The third game in the Ace Combat series, released in 1999, and the last to have been developed for the original PlayStation.The world is Strangereal, a not-Earth from the previous games that was first fleshed out in this installment. The year is 2040. In the past few decades, the national governments of Strangereal have decayed beyond repair and were replaced by a global rule of Mega Corps, chief among whom are General Resource Limited and Neucom Incorporated. Naturally, the two companies' competition for power is far from friendly, and the only thing standing between them and an all-out war is the Universal Peace Enforcement Organization. Further upsetting the fragile balance of power are: the GR's latest Super Prototype fighter jet, the Night Raven, and its groomed pilot, the sickly Rena Hirose; the Neucom scientists' questionable experiments on the recently discovered Cyberspace and Brain Uploading; an overzealous military commander's schemes; and a Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy lurking in the background and pulling every string.You fly as Nemo, a nameless and initially unknown UPEO pilot, and become entangled in a complex plot that borrows heavily from the Cyberpunk genre and stars a diverse cast of pilots, scientists, and politicians. With frequently branching storylines, five distinct endings, and one massive wham in the epilogue, Electrosphere is a tale of loyalty, betrayal, revenge, scientific ethics, Family Drama, and social critique, fondly remembered as the definitive highpoint of the Ace Combat series....unless, of course, you live in the insignificantly tiny portion of the world that is not Japan, for which the story was remade into a lone pilot working for the UPEO, protecting the world from Neucom's increasingly desperate attacks. Namco currently has no plans to deliver the original Electrosphere to the outside world, but the release of a remake of Ace Combat 2 for N3DS gives us a faint glimmer of hope. Don't hold your breath, though.Despite the game having never been translated into English, it was the seminal installment of the series that codified its setting and most of the associated gameplay tropes (the honor that usually goes to Ace Combat 04 in the West). It has been said that ever since 1999, the AC series has been slowly working its way back up to Electrosphere (all following Strangereal games were technically prequels to it), but never quite achieving the same level of expansiveness, plot intricacy, and gameplay finesse.
Tropes found in the game:
Ace Custom: Both Cynthia's and Rena's planes have a customized paintjob. Justified in Rena's case, as she is an Ill Girl and requires special equipment just to fly.
Airborne Aircraft Carrier: The first in the franchise to have this, is the UI-4053 Sphyrna. A futuristic blimp, it is surprisingly very dangerous, with you requiring to destroy its multiple engines before moving on to the main one. While it doesn't carry many airplanes due to its size, it carries the ones that are important: The island-sinking X-49 Night Raven and Dision's personal Ace Custom aircraft, the UI-4054 Aurora.
Amazing Technicolor Battlefield: Your Final Boss fight against Dision takes place within the Electrosphere itself. Specifically, both of you cut off visual input to the outside world and fight in a three-dimensional grid space within an infinite-length cybertunnel. There is a catch however: the real world outside the visual overload still exists and the altimeter reflects that; go to zero and you will "crash".
Arc Words: "Discard your flesh and transcend your limits", referring to Sublimation, an Arc Word unto itself.
All There in the Manual: Not one, but two: Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere - Mission and World View, which did not come with the game, and the Photosphere, which did come with the game. The kicker? The Photosphere is already fully-translated into English in the book itself, with a Surprisingly Good English level of translation.
Always Someone Better: Cynthia for Fiona, and, considering Cynthia's adoration of Dision, she views Rena as this.
Ambiguously Evil: Dision. Second mission he's featured, and he's trying to get you to join his Company faction. No one knows if he's aligned fully with GR, aiding UPEO's chessmaster Park, or is all about himself. In the end, it's neither; he only wants revenge for his then girlfriend Yoko.
Animal Theme Naming: Neucom's R-series planes are most often named after Latin genuses of aquatic creatures. Case in point are R-101/102/103 Delphinus (Dolphin), R-211 Orcinus (Orca/Killer Whale), R-201 Asterozoa (starfish), etc.
Made even more blatant with the R-311 Remora parasite fighter and its host aircraft, the R-531 Mobura. The Remora is famous for it being "attached" to other, larger fishes (such as sharks), but the Mobura, a misspelling of Mobula, is a genus of manta rays. The aircraft looks nearly exactly the same as the animal it is named after.
The Atoner: Poor, poor Cynthia. After her sister got offed by the organization she defected to, she performs a Heel-Face Turn from Ouroboros and singlehandedly (with you, of course) reversed the entire mess she has gotten into. It's even written in one of the mission name: Counterrevolution.
