler: You can tell that something is about to happen if the music suddenly goes quiet or changes.
My Nayme Is: The usual Japanese L/R translation issues are found throughout the series.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: In an unusual twist, it's the player, who, depending on the game, may be the Grim Reaper, the Demons/Ghosts of Razgriz, or the Demon Lord of the Round Table, among others. The enemy forces usually start to cower at the mention of your name.
Necessary Drawback: QAAMs have short range to balance their high accuracy/maneuverability, long-range missiles tend to be inaccurate unless launched at the right angle, and SAAMs could have been a Game Breaker in combining XLAA range with QAAM maneuverability... were it not for you having to keep your aircraft's nose pointed at the target (and the target within a SAAM-exclusive circular reticle) for the duration of the SAAM's flightnote although if you can bring a target back within the reticle in time, the missile will continue tracking, which can make you a sitting duck while the missile is flying. The air-to-ground weapons and parts have similar issues.
New Game+: You can start a SP New Game to restart the campaign with your attained money, unlocked planes and paint jobs (and in Zero with your Ace Style Gauge where you left it in the previous campaign), or do Free Mission(s) to bump up your ranking and/or time, shoot down named aces, and in 5, Zero and X gain money. (Note that in Zero your Ace Style Gauge is only affected by the campaign, so feel free to be merciless in Free Mission.) Free Mission also has a Free Flight option (except in X) where you can fly around all by yourself with no time limit or objectives.
No Name Given: In addition to the player characters, several enemy aces like Yellow 13 and most of the AWACS spokesmen go only by callsign.
Nuclear Weapons Taboo: Subverted with the implicitly stated and sometimes detonated nuclear arsenal from various games. What's interesting about this is that while nukes exist, nuclear proliferation doesn't seem to.
Oh Crap: Enemies have this reaction when your characters show up in later parts of the games. Your allies have this reaction when they get targetted by the local superweapon. The two words are explicitly dropped in X: Skies of Deception when your allies see that there's another Fenrir in Archelon Fortress trying to escape to Leasath and they can't do anything about it themselves.
Once A Game: Ever since Ace Combat 5, it has apparently become a tradition to kill or almost kill off one of the player's wingmen. Since Zero, 6 and Assault Horizon always has the player flying with only one wingman, well...
Every main-series game since the fourth has included Mobius One's paint scheme for the F-22A and Yellow 13's paint scheme for the Su-37 (Su-35 in 06 since the -37 isn't in the game.) Later games have added more character references, such as Ragriz from 5 and Scarface One from 2.
Playable Epilogue: The games typically include the so-called "Free Mission mode", where you can fly individual campaign missions out of order as often as you want on any difficulty. This mode (along with New Game+) is usually unlocked after completing the campaign on any difficulty and lets you use all hitherto unlocked planes and upgrades, in order to e.g. hunt down the remaining aces or improve your completion ranks.
Point Defenseless: AA guns usually aren't much threat on lower difficulties, much less able to take down your missiles and bombs, such that when "high-performance" triple-A that can show up in X: Skies of Deception, the briefing and AWACS guy feel a need to emphasise it. Also, Sulejmani's Varcolac from Joint Assault mounts a rear-facing anti-missile gatling.
Product Placement: Assault Horizon is brought to you by the US Air Force. "It's not science fiction."
Radio Silence: A few mission across the series impose this for storyline reasons, sometimes combined with altitude restrictions or avoiding enemy radar. At most, this is just a break from your wingmen's chatter.
Rare Vehicles: Many (real-world) flyable aircraft are either prototypes, technology demonstrators, or canceled projects that never made it into mass production.
Most egregious is the Aurora and every boss plane. Not to mention "normally" (on any difficulty regardless of performance) flyable top-tier/endgame planes such as the "S-37A" (04)/"S-32" (5)/Su-47 Berkut (Zero and 6).
The Su-47 and F-15 ACTIVE have it the worst in 04 - Erusea has enough of them that they're letting the Redshirt Army fly them in the penultimate mission, when only one of each currently exists in the real world.
