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Does the color of the sky mean anything special to you? It does to me. A hell of a lot. When I close my eyes, the sky in my dreams... is a deep, dark blue.

"Trigger, your call sign is Spare 15. Consider it your prisoner number for the air."
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Three years have passed since the last major continental war and now the Kingdom of Erusea, formerly the Federal Republic of Erusea, has come into conflict with the Osean Federation. Princess Rosa Cossette D'Elise claims that Osea has violated her kingdom's sovereignty by forcing the construction of their Space Elevator on their territory, and has declared war in retaliation. You take on the role of Mage 2, codename Trigger. After a mission goes wrong, Trigger finds himself being thrown into the 444th Fighter Squadron— the Spare Squadron— composed of other prisoners. He must work off his crimes while keeping Osea safe. The game is set between May and November 2019 of the Strangereal calendar, taking place a year before the Leasath-Aurelia war in October 2020.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is the twelfth note  (eighteenth overall) game in the Ace Combat series that's set in Strangereal. The first numbered title in more than a decade since 2007's Ace Combat 6, Ace Combat 7 is the first game of the series to feature PlayStation VR, with a noted focus on the use of clouds as a gameplay mechanic.

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Announced near the end of 2015, the first trailer, found here, shows an Osean F-22 Raptor chasing after an Erusean Su-30M2 as they approach a Space Elevator called the "Lighthouse." A second trailer, showcased at the PlayStation Experience 2016, provides more exposition, establishing that the two countries are at war. The game was released on January 18 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and February 1st for PC; the first multi-platform release since Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.

A Season Pass, which consist of 3 DLC missions/planes and a music player, is known to be available soon for a retail price of 2,700 Yen. Players who bought the game as part of the Strangereal Edition version will have immediate access to it. The music player cannot be accessed in the game through any other means.

See here for the E3 2017 trailer, and here for the Gamescom 2018 trailer.

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Can you hear me, tropes with the three strikes:

  • Accidental Murder: Trigger apparently accidentally shoots down Harling's plane while going after some drones which were harassing him, which gets him sent to a penal squadron. However, it's later revealed that Trigger didn't fire the missile which killed Harling. Unbeknownst everyone at the time, Erusea had gained the ability to hack into the Osean satellite-based IFF systems, allowing them to make their drones appear on radar as Osean allied fighters. One of said disguised drones was deployed into the battle around the Space Elevator and managed to shoot down Harling before making its retreat, leaving Trigger (the allied unit in closest proxmity to Harling at the time the drone took its shot) to take the fall.
    • Count shoots down Full Band due to his IFF designating him as an enemy. It's implied that Bandog did this on purpose.
  • Ace Custom:
    • An inevitable result of the plane customization system is that your plane will significantly outperform its baseline specs. Insofar as aesthetics, Trigger himself has two: The first is his custom emblem of a wolf clutching a revolver in its jaws, and the second, gained during his stay with the 444th, is three white "strikes" across his tail, which are later appropriated into a set of three jagged claw marks when Trigger joins the LRSSG, and earning him the enemy nickname "Three Strikes."
    • Mihaly's Su-30SM is heavily modified, eliminating the second seat in favor of a system that automates most of the Guy in Back's tasks and records his flight data in great detail and the plane diplays extreme maneuverability. His two-seat X-02S Strike Wyvern boasts similar automation and flight recording enhancements.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The drones utilized by the Erusean military begin to go rogue following the collapse of Usea's satellite network as the strategic AI that controls them does not know when to cease its function. Schroeder first notices this when the F/A-18 drone escorts of Cossette's transport stopped obeying his orders over Anchorhead Bay.
  • Airborne Aircraft Carrier: The Arsenal Bird shows up and immediately deploys dozens of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles in Mission 3.
  • Airstrike Impossible:
    • As usual for the series, though it's taken Up to Eleven here. The 444th Fighter Squadron which Trigger is a part of is composed of expendable convicts that the Osean Air Force does not hesitate to send them into suicidal battles, hence most of their missions pit the squadron against impossible odds with almost zero hope to survive, including an intense air-to-ground operation in a series of cloudy valleys while under the watch of a powerful satellite-based anti-air defense system.
    • As part of Strider Squadron, Trigger has to perform a high-speed canyon run while dodging searchlights.
