Video Game: Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War aka: Ace Combat Zero
"This is the Round Table. Dead men's words hold no meaning."
In this, the seventh game in the Ace Combat series (released in 2006) , a journalist from the Osean Federation, in the world of Strangereal, named Brett Thompson films a documentary on the history of the Belkan War, which was alluded to in the previous game. In 1995, the Belkan Federation began an invasion of the autonomous Republic of Ustio, hoping to reclaim the resource-rich territory that had once been theirs. 90% of Ustio's air force was destroyed in the opening days of the war and as they were overrun, Belka turned its attention towards the Osean Federation, the Union of Yuktobanian Republics and their allies. Unamused, the allied nations sided with Ustio and delivered a smackdown of national proportions and everyone lived happily ever after, right? Well...In its final days, Ustio took desperate measures and recruited a number of mercenary pilots in a last ditch effort to fend off the encroaching Belkans. One of these pilots is the true interest of Thompson, a legendary ace known as the Demon Lord of the Round Table. In his time, he was known by the callsign, Cipher, and was number one of the Galm Squadron alongside Larry "Pixy" Foulke, aka Solo Wing. As Cipher, you play through the most famous battles of the Belkan War and deal with its bloody and tragic aftermath.In terms of the Ace Combat series, The Belkan War differs mainly in its presentation of the story. It takes the form of a retrospective using live action actors to play the parts and invests a significant amount of effort in demonstrating the extent to which the Demon Lord affected the lives of everyone who fought him.The events that take place in this game are not to be confused with the other Belkan War that brought about the downfall of an ancient empire, though the similarities are strong and Shout Outs to this game abound.Now has a character sheet. Please put all character-relevant tropes there.
Tropes found in the game:
Achievements System: The game (on the PlayStation 2) included a number of medals that could be earned by completing story missions and beating certain challenges across multiple playthroughs; the medals can be viewed from the main menu.
Air Jousting: The final mission has you do the closest equivalent fighter jets can get to knightly jousting. Considering the Arthurian motifs present, it was most likely deliberate.
Always Someone Better: Larry "Solo Wing Pixy" Foulke starts the game more notorious than the player character Cipher, and mentions at the end of the first mission that "he (Cipher) had potential." He goes on to have a friendly relationship with Cipher and refers to him as "Buddy" whenever possible even after turning on you and becoming the final boss.
Badass Back: Gelb Squadron's Su-37's can fire missiles backwards, as can Mobius One's F-22A Raptor. Truth in Television: Some of the latest AAMs, like the Python 4/5 or AA-11/R-73, have a 360-degree targetting capability.
Badass Boast:"This is our turf and we'll fly how we please!" - Schnee One
Bait-and-Switch Boss: Happens in the Gauntlet on the highest difficulty. The final squad is wiped out by the real boss... Mobius 1 in his signature Raptor. If you manage to shoot him down, that's 30,000 points for you. Yes: Mobius 1 is considered so badass that shooting him down is equivalent to shooting down six Pixy+ADFX-02, or rougly twenty "normal" Aces!
Big Lipped Alligator Moment: In-Universe, the FALKEN is just given to you when you unlock it. It really has no mention anywhere in the storylines of The Unsung War or Zero. This is Gameplay and Story Segregation, as the Morgan is very clearly an early version of the FALKEN, with standard jet engines, a normal cockpit and a less efficient laser weapon. The FALKEN doesn't exist when Zero takes place, it's just a bonus.
The X-02 Wyvern is the same. It's a bonus given to you when you unlock it. It's description still says it's the latest in Erusian technology, even though it wouldn't be developed until the Erusian War many years later.
Mostly averted with the Morgan itself, which comes out of nowhere to fight you, but its defenses are addressed when you encounter it.
Bilingual Bonus: Knowing some German (and to a lesser degree, Russian and Spanish) helps you recognize references.
Book Ends: It is snowing during both the first and last missions of the game.