Awesome, but Impractical: MIRV missiles. Firing two of them creates eight missiles a la Macross Missile Massacre. However, their tracking is absolutely piss-poor and it doesn't seem to hit anything, moving or not, ground-level or otherwise.
The Blank: Jets that use the COFFIN system typically have no outwardly-visible cockpit.
Boring, but Practical: Spread Bombs in the second slot is insanely powerful against ground targets and destroy many of them when clustered together.
Brain Uploading: Sublimation is the process of uploading a human consciousness into the Electrosphere. Known successes include Abyssal Dision and Cynthia Fitzgerald.
More than that is Dision himself. Not only he tried engineering you to join GR, he's also the head of Ouroboros, assisted Park with his scheme to usurp control of UPEO, offs his own company's CEO, and basically grooming Rena to be the perfect Tykebomb.
Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Rena Hirose seems to go off on her own whenever she is flying with you and sends you various video messages. Apparently Dision has been messing with her mind.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Named pilots that happen to be the enemy simply doesn't have targeting reticles, meaning it cannot be locked on, let alone shot down. They can however, shoot you.
Continuity Cameo: Before being really popular in Ace Combat 5, but after appearing in Ace Combat 2, Kei Nagase makes an appearance as a member of Ouroboros in a news broadcast. You need to take a particular route (specifically, Neucom/Fiona route) to view it though.
Creator Provincialism: Or rather, localization provincialism. Specifically, the cover art of the Japanese version of the game features the futuristic in-game equivalent Sukhoi Flanker model flying upright, as in the Cobra Maneuver pose. The US/EU version features instead the futuristic in-game equivalent of the F-22 Raptor instead. Retroactively funny since in-game, the Su-37 Super Flanker possesses a much superior stats and is labeled "Advanced Fighter" while the F-22C Raptor II has only balanced, "not bad" stats, and is labeled "Multirole" instead.
Cut Song: The Japanese version does not use the Briefing theme specifically composed for this game. Only the US version does, which is probably the only good thing about the otherwise Macekred edition.
Dead All Along: Abyssal Dision. Shortly before her death, Yoko Inoue copied Human!Dision's consciousness into the Electrosphere, creating the self-aware AI!Dision, the first ever human to be Sublimed. Before she realized it, however, she and Human!Dision were killed by a bomb and their laboratory destroyed along with their research.
The Dog Bites Back: Cynthia, having been fed up by Dision's propaganda, abject lack of respect for her and his doting on Rena, decides to do this.
On UPEO route, Rena herself does this. Apparently Dision's plans did not expect this particular thing to happen...
Faction-Specific Endings: The game has three faction endings (UPEO, General Resource, and Neucom) plus two Ouroboros endings, which are both a mix of faction ending and Lone Wolf ending.
False Flag Operation: Mission 13, UPEO Route, Pawns In The Game: Fly advanced Neucom bomber jets to General Resource territories to provoke all-out war, under orders from your "peacekeeping" commander.
Fantastic Rank System: Cynthia's introduction video has her state that she is Neucom Emergency Unit's "Chief Consulting Pilot". It probablymakes sense considering the Mega Corp. nature of the setting, but still...
Fricking Laser Beams: Both X-49 Raven and the Neucom's counterparts, XR-900 Geopelia has this for their "Primary Weapon" slot. Oddly, the "Laser Wave" weapon that high-end Neucom fighters has behave more like a beam machinegun than a laser weapon per se.
Gainax Ending: The Omega Ending of the game, where Simon reveals that you are a program he created and does... something to you, has been interpreted in a number of different ways (the lack of an official translation is certainly not helping its understanding). Various interpretations include: Simon purges Nemo because he outlived his usefulness; Simon transfers Nemo into another simulation ("game"); Simon lets Nemo loose into the Electrosphere (as opposed to an isolated mainframe where he has been running the whole time) to hunt down Dision; Simon releases Nemo into the real world (somehow); ans so on.
Gameplay Ally Immortality: Your allies will not take so much as a scratch even though three superfighters are wailing at it with cannons, missiles, and what-have-you.
Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: The eight Geopelias that just show up out of nowhere as the Final Boss of the General Resource route after both Dision and the Night Raven have already been defeated, seemingly with no purpose but to provide another hint at the true nature of the Player Character. Even in-story, the ending video has a reporter wonder where these new planes came from, since neither Neucom, nor the remains of Ouroboros claimed responsibility (though they are definitely of Neucom make).