    • The final mission features the most intense tunnel run in the series' history, engaging in a supersonic chase through a tunnel that makes the tunnel under Sudentor from Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War look positively spacious. The tunnels are barely wider than some of the larger planes, even small bends become hard to correct for, and gates close in front of you. Finally, after you finish your mission in there, you have to fly upward through the corridor in the space elevator itself to escape. You need to pull a tight bank in an enclosed circular underground chamber before quickly pull your plane upward to avoid crashing into one of the pillars to even get into the elevator shaft in the first place. Afterward, it's basically a tunnel mission vertically, where your plane will be affected by the wind and gravity as you try to maintain your plane through the long corridor, avoiding elevators and walls until you finally reach the exit.
    • There are a number of short tunnels and underpasses in the game. Flying through them nearly always spawns a named ace.
  • A.K.A.-47:
    • Erusea's ubiquitous MQ-99 UCAV is an exact copy of the EADS Barracuda.
    • The MQ-101 drone carried by the Arsenal Birds is a barely-modified recreation of the X-47B. The only difference is that the wingtips of the MQ-101 are slightly canted upwards.
    • The Weapons UAVs deployed by the Final Boss are tiny copies of the X-45 experimental drone.
  • All There in the Manual: Two instances:
    • The 2019 edition of the Aces at War: A History book included with the Aces at War physical edition of Ace Combat 7 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One show that AWACS Argus was fed false information about Osean Captain Karl being an impostor which he believed, causing him order the destruction of the helicopter containing the Reverse Mole Erusean General Labarthe and Captain Karl. An Osean F-16 complies with said orders and shoots down the chopper, killing both men, causing Operation Gorgon to fail and become a radical Erusean victory.
    • The "After the Blue Dove" short story in the Aces at War book explains what exactly Nagase was doing on the Pilgrim One space mission. Osean astronomers detected a second asteroid on a collision course with the planet, so they arranged for a secret mission to send a team of astronauts to destroy or divert the asteroid, which ended up being the Pilgrim One mission, and Nagase was selected to be the ship's pilot.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Space Elevator gets occupied by the Eruseans at the outset of the war. The nearby city of Selatapura, which seceded from Erusea, is also taken.
  • Alpha Strike: During the climax of Operation Daredevil, Osean and Erusean forces fire everything they have at the final Arsenal Bird, from bombers to warships and every squadron available. The attack fails because the Arsenal Bird activates its APS barrier and neuters every single warhead coming at it, before crippling the navy and most of the air force. It's only when Cossette shuts down the shield that Strider Squadron has a real chance at taking down the airborne carrier once and for all.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Allowing Erusean bombers to destroy the airbase (and thus kill McKinsey) in Mission 5 earns you a mission failure, but also makes everyone in Spare Squadron cheer. Given that McKinsey is ostensibly the most hateful character in the game, it comes as nothing short of cathartic.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • Checkpoints retain your score, and if you haven't taken any damage prior to a checkpoint, retain that information as well if you go down afterwards (or manually restart from them), making them a huge frustration-saver on a No-Damage Run, a machine gun only run, or when going for S ranks. As an added layer of frustration relief, restarting from a checkpoint restores all of your ammo. The only drawback is that your overall mission time keeps ticking when you restart from a checkpoint, even if there haven't actually been any yet.
    • There is a significant first time completion bonus on missions that helps make sure that you can afford a high-end plane on your first time through the game, even if you're struggling to get rank bonuses and thus offsetting Unstable Equilibrium.
    • There is an option to reduce Collision Damage resulting from low-angle/speed impacts with the ground.
    • If you run out of standard missiles and go to fire again, your plane will reload 2 more that you can then fire off. You technically have infinite ammo, but the reload time is even longer than it would usually be.
    • Any medal that does not specifically state a difficulty requirement can be done on any difficulty, even easy.
    • Mihaly's EML can't take you down in a single hit. So long as you have taken less than a certain amount of damage, it will take you to 99%, no matter how much damage you had taken before.
    • Using the target designator in mission 13 does not violate the requirements for the machine guns only medal, so long as it is only used to destroy the ballistic missile silos. Though, alternatively, they can be ignored entirely, which just results in more missiles to shoot down in the second stage of the mission, rather than an immediate failure.
    • In missions 15 and 16, holding down the target button to use the zoom feature will help identify unknown targets much faster and from further away. Your allies will eventually identify unknowns on their own if given enough time.