Boss-Only Level: The final mission is just one long fight against the final boss.
Boss Rush: The bonus stage 'Gauntlet' allowed the player to face four randomly chosen enemy ace squadrons in a row.
Bonus Boss: But only on the Ace difficulty. Eliminate Espada Squadron in under a minute, and you get to fight Mobius One, the Player Character from AC04. Regular missions also often have optional aces you can down, but these aren't really harder than the compulsory ones.
Chasing Your Tail: Inverted for the final mission, as noted in the King Arthur trope entry below, you have to attack the ADFX-02 Morgan's front air intakes head on... essentially "a missile-enhanced game of chicken."
The Kestrel shows up as an escort objective in the "Operation Costner" variation of Mission 4.
Mission 10 is full of AC5 characters: Captain Bartlett is one of your allies in the Knight version, the leader of Ofnir squad can be shot down in the Soldier route, and in the Mercenary version you can also meet Huckebein the Raven aka Pops and either rescue him from the leader of Grabacr squad or shoot him down.
Dashing Hispanic: On a musical level, the hispanic instruments in "Zero" are part of what makes it one of the most badass, if not the most badass, tune in the series.
Developing Doomed Characters: A weird example: Almost every single one of the 169 named aces you shoot down has a unique brief biography written for them — but it is only unlocked after you defeat them, and being defeated by you is also their single purpose in the game.
Disc One Nuke: The F-5E, one of your three starting planes, is equipped with QAAMs. It's balanced by only carrying four, but still, that's effectively four free air kills.
Downer Ending: Some of the pilots that you (have to) shoot down do not have happy endings, or at least must have taken quite the hit to the ego in their postwar lives: Anthony "Lucan" Palmer works for an insurance company, Dominic "Vulture" Zubov is a fugitive war criminal, Franz Breitner (Indigo 4) was killed after the Belkan War in a crossfire with guerrillas while visiting a village on behalf of a children's charity, and Marcela "Macarena" Vasquez's beloved flight lead Alberto Lopez does not long survive being shot down by Galm 1: in the Mercenary story path he's killed when his J35J Draken fighter is destroyed, in Soldier he eventually passed away from his injuries suffered that day, and in Knight he eventually returned to the sky only to die there. Possibly the most visible would be former Belkan Air Force poster boy turned history professor Detlef "Red Swallow" Fleisher who wouldn't even look directly at the camera, still unable to swallow his pride and accept his defeat by mercenaries.
Named enemy pilots whose defeat is not required include: Hariman Reinhardt, who had to retire due to vision problems; Dietmar Wolf was dubiously tried as a war criminal (though the charges were dismissed); Yuri Dashkov's own wingman testified against him after their capture; and there's Daniel Bierofka the car salesman...
On the other hand, the narrator later says that "They always had a slight smile on their faces" whenever they talked about the Demon Lord. Perhaps the point of the interviews is to say that the only glory in war is to live long enough to see its end. In fact, the final line in the trailer of Zero is "There is only one rule in war: Survive".
Dude, Where's My Respect?: As always for Ace Combat, beautifully averted. Zero is the king of all AC heroes in the respect department: some of the cutscenes between missions are full-motion video interviews with ace pilots about you, the Demon Lord of the Round Table, ten years later.
Even Evil Has Standards - In Mission 12, when you learn about the bombers carrying nuclear weaponry, a large squadron of neutral Belkan aircraft show up and tell the target aircraft that if they do not immediately turn around and return to base, the neutral squadron will destroy them themselves.
Evil Is Easy: Not so much. You get better planes, yes, but you have to defeat ace squadrons flying them against you first, and you have to take time to destroy yellow targets to stay evil. It definitely pays better, though. That's not to say the ace squadrons specific to that path are much more difficult than the others, but they do tend to outnumber you more severely than other squads.