High Altitude Battle: There's a special case where you fly an RF-12A2note futurized A-12 Oxcart into the stratosphere via rocket engine and shoot down bombers.
In the Japanese version on one path you can play as one of the bombers you have to shoot down in that mission! It's a really unique experience from the SR-71 version because the planes handle completely differently. Props to the dev team on doing that for just one mission.
Ill Girl: Rena Hirose, who suffers from a disease that prevents all exposure to sunlight. She became a General Resources pilot to view the exterior.
Just Plane Wrong: While some of Neucom's R-Series planes are plausible (R-201's double-body design has been used since WW2), some planes feature some very questionable design choices, such as R-102/103's protrusion and R-211's second cockpit and nose as well as its forward-swept tailplanes.
Kill Sat: General Resource's satellites. In Neucom route, you get to destroy them, and in a subroute, you need to protect a fallen Kill Sat in order to capture it and prove that GR really was up to no good.
Laser Guided Tykebomb: Rena, specifically to pilot the incredibly overpowered X-49 Night Raven. While Real!Dision did not intend to make her into one, AI!Disiondoes.
Lensman Arms Race: Both General Resource and Neucom develop (or, in the case of GR, upgrade) their fleet to better fight one another. The zenith of this is in Neucom's race to copy General Resource's ace-in-the-hole: The X-49 Night Raven. They succeeded in making eight of them.
More Than Memory Manipulation: Dision's ruthless memory manipulation of Rena made her absolutely willing to follow Dision through his visions of revolution. After the assault on UPEO's HQ though, glitches on Rena's mind floods her with her real memories, causing her to Freak Out.
My Rule Fu Is Stronger than Yours: Of a larger scale. Not too long after the start of the game, both UPEO and General Resource have given Neucom quite a good beating, sinking a good portion of their naval fleet from joining Megafloat. This is because Neucom violated a crucial no-fly zone restriction. Just then though, a recently-signed truce means UPEO can no longer assist General Resource against Neucom since technically, they surrendered. After then, General Resource breaks the truce and attacks Neucom's base pre-emptively. Since this time, General Resource is the aggressor, UPEO has to come to Neucom's aid since they are a peacekeeping organization. Yes, the whole thing is as absurd as it sounds, and characters within the game lampshade this ruthlessly.
The Neutral Zone: Subverted. While Expo City is technically UPEO's HQ in many endings, one branch has it hosting Neucom forces. The very first mission has you shooting down Neucom flights above it, suggesting that it changes allegiances quite a lot.
Non-Standard Game Over: This game has quite a few of them. Some honourable mentions include Zero Gravity, which shows your R-352 getting toasted by one of the satellite lasers if you run out of time, Guardian Angel, which shows the R-808 going down and crashing (With Cynthia's complaining including in the original version of the game), and the UI-4053 getting blown out of the sky by a submarine cruise missile.
Omega Ending: You have to clear all five regular endings to watch the epilogue.
Optional Stealth: One mission advises you to stay under the radar net as you proceed to the enemy base. It doesn't matter if you are spotted or not, it only determines when you end up fighting more enemy planes.
Paper Tiger: UPEO itself. It is so woefully under-equipped that it has to receive "gifts" of military hardware from both sides just to stay competent, helpfully illustrated by the suffix "U" after the jets' names (eg, F-16XFU is basically General Resource's own F-16XF with a UPEO green paintjob, ditto R-101U from Neucom). The kicker? The donated equipments are as bog-standard bottom-shelf jets as they come. A hacked video feed even lampshades this ruthlessly.
Person A: Are these R-Numbers? They've got UPEO markings on it.
Person B: Well, there goes their so-called "neutrality".
Posthumous Character: Yoko Inoue, Dision's late lover who researched the Electrsophere and uploaded him into it shortly before her death.
Propaganda Machine: There are several "news" outlets. The take on these propaganda vehicles is a bit more realistic than most; the networks' bias in favor of their sponsors is apparent, but isn't over the top. GBS (General Resource's TV news network) in particular is a censored news source and makes few bones about it.
Literally, the first three video broadcasts you tune into before your first mission is both the GBS and NVS' narrated commercials about their own company.
Sadistic Choice: In the aptly-named mission Scylla and Charybdis, you are to protect Fiona and Chairman Clarkson from GR attacks. Later on, Park order you to shoot it down on charges of treason. Shooting them down means killing your heretofore loyal friend, killing your UPEO reinforcement signals treachery to your organization. Take too long though, and Rena will do the job for you.