  • Anyone Can Die: This game noticeably has higher major character body counts than previous games in the series, which is especially evident when you joined up the expendable 444th Fighter Squadron. By the end of the game, you and Count are the only survivors of the original squadron, and casualties among other allied squadrons aren't pretty either. President Harling returns only to be killed off, and even Princess Rosa's adorable dog is killed!
  • The Alliance: The International Union Peacekeeping Force, which consists of Osea and countries in South-East Usea.
  • Arc Welding: While most Ace Combat games have standalone stories with some Continuity Nod here and there, Ace Combat 7 is the one that has plot points connected to many games in the series, mainly Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies and Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. The countries Erusea and Osea, two major countries from the two games finally interacted with each other, and the motivation of the leaders of both factions are tied with the aftermath of the conflicts that happened in their own games. Princess Cossette wants to protect Erusea's sovereignty from a potential threat posed by Osea's Space Elevator because she does not want to see her country fall for the second time. The Space Elevator itself is also the brainchild of former Osean President Vincent Harling, who envisions the tower to be a symbol of unity and a bridge for mankind to reach into outer space after Circum-Pacific War ended, and a replacement for the fallen Arkbird (which was built for the same purpose). Belka is once again revealed to be the root behind the conflict, with some Belkan individuals still looking to avenge their country after it was fallen in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, and manipulates Erusea into going to war with Osea by providing them with advanced AI technology to create a drone army derived from the Zone of Endless project from Ace Combat 2 (and slightly expanded upon in its Video Game Remake, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy ). Said drone army proved to be so advanced, it's implied that it paved the way for the rise of AI pilots in Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere as well. Mihaly's advanced G-suit that he gets halfway through the game to assist him with flying shares a lot of qualities with the COFFIN system utilized in Electrosphere, making it a likely predecessor to COFFIN.
  • Arc Words:
    • In this game, it seems to be: "Can you hear me?".
    • According to a Famitsu interview with the project leads, "dark blue", both as actual spoken words, and as a color motif. If Avril is in a scene, there are good odds that she'll say the words. Furthermore, the final mission is entitled "Dark Blue".
    • "Maintain element." Almost exclusively said by squadron leaders to keep their wingmen in formation. Planes that separate from the squadron are often hunted down by predatory opponents.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: Osea's 444th Fighter Squadron — otherwise known as Spare Squadron — is a penal unit whose members have been convicted of severe crimes, with their leader indicating that he can decide whether they live or not. Heck, even their AWACS insults them!
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "I wonder… which path will you choose, when looking at Harling's mirror?" Said by Cossette to Dr Schroeder.
  • Arrow Cam: As is the norm for the Ace Combat series, missiles can be watched in flight by holding the missile button.
  • Artificial Brilliance: Invoked with the Arsenal Bird. Any attempt to destroy it from a long distance is met with swarms of drones Taking the Bullet. If you fly in closer, the drones will simultaneously target you.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Invoked - The autonomous drones have fittingly inhuman agility, but their systems aren't as flexible as a real pilot and they have exploitable quirks to their behavior. (And this is integrated into the actual gameplay: almost every drone encountered has a nasty habit of flying straight ahead after firing on you, making them much easier to hit if you can keep track of the drone.) As a result, as the war goes on, Erusea's drones start to suffer higher and higher loss rates, which leads Mihaly, who provided flight data for the drones, to take back to the skies and provide newer and better data.
  • Artistic License – Ships: During the mission "Fleet Destruction", if you sink the Erusean aircraft carrier Njörðr, her crew mentions the catapults becoming inoperable, despite Njörðr being a Kuznetsov-class carrier, which is a STOBAR design with no catapults in the first place.
  • Attack Drone: The presence and threat of unmanned aircraft is the central theme of the story. The Arsenal Bird and its 80 UCAVs are only the tip of the iceberg.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: 8AAMs - they can lock multiple missiles onto a single target, which looks cool, but is incredibly wasteful, as very few targets can survive a single SP weapon missile of any sort. Since they generally don't come with larger reserves than 4 or 6AAMs, much of their use involves fighting against your automatic lock-on systems or accepting extreme waste. They also have very poor lock on range even with upgrades, so by the time you're close enough to a large group of enemies to lock on and fire, said group will have scattered. The only time where it could actually be useful is against a large airborne enemy with lots of targets on it, namely the Arsenal Birds.