Face-Heel Turn: Pixy. Even though he's obviously reconciled with the player character by the time of his video interview, he still killed the replacement wingman PJ.
Fatal Family Photo: Though Patrick "PJ" James Beckett was never considered the sharpest tool in the shed, his sense of Genre Blindness reaches a head when the last words out of his mouth are "I'm gonna ask her to marry me when I get back, I even bought flowers!" Boom.
Foregone Conclusion: If you've played 5, you already know that the Belkans lose, and that they drop nukes on their own territory. But despite knowing that, the major twist is that's not the end of the game.
For Massive Damage: " Morgan's only weak point is in the front air intake. You'll have to attack it head on."
Genre Blindness: A particularly cruel example with PJ: "Now the war is finally over. I got a girlfriend back at the base. I'm gonna propose to her when I get back. I even bought flowers." Three seconds later, he's blown out of the sky.
Gratuitous German: Subverted, all of the Belkan Air Force ace pilots are named with German words such as Schnee (Snow), Rot (Red) and Schwann (Swan), sometimes however, they do get the translations wrong (Grun for example is supposed to have an umlaut over the U).
Grey and Gray Morality: Ace Combat Zero has this in spades, though it is possible by attaining Supreme Knight to make Cipher almost totally "white".
Hufflepuff House: Ustio and Sapin are this to Osea and Yuktobania despite the fact that the player character is from (or at least working for) one of these Third-Party Countries.
Pixy: Galm 2 to Crow 3, if you get shot down, crash where I can't see. PJ: Uh, Roger, leave it to me.
Even funnier if you're playing Knight: PJ cheerfully agrees with Pixy's "order."
Interface Screw: The briefing interface is screwed with by the Hresvelgr bombing the base. And then there's mission twelve where not only does the screen shake, everything goes all fuzzy and stays that way until the mission ends, due to the EMP from the Belkan nukes going off scrambling your jet's electronics.
Karma Meter: Knight/Soldier/Mercenary. Mercenary is as much evil as the game gets, as pilots see you as a despicable bastard who's only concerned with money. Soldiers are more neutral, as you're only following orders and doing whatever it takes to turn the tide of battle, and knight is not-quite-Good but at least honorable in battle.
Kick the Dog: One mission has you assisting Allied bombers destroying a Belkan munitions facility, but they make it known right from the start that they're prioritizing destruction over accuracy.
The bombers' radio chatter is borderline Axe Crazy as well:
Bomber pilot: Turn it to ashes! (pause) That's not enough! DROP MORE BOMBS!!
It's not just a munitions facility - it's an entire city. And the Allied forces aren't the only ones kicking the dog - Belkan forces are committing arson to many buildings - some of them privately owned - on their way out.
If you slightly graze one of the factory targets with bullets, there is a chance they will tell you over the radio that they are not a weapons factory. And yet, it is still listed as a target. Ouch.
King Arthur: Ace Combat Zero is so positively rich with Arthurian motifs. Notable ones included names like the "Hydrian Line"note A mistranslation of "Hadrian's Wall" as a defended area and "The Round Table" as a nickname for a famous battlefield. Also present are the Excalibur laser tower (complete with a comment from a soldier after its destruction that "the sword has been pulled from the stone") and fighter pilots with names like Joshua "Lucan" Bristow and Anthony "Bedivere" Palmer. Furthermore, members of A World With No Boundaries begin to refer to Pixy as their "King" and note that he has departed for "Avalon", actually a code name for a weapons lab hidden under an artificial lake, and at the end of the game the last boss fights you in a plane called the ADFX-02 "Morgan" and the mastermind behind A World With No Boundaries delivers his final speech from prison where he is serving his life sentence for war crimes, much like Merlin locked in his stone tower (appropriate for the leader of a squadron named "Wizard").