Subverted in a sort of weird way in Zero: Gelb Squadron is the only encounter in the game where you're guaranteed to fight Su-37's. There are two of them in the squad, the same number built in real life. There are, however, two more named Su-37 pilots later in the game, but they only appear on Ace difficulty, and one of them (who may or may not be the future leader of the Yellow Squadron), only in the Knight Style.
Another offender is the F-14 Tomcat, which was retired in 2006, with a few planes going to museums and the rest getting scrapped. While most of the AC games were made before the retirement, Assault Horizon is particularly egregious offender since the game was made in 2011, is set in the near future, and one of the trailers shows an entire squadron of operational F-14s. Another possible offender the same game is the PAK FA, which at the time of the game's release is still in the testing phase, and only a few prototypes exist.
The PAK-FA is tentatively expected to be ready for action around 2015, the year Assault Horizon takes place, though.
Real Life: The newest installments of the series, Joint Assault for the PSP and Assault Horizon for the 360 and PS3 take place in real-world locations.
Reality Ensues: The gamebreaker-ness of the QAAMs can be interpreted as what happens when you put a nigh-undefeatable real-world heater in a world where the standard missiles are overfed tabbies that can be shaken off without needing countermeasures.
Red Baron: Typically, as your skills become more and more recognized, you or your squadron get a nickname, referring to a plot point or squadron logo. For instance, Gryphus One from Ace Combat X becomes known as "nemesis" by the obviously uncreative enemies, and "the southern cross" by allies, since the constellation is painted on your aircraft, there's the "Ribbon" in 04, and the Razgriz squadron (alternately the Demons or Ghosts thereof). But yeah, the best is the "Demon Lord of the Round Table" in Zero, hard to top that.
Possibly rivalling that, one enemy in the sixteenth mission refers to Mobius One as "the Grim Reaper." This doesn't happen too often, though.
And one of the minor allied pilots from Ace Combat 6 (IE one of the ones you can't unlock a profile about, but is still identified in subtitles) is literally the Red Baron.
It first applies to your wingman in Zero; Pixy already has the nickname "Solo Wing" (he crash-landed his F-15C Eagle despite losing its right wing), he has a custom paint scheme (his new Eagle's right wing is painted red), and your opposition has already heard of him.
Redshirt Army: The majority of allied pilots are considerably less capable than the PC.
The Remnant: Erusea does this not once but twice. Leasath also does this.
Roboteching: The key ability of QAAMs; some cruise missiles also give you quite the spinny chase.
Sequel Escalation: Subverted by the superfighters, with the Falken being one of the first introduced and easily being the most over-the-top, though it wasn't playable until the fifth game. Later planes have at least looked more down to earth, with the CFA-44 looking more like a modern, fifth generation fighter.
Sequential Boss: Every Flying Fortress Mission is the series counts for this.
Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness: With few exceptions, the later a plane is available, the statistically superior it is. On the other hand, missiles and other special weapons don't get better on later planes.
The Squad: Mostly averted in 04 (you almost always have four wingmen flying with you, but none are explicitly named, and in the final mission it's subverted in that Mobius Squadron is really just Mobius One plus a squadron's worth of pilots in Raptors with his insignia), used in 5 ("Heartbreak One" Bartlett, Blaze, Edge, Chopper, and Archer), and it's pairs in 2 (Scarface 1/"Edge" or "Slash", though only in certain missions... and there're supposed to be other pilots in Scarface), Zero (Galm 1 "Cipher"/Galm 2 "Pixy" then PJ) and 6 (Garuda 1 "Talisman"/Garuda 2 "Shamrock").
Squad Controls: Ace Combat 5, Ace Combat Zero, and Ace Combat 6 gave you control over your wingmen. Seeing how the game is about aerial combat, your options are usually "Concentrate Fire", "Disperse and Engage", and "Cover Me". You can also toggle permission to use special weapons. Unfortunately, in AC6, the controls were already simplified compared to ACZ and this feature seems to have been abandoned completely in later Ace Combat games (where the wingmen are completely AI-controlled).