  • Back for the Dead: Former Osean President Vincent Harling, who is initially rescued by Sea Goblin, who are both killed trying to defend the space elevator from being destroyed, in the very mission that is the Call-Back to the mission that introduced him in Ace Combat 5, no less.
  • Badass Boast:
    Mihaly: There are pilots like you in every generation. And I've felled every last one of them.
  • Bad Boss: Col. McKinsey, who runs the 444th, and Bandog, the AWACS contact who serves as their Mission Control, certainly qualify. McKinsey is an open Glory Hound who plans to ride to victory on the sweat (and corpses) of his pilots, and Bandog will actively discourage Spare Squadron from accomplishing mission objectives if doing so would yield lower casualties.
    • During the mission "Transfer Orders", should you fail the primary objective Bandog doesn't even care you failed, saying something to the effect that nothing of value was lost. But of course, you still have to complete the objective to progress.
  • Balkanize Me: By the game's third act, with everyone having lost central communications and mapping, national borders are thrown into disarray. At least one long-defunct kingdom declares itself independent, and it's heavily implied that even if Erusea doesn't completely cease to exist, it'll only ever be a shadow of its pre-war self.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece:
    • Downplayed with the 444 Squadron - they're equipped with until-recently mothballed planes hastily recommissioned to make their base seem more "authentic", including ancient F-104 Starfighters and MiG-21s and an eclectic mix of Su-33s, F/A-18Fs, Mirage 2000-5s, and MiG-29As. However, it's not because newer planes are strictly unavailable, but because the 444, being a penal squadron, isn't considered worth Osea's time or effort to equip with anything better, and the original intent didn't even call for the planes to be able to do more than run their engines to fool Erusean thermal imaging. It's only thanks to the efforts of Avril Mead, the "Scrap Queen," that their planes are fully functional and able to keep up with those used by proper squadrons.
    • The Osean Army moved in to capture the abandoned Stonehenge and put effort into repairing the only cannon that wasn't destroyed by Mobius One in order to use it to destroy one of the Arsenal Birds. The cannon, which is now two decades old in the Strangereal timeline (it was built in the late 1990s), still proves to pack enough firepower to one-shot the Arsenal Bird in half even with its shield active.
    • The nickname that comes with the F-4E is "No Plans to Retire", alluding to how the Vietnam-era fighter still sees plenty of use today due to its sheer reliability.
  • Becoming the Mask: In an odd, non-character sense, the 444th Air Base, originally established as a complete fake to draw Erusean bombers, gradually became more and more realistic to make sure the Eruseans remained fooled. First, it was just balloon vehicles and painted runways with empty shells of airplanes, then they started having the convicts run jet engines to fool Erusean thermal imaging, then they started actually flying rebuilt planes and making dry runs at Erusean bombers, and then eventually, shortly after Trigger's arrival, started actually shooting back, turning a decoy air base into an actual, functional air base with its own fighter squadron.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: Mission 19 is the culmination of all that transpires during the cutscenes following the midwar crisis of Erusea's Enemy Civil War. Here you join up with the Osean air force and some separatist Erusean squadrons in an attempt to free the Space Elevator from the radical Erusean government forces and bring down the last Arsenal Bird. A massive furball between the combined Osean-Erusean alliance and the Erusean government drones then ensues over the sea surrounding the ISEV, topped by the Arsenal Bird's appearance and the alliance's massive Alpha Strike on it, which fails due to its APS barrier. Princess Rosa manages to disable the shield permanently, allowing you to strike the Arsenal Bird unimpeded as the triumphant One-Woman Wail of "Daredevil" hammers on.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Lighthouse War has ended, but many people have died on both sides. Erusea has lost another war, its military and air force have been utterly decimated a second time and its future as a country (and as a kingdom) is uncertain. In addition, many of its conquered provinces used the chaos of the IFF network's destruction to declare their independence. Osea did not escape the war unscathed as well; its naval power took a serious blow early in the conflict, it lost both Arsenal Birds, and the revelation that Belka was once again responsible for instigating a conflict will no doubt cause issues among Osean officials.
  • Book-Ends: The game begins with Avril staring out to the sky, and ends with Cossette staring out at the space elevator, both of them in the same pose.