Lampshade Hanging: In the final mission, just before the last phase of the fight, Pixy, who has become disillusioned with the nature of war, remarks that "this twisted game needs to be reset!" For bonus points, it's then followed up with the Title Drop mentioned further down in the article. While it's unlikely the character knows he's in a game, it's still a great moment, especially if you've been playing the game as a Mercenary Ace, reminding you of just how much of a bastard you've been for blowing up defenseless targets just for extra cash.
Late-Arrival Spoiler: The Belkans' detonation of seven nuclear weapons on their own soil is one of these, as it was given away at the start of the previous game as part of the backstory.
Law of Chromatic Superiority: Used with Pixy's colour scheme, though only on the right wing. Averted with Cipher, who is most associated with the same F-15C as Pixy, but with a blue-themed paint scheme.
Lost in Translation: In the original Japanese, the title "Demon Lord of the Round Table" is a pun on "Knights of the Round Table", since the pronunciation of "Knight" and "Demon Lord" is almost the same (kishi and kishin, respectively), even though written with different kanji.
Merging The Branches: Cipher fights five out of eleven elite Belkan squadrons in any given playthrough (which ones depends on your Karma Meter). However, the in-game Assault Records and later lore implies that at the branching points, Cipher faced all three respective bosses at the same time.
My Country, Right or Wrong: Despite attempting to invade half a dozen countries at once to expand its borders and avoid an economic crisis, Belka had corps of extremely loyal pilots proud of their own nation. In an interesting game concept, there are cutscenes of interviews of the Belkan pilots the player fought, depicting them as obviously likable men ten years after the war. Mainly since Belka detonated 7 nuclear weapons on their own country late in the war. The pilots explicitly state that they hold no animosity towards their enemies, during and after the war. It was just war, and it was just what they were trained to do. In fact, many of them revere Cipher, the player character; in a decidedly odd twist, one character even states that Cipher is comparable to the old orders of Belkan Knights, an honor that he doesn't even give himself.
My Nayme Is: It's the case with Galm, which is supposed to be Garm. Likewise, the briefing text for one of the missions in Zero refers to "Operation Broom", whereas the spoken briefing clearly calls it "Operation Bloom".
Old Save Bonus: You can unlock the X-02 Wyvern and ADF-01 FALKEN superfighters more easily if you have save data from Shattered Skies and/or Unsung War, respectively. Players with save data from both games need only complete Mission 1 to unlock both superfighters for purchase. Affording them, on the other hand...
Protagonist Power Up Privileges: Only Cipher can purchase better planes (including superfighters) for himself, while his two wingmen are stuck with their starting planes for the entire game. This is in contrast to Ace Combat 5 and the later Ace Combat 6, where you could equip wingmen with the same planes as yourself.
Schizo Tech: Zero takes place in 1995 and features squadrons of both the Su-47 and F-35C, years before the only Real Life prototypes for each were ever flown. You can also own a fully operational and in fact has-more-options-than-a-later-version ADF-01 FALKEN at a time when its series' immediate predecessor is the most amazing plane in the world and a treasure trove of otherwise one-of-a-kind technology.
In the FALKEN's case, its inclusion, along with the inclusion of the Wyvern, is most likely non-canon. Since this is an alternate world, the inclusion of the Su-47 and such fits in with this world's more advanced technology.
Scenery Gorn: The Hresvelgr mission opens with your airbase being bombed to flaming ruins by what is basically a flying aircraft carrier/battleship. And you see it happen in first person, from the cockpit of your plane still on the ground.
Sequel Difficulty Spike: Zero in relation to the other PS2 games in the series. Even on "Very Easy", you're likely to be shot down once or twice.
The default F-14, as in Unsung War, is done up in white with black tails and yellow ribbons. Many may think this is a Shout-Out to Super Dimension Fortress Macross, but with the exception of the skull and crossbones it is in fact a replica of the real life VF-84, the famous squadron Roy's Veritech fighter honored. And, in a shout-out to itself, the Mercenary paint scheme for the F-14 in this game is the same as the Razgriz paint scheme in the previous game.