Stealth-Based Mission: 2, 3, 5 and X have missions that force you to fly below a certain altitude, avoid circles representing radar coverage, or both.
Ace Combat 5 branches off at two different times before converging back into the main story. Your wingman Chopper asks you a question in the middle of a mission and your Yes/No answer determines the choice. The questions he asks has nothing to do with anything relevant to the missions.
Super Prototype: Most of the superfighters, though some of them are subversions.
Surprisingly Improved Sequel: In-universe. While the first game had many of the elements that make the series what it is, the graphics are hideous to the point of Fake Difficulty in the first canyon mission and many features were only present in rudimentary form. It was also just old enough to be incompatible with analog controllers, requiring the player to use the D-pad to control the plane. The second game introduced analog controls, better graphics, and something closer to a real plot. The series didn't really find it's niche until 3 came out, when it introduced story dialogue given during missions via radio chatter, special weapons to use, and everything else that every game following after that have become known for having.
Animal Theme Naming: The Yellow Squadron's official designation is "Aquila" (Latin and Italian for "Eagle"). Over two dozen of Belkan aces are named after various birds (in German), and another dozen, after animals (ditto). Aurelia's air force likewise have bird genera for squadron names.
Getting hit by the Chandelier missiles in 6. There's a launcher with a barrel so big you can (and need to) fly a plane down it, and it fires a missile in timed intervals. It's worth mentioning that getting shot down by the Chandelier literally maxes out the Xbox 360's PROCESSING POWER! The amount of power needed to render the cannon's special effects when it fires combined with your plane disintegrating in the air drops the framerate down to about 3 frames per second. Overkill indeed.
On your side it's easy to single a target out for a full "burst" of special missiles, heaters and gun rounds. Or drop a FAEB/LSWM/MPBM on a single ground target. It's wasteful to the max, but overkill man!
Timed Mission: Every one. In the first two games this was represented by a fuel meter, making it slightly more plausible, though oddly enough RTB was almost never an issue.
Title Drop: The EU non-numeric titles Distant Thunder, Squadron Leader and The Belkan War all show up in their respective games. There's also Shattered Skies — both a dialogue phrase and the name of AC4's eighth mission.
Unusable Enemy Equipment: There are some fighter-ish planes you can't acquire for your collection, and non-fighter types i.e. bombers, recon, AEW&C are wholly unusable. The Harrier, SR-71, Tu-95 Bear, and B-52 are common examples. The enemy controlled variations of the FALKEN in 2, Morgan in Zero, and Nosferatu in 6 all have special features that the player versions never had.
Videogame Caring Potential: There's satisfaction to be gained from helping the Redshirt Air Force out rather than just gunning for the targets and leaving them to die.
Assault Horizon has a truly epic one. You have to stop an ICBM from striking the U.S. with a Trinity warhead. It's already launched, though. Do you just volley missiles at it before it gets out of range? HELL NO. You close in on it, activate DFM, and accelerate up after it until you're practically taking damage from its exhaust, firing guns and missiles the whole way up.
The War Sequence: Several missions in the games really drive home the point that you are fighting a war.
Wave Motion Gun: The series has several superweapons that qualify, including the XR-900's Heavy Laser from Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, the Arkbird's laser cannon, Excalibur from Ace Combat Zero, and the ADF-01 FALKEN's Tactical Laser System. The TLS returns in both Zero onboard the FALKEN and the ADFX-01 "Morgan" (which has only half the number of shots), and has a spiritual successor in Ace Combat 6 with the Electromagnetic Launcher (EML) onboard the CFA-44 "Nosferatu."
When All You Have Is a Hammer: Your offensive options in the first two games consisted entirely of short-ranged missiles and an even-shorter-ranged Vulcan cannon. Electrosphere allowed you to swap those out for weapons with differing powers and ranges, and every game after that added special weapons such as bombs.
You Can't Thwart Stage One: The final missions of Ace Combat 4 and 5, twice in Zero (the Belkans deploying nuclear weapons and V2)and the start of 6. Not helped by how difficult it is to even try thwarting stage one.