  • Boss-Only Level: The final mission, "Dark Blue", is home to only 2 hostiles: two ADF-11F RAVEN drones, nicknamed Hugin and Munin, provide the Final Boss fight of the game, duking it out with Trigger and every Osean and Erusean ace still available over Gunther Bay. It is notable in that the boss fight prolongs itself by way of the UAVs detaching themselves from the base aircraft, with one continuing to engage you in battle while the other attempts to escape through the space elevator's underwater tunnels.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: The special skin for the F-104 Starfighter requires earning an S-rank in every mission on the highest difficulty.
  • Call-Back:
    • The 2015 teaser trailer featured a piano rendition of the Leitmotif of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. A somber female chorus can only mourn the motif when Harling is killed at the end of Mission 04.
    • The E3 2017 trailer briefly shows the destroyed remnants of Stonehenge.
    • The player is associated with Mage Squadron. This wouldn't be the first Osean squadron named after a term for a magic-user, as shown by Wizard and Sorcerer Squadrons.
    • The Gamescom 2018 tailer heavily calls back to the E3 2017 trailer (as well as smaller callbacks to the 2017 New Years trailer and 2017 Gamescom trailer), opening with an expanded version of the same question about whether the color of the sky matters accompanying an F-104 taking off on a dry lakebed, followed immediately by the announcement that "The Kingdom of Erusea has declared war on the Osean Federation." and similar footage of an F-15C refueling from a tanker and an F-35C preparing to launch from the Kestrel II. Calling back to the 2017 New Years trailer, it once again features Mihaly asking "yet what is a nation?" and nearly every line of dialog from Mead that was in the 2017 New Years trailer is repeated in the 2018 Gamescom trailer. Calling back to the 2017 Gamescom trailer, it features a version of the dogfight between Spare 8 and Mihaly where Spare 8 is flying a MiG-29A and repeats the statement "but I don't even have a country to call home" and concluding Princess Rosa Cossette d'Elise's question "I wonder which path you would choose..." with "... when looking at Harling's mirror?".
    • Mission 12 is entitled "Stonehenge Defensive, a role reversal of Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies's twelfth mission, "Stonehenge Offensive". In Shattered Skies, Mobius One destroyed the seven operational Stonehenge cannons, and in Skies Unknown, Trigger and Cyclops and Strider Squadrons fly cover for Osean forces repairing the eighth gun.
    • The Arsenal Birds take more than a few design cues from the Arkbird. Stark white paint, sweeping upwards wings, a large number of small control surfaces that evoke the image of feathers, bird-like frontal area; the craft is essentially a successor to the legendary spaceplane.
    • One of the Arsenal Bird's armaments is a long-range airburst type missile similar to the Nimbus missiles used by the P-1112 Aigaion
    • President Harling's plane is once again code-named Mother Goose One, and the mission that you met him is very similar to the mission that he first appeared in Ace Combat 5, namely with you flying through the hole in the enemy's anti-air radar system and escort his plane out of there. When Harling is killed at the end of the mission, the music even briefly plays a version of Ace Combat 5's theme.
    • Belka is once again involved in a plot that manipulates two superpower countries into war with each other in the name of revenge. This time, they sold their advanced AI technology to Erusea so they can develop a large drone army, then manipulates Princess Rosa into declaring war on Osea.
    • The latter half of Mission 13 has the Eruseans launching ballistic missiles out from an underground silo hidden in a reservoir behind a dam. Where have we heard that before?
    • The "trash can with wings" drone that Avril sees in the opening cutscene looks very similar to the Yuktobanian drones used in the second mission of Ace Combat 5. Several pilots in 7 make note of the Erusean drones' odd evasive maneuvers, something that Chopper comments on in 5 in reference to the Yuke drones' evasion tactics.
  • Call-Forward: The developers intentionally included a mention of a prominent character from Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere in the story. Specifically, Dr. Schroeder refers to having a young female assistant named "Massa," which is a mistranslation of the middle name of "Yoko Martha Inoue." In addition to that, Strider 3 "Jaeger" repeatedly mentions his plans to tell his war stories to his son who is possibly Erich Jager, who would be 3 years old at the time of the Lighthouse War.
  • Canon Immigrant: The IUPF makes its entrance into the main series here, after first appearing in the non-Strangereal based Ace Combat: Joint Assault.