Sphere of Destruction: The V2 weapon at the end. Random little beamlets of light even shoot out as well. The Multi-Purpose Burst Missile the Morgan fires also results in a spherical blast.
Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: The story tells how Belka's poor economy allowed the eastern portion of the country to secede and become independent nations, including Ustio. Belka's economic problems didn't end, and their borders continued to shrink, allowing those new nations to further expand, and allowing Osea to claim some of the country's western borders. Belka went to war started expanding outwards to reclaim their lost borders and acquire more resources. They even invaded the southern country of Sapin, who wasn't even involved.
Super Toughness: Pixy's Morgan can take at least six missile hits. Almost every other enemy plane goes down after two.
Somewhat Justified in-universe as it being a Super Prototype (his is marked as an ADFX-02, where the model you get is an ADFX-01). Granted, that makes it a Super Prototype OF a Super Prototype, but for gameplay balance reasons, it still makes sense. Wouldn't be much of a final bossfight if he went down with two shots, so instead he goes down in three shots if you use the TLS.
Videogame Caring Potential: Among all the carnage in mission 11, you have the option of sparing an enemy C-130 carrying wounded soldiers. This and other missions also occasionally feature friendly ground forces who ask for your help in defeating a squad of enemy A-10s. The Knight Ace path in general encourages taking this approach to the game.
Mission 2 has a couple AA guns hidden among a clutter of yellow targets (civilian farms and houses); Pixy, unless you're playing on the Mercenary path, will note this and claim that he's not sure Cipher wants to go through with the mission. It takes some effort, but you can pick out those AA guns for a missile without harming the houses.
Video Game Cruelty Potential: Taking the Mercenary Ace path revolves around intentionally gunning down retreating planes, destroying civilian/unarmed ground targets, and refusing to spare enemy pilots whose weapons have been taken out of commission. On the plus side, you get more money; on the downside, you face harder enemy ace squadrons.
A better example: If you're going for Supreme Mercenary, you would try to destroy all "yellow" targets (meaning that it's either civilian or otherwise unimportant military infrastructure). Come mission 13, there is one lone yellow dot in the map, let's destroy it—wait, WHERE DID ALL THESE ENEMIES COME FROM?
This doesn't always work exactly that way, however. Take for example the second fight over the Round Table, each squad has their own advantage over you: the Mercenary squad has 8 planes, which is nearly twice as many as the other possible bosses, but the Knight-path squad's leader is much better trained than his wingmen (who are already pretty good, unless you take said leader out first), and the Soldier squad can fire at you from much farther than you can at them.
War Is Hell: Most evident during the bombing of Hoffnung; see Kick the Dog above. Both sides do their best to level the city — the Allies for revenge, the Belkans as part of a scorched-earth policy.
Wham Episode: Missions 11 and 12 deliver a series of back-to-back Player Punches in very short order. The first comes when your allies indiscriminately flatten a Belkan city with bombs and cruise missiles, while the Belkans themselves start burning whatever escapes the attacks to deny the enemy anything useful before they retreat. In the very next mission, you're sent to intercept Belkan bombers carrying nuclear bombs. Except it turns out that the planes you're sent out after aren't the ones carrying the bombs after all — as you learn when one detonates nearby, nearly frying your plane's electronics. While you're still reeling from that, your wingmate, who has obviously been rattled since the bombing mission, opens fire on you and deserts.
What the Hell, Hero?: Both Belkan radio chatter and the interviewees' comments show disdain towards Cipher should he go the Mercenary route and destroy neutralized enemy vehicles or "innocent" buildings. Inverted however with Pixy and the ace pilots, who try to rationalize some of these.
Though even he has his limits - he's appalled by the Allies' indiscriminate bombing of Hoffnung. Unsurprisingly, he defects to A World With No Boundaries in the next mission.
Pixy: A Tomahawk just hit the city! Are those guys serious?!