The Strange Charm of Strangereal
When Ace Combat: Assault Horizon was first announced, long-time Ace Combat fans complained just about everything in it. One of the biggest complaints (just as it was with Ace Combat: Joint Assault) was the decision to move the setting from the Constructed World of the previous console releases, Strangereal, (back) to our familiar Earth. The devs have certainly had good reasons: one, they were running out of new scenery to host another major armed conflict (Anea was the last unvisited continent); two, the time frame of the series slowly approached Electrosphere—and thus, the point where the series had to abandon its main gimmick, Real Life fighter jet models. And yet the fans cling to the good ol' Strangereal. What exactly makes it feel right when our Earth doesn't?
Quite simply put, Strangereal is a world where World War I never happened. Sure, the lore mentions wars involving Belka in the same time frame as Earth's World Wars but they have never had the same impact as WWI (presumably because the wars did not drag on for extended periods of time). The implications of this are immense, if you think about it:
- Strangereal managed to transition to the age of modern aviation without discrediting the valor in battle with the horrors of trench warfare. Its aerial combat is still a matter of ace pilots, straight from the era of the gallant Red Baron von Richthoffen, not one of remotely-controlled drones and faceless stratospheric bombers blasting countries back into the Stone Age. Then again, one could assume that the various governments had very sensible people at the top prior to the major continental wars. Minor wars still happened, with a considerable lack of details concerning warfare on the ground.
- Strangereal is a world without nuclear weapons. Where every major post-1950 conflict on Earth ran a high risk of The End of the World as We Know It, Strangereal's superpowers are free to duke it out with impunity—though whether that is for the best is up to the players to decide. There also exists no interventionist policies among the world's superpowers; conflicts can break out on their borders, and no evidence can be found that said superpowers intervene to bring the conflict to a peaceful close. There must be plenty of self-restraint on the part of the more sensible countries (unless one counts ultranationalist maniacs willing to use chemical weapons on civilians).
- The Ulysses asteroid brought the colossal, larger-than-life superweapons back into vogue in Strangereal, whereas IRL, WWI pretty much killed off the whole idea. The superweapons are a clear, palpable, and—most importantly—destructible antagonist, whose downfall often spells an immediate and finite end of a war, a luxury rarely found in RL warfare. The rare instances of destroyed super weapons spelling doom for any antagonist in RL tended to stem from people deserting the cause after they stopped believing in the power of said weapons.
Strangereal has just enough connections to Earth for players of any cultural background to identify with their side without Misplaced Nationalism mixing up the picture, and, in the end, fulfills the ultimate escapist fantasy of a military airplane geek to soar majestically above the battlefield without having to face war's nasty underside down on the groundnote . One however must note that if belligerent countries do not use long range missiles first, they will almost always send the planes to do initial combat, which almost always precedes any eye contact between surface forces (navies and armies).
- At least at first glance. Since Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, Project Aces has not shied away from exploring political themes that are unique from the gung-ho attitude of most games in the flight sim genre. You can tell a lot of stories with the blank canvas that is Strangereal.