  • Central Theme: Who is Friend or Foe in a war where information is everything? Much of the game's tension is being unable to figure out for sure who is really the enemy and who can you trust.
    • Harling's death is the result of Osea's IFF system being hacked, allowing an Erusean drone (which appears as an Osean allied fighter on everyone's radar) to sneak in right behind Trigger himself and shoot him down in the chaos of his extraction.
    • At one point the Spare Squadron comes under attack from a squad of drones. However these particular drones initially appear on their IFF systems as allied fighters. This designation confusion both allows the drones to get a drop on the unsuspecting Spare Squadron, and also leaves the them unable to properly retaliate for fear of causing a Friendly Fire incident - a fear which comes true when Full Band is mistakenly (or deliberately) tagged as an enemy and is promptly shot down by Count.
    • During the Battle of Farbanti, Osea and Erusea launch simultaneous anti-satellite attacks in attempt to destroy the other side's military satellites. Both these attacks succeed, essentially removing IFF from the picture entirely. However the sheer amount of debris the destruction of these satellites generate end up damaging nearly every other satellite in orbit, which essentially cripples global satellite communication network. Being unable to tell who is friend or foe, coupled with both side's chain of command being utterly broken due to lack of functioning communication systems, leads to chaos throughout the Usea Continent, making good on the game's title: Skies Unknown.
    • The game also deals in the power of false information. Erusea used spoofed IFF to assassinate Harling and later to ambush Spare squadron, Bandog falsely tagged Full Band as an enemy plane, resulting in the latter's death from Count, and Erusian hackers fed false intel to Osean AWACS planes to get General Labarthe killed. It actually ties well into the themes of who is friend or who is foe, since it shows how difficult to tell what is truth and what is a lie in a world dependent on the flow of information.
  • Cannon Fodder: The Osean military doesn't care if a squadron of convicts gets killed in battle.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The eighth gun of Stonehenge, which was rendered inoperable after a meteorite damaged its power or control systems prior to the events of Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies and which was conspicuous by its non-target status during the assault on Stonehenge in Ace Combat 04 is finally repaired and fired over sixteen years in real life and nearly as long in In-Universe after first being seen.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Erusean General Labarthe states that the advanced drone technology is so advanced that understanding it would be equivalent to magic or alchemy.
  • Clown Car Base: The OFS Admiral Andersen is loaded to the brim with planes that it was transporting to other bases. This is a Lampshade Hanging to how the Kestrel had full access to every plane available in the game's roster, when it canonically could only use carrier-based planes.
  • The Computer Is a Lying Bastard: Simply put, the stated statistics of aircraft mean almost nothing and are often incredibly misleading. For example, the stated statistics indicate that the MiG-21 bis handles like a brick, but in actual gameplay, it's one of the most agile planes in the entire game and is able to outturn many of the highest-end planes in the game, despite their stated superiority in maneuverability.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: The Tactical Laser System and Pulse Lasers cannot penetrate heavy clouds, which merely act as concealment against projectile weapons
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The 2016 trailer shows a brief look at the destroyed Stonehenge from Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. A few moments later, a cutscene shows a meteor storm entering Earth's atmosphere. The 2018 Gamescom trailer shows the last of its cannons firing, the eighth gun, which had been rendered inoperable by a meteorite impact before Operation Stone Crusher in Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, while the other seven guns are still utterly smashed from Mobius One's attack on the facility. Osea is revealed to have been secretly rebuilding the smashed Stonehenge site, and brings in power equipment to get the 8th gun up and running. It is the setting of Mission 12: Stonehenge Defensive, where Trigger has to defend Stonehenge against a massive Erusean assault. The cannon only gathers power for one shot, which it uses to destroy one of the Arsenal Birds as it approaches the area. Afterwards, the cannon collapses to the ground.
    • During the operation at Stonehenge, Húxiān (Cyclops 4) takes a hit just like Yellow 4; unlike Yellow 4 she's not wounded, and gets ordered to withdraw instead.
    • Farbanti gets thrashed again, this time at the hands of the Kestrel fleet. Conversely, Port Hewlett is yet again the target of an attack, though this time it's from Erusea instead of Yuktobania.