A lesser example is in GR's route, where you must shoot down Neucom strato-transports carrying mini-fighters. Halfway through, Keith sends a distress signal as apparently, an enemy ace has him on the ropes. The mission that proceeds afterwards depends on whether you continue your mission as ordered or destroy the ace that plagued Keith.
Scenery Porn: One mission has you flying in a canyon while trailing a plane with absolutely no dogfighting.
Sequential Boss: The final battles against Rena and Dision in one of the endings.
Space Battle: The only example in the entire series has you controlling Neucom's R-352 Sepia manned starfighter, killing orbital satellites. In a moment of The Dev Team Thinks of Everything, the controls of a spacecraft in zero-G feels entirely different than in atmosphere, throwing players out of the loop and forcing them to unlearn everything and adapt in one minute or else. All this for one mission.
Spanner in the Works: You. Specifically, Dision's plan to groom Rena to pilot the massively overpowered X-49 Night Raven. After repeated contacts with you, Rena becomes more determined to find her real memories. This proves crucial later on as she betrays Dision.
The Starscream: While Chairman Clarkson is truly committed to pacifying the two Companies, Park has...ambitions of his own.
Super Prototype: Many General Resource planes are actually born from real-life prototypes of otherwise abandoned or shelved projects. Discounting the F-15S/MTD which appears all over the series, the RF-12A2 is not actually a variant of SR-71, but of an earlier prototype interceptor called A-12 Oxcart. This is the same case with F/A-32C Erne being the finalized product of Boeing X-32 and XFA-36A Game derived from the otherwise proof-of-concept plane McDonnell Douglas X-36. Others include F-16XF Gyrfalcon, based on the F-16 AFTI, and F-16XA Sakerfalcon, based on the F-16XL Cranked Arrow concept.
An ingame example is the massively overpowered X-49 Night Raven, which is the whole reason of GR-Neucom conflict.
Taking You with Me: If the player sides with Ouroboros, Keith joins you, and attacks Dision and Rena. After he takes enough damage, he gets his plane stuck between the wings of Rena's Night Raven; when you shoot him down, Rena goes down too.
Tomato in the Mirror: The final ending, obtained by completing all five story paths, reveals that the player was an AI taking part in a fully simulated war to determine whether a single pilot could change the course of a war. It is decided that they couldn't, and the plug is pulled; you achieved nothing, and never could have. This ending is somewhat unpopular among series fans (in Japan - no one else got to see it), and subsequent entries reverted to the player being a One Man Air Force.
Another character is revealed to be this as well: AI!Dision. Bonus points of him realizing it while the real one is still alive, and him seeing everything through security cameras, since he doesn't exist in the flesh.
Transhuman Treachery: This is the modus operandi and rallying cry for those who have "discarded their flesh", that is, the people who have Sublimated. Subverted with Cynthia, who is truly in it only for the sake of her curiosity, and she becomes devastated when her plans involve sacrificing her younger sister Fiona.
True Companions: Both Erich and Keith are this to you on their respective routes. Keith even starts to salute you at the end of his video messages if you save him from troubles.
‹bermensch: The Dision you meet is actually an electronic AI copy of a flesh-and-blood Dision; this AI wants humanity to progress to an electronic form as he has, all while the Corporate War is heating up and he (it?) plays a part. Ultimately subverted, in that his ultimate goal is not to "advance the human race", but rather of Revenge against the companies who killed his or rather, his flesh-and-blood counterpart girlfriend, Yoko.
United Nations Is a Superpower: Subverted. The UPEO was established by what's left of the old national governments as a global peacekeeping force meant to police the new corporate order. In practice, it's a Paper Tiger that's woefully underfunded and an unwitting tool for Ouroboros.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Erich is, assuming you do not take the UPEO route, kind of sort of "disappeared" during the late stages of the game. If you are following the General Resource route though, you have the option of shooting him down, which does explain his absence. Otherwise...not so much.
What the Hell, Hero?: One mission in UPEO's route, after shooting down one of their own ally for suspicions of treason, Erich calls Rena out for it.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Erich firmly believes in him protecting peace with UPEO. He's quite Genre Savvy about everything though, and when he has been used as a pawn too far, he flies with you and initiates a two-plane rebellion.
With This Herring: Double subverted. You start with an Eurofighter Typhoon, one of the coolest planes of today... however, it's the far future, by then the Eurofighter is severely outdated, and flying it is kinda like nowadays flying a World War II fighter.