    • On the topic of the Kestrel herself, Ace Combat 5 fans would know the Kestrel II in Skies Unknown is the successor to the original Kestrel, which was sunk at the end of The Unsung War. However the Kestrel II is sunk off of Farbanti in the early days of the war, and is never seen in action by the player.
    • Mobius Squadron makes a return to combat once again, only this time as part of the IUN's peacekeeping forces and only playable for a side campaign (specifically, the VR missions). The antagonist is again the Free Erusea terrorist organization. Free Erusea gets mentioned again in Mission 17 as the Erusean News Network reports on rumors that they have become active yet again after the battle of Farbanti.
    • The Mission Briefing officer for the LRSSG has the same deep voice as the Mission Briefing officer of the Sand Island Airbase. They are implied to be the same person as they shared the same voice actor: Jamieson Price.
    • A space center on Tyler Island similar to the Basset Space Center, along with its iconic mass driver, is the setting of the Mission 17: Homeward.
    • The aircraft carrier which the Strider launches off of in their bid to put a stop to the war once and for all is christened the Admiral Andersen, after the brave admiral of Kestrel in Ace Combat 5. Avril Mead even recounts the tale of how Andersen steadfastly made sure that the capsizing Kestrel managed to launch the fighter squadron that ended the Circum-Pacific War before the ship sank.
    • Captain Kei Nagase herself shows up in the ending. She is now an astronaut on a spacecraft named Pilgrim One, which has just returned from an exploration mission in the Asteroid Belt. She thanked Trigger for saving the space elevator so that she could land safety.
    • In the same vein as airplanes from Air Ixiom and Air Erusea showing up at Apito International Airport in Ace Combat 5, there are several airplanes from Emmeria Airways appearing at Selatapura Airport in addition to planes from Air Erusea and Osea Airlines.
  • Continuity Snarl: Being set just 1 year before Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception creates In-Universe Technology Marches On issues for that game, what with no one there making the slightest mention of the Lighthouse, the ascent of Attack Drone armies and other worldshaking events that happened here. There is all of one thing there that might have received a Call-Forward here, namely a throwaway line about a satellite network being restored that could have followed the anti-satellite attacks in this game, but that is tenuous.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Avril gets thrown in the 444th for unauthorized wartime flight because her test flight of her F-104C just happened mere hours after the Lighthouse War officially began before her or most of the rest of the world was even given notice of the declaration.
    • In Mission 15, Osea and Erusea's simultaneous satellite attacks happened at the exact moment you're running Mihaly down in the last minutes of the Battle of Farbanti, disrupting everyone's electronic devices and conveniently allowing Mihaly to escape. Not only that, but the simultaneous attacks were carried out by accident as well, with Osea shooting down the satellites that Erusea hijacked from them, and Erusea shooting down the Osean satellites they did not control, resulting in a massive debris field that takes out whatever was left after the attack.
    • The final battle just so happen to take place in the same day as Nagase's return trip from her seven-years-long mission into outer space.
  • Cool Plane: It's not an Ace Combat entry if it doesn't introduce real-life and fictional superplanes.
    • During your escort of McKinsey's aircraft in Mission 10, a dangerous experimental UCAV shows up after all hostiles are down, setting up for a boss fight. It's a white unmanned aircraft with forward-swept wings, an angular windowless cockpit and no vertical tail, unique enough to be distinct from the droves of UCAV that are deployed from the Arsenal Bird. It's also shown to be incredibly agile, performing barrel rolls on a fly. It is the experimental ADFX-10, which ends up being the prototype for the ADF-11 encountered in the final mission, itself being the centerpiece for the ADF-11F RAVEN mentioned below.
    • At the very end of the Gamescom trailer, right after the lady in the spacesuit jumps from the space elevator, we get a glimpse of a black superplane flying by, and it seems to be a successor to the ADF-01 FALKEN, what with the twin bulky engines, angular body and cameras replacing the conventional see-through canopy. The main difference is that its wings aren't forward-swept, instead being backward-swept with canted wingtips, and it lacks the FALKEN's vertical tails, a trait it shares with the aforementioned white drone. It is no coincidence, seeing that's the ADF-11F RAVEN. During the final mission, you get to fight two of them, and shooting down the final one only makes the actual core of the UAV detach itself from the base craft, revealing itself as the ADF-11 and the completed form of the ADFX-10.
    • Mihaly flies an Su-30M2. This plane in real life is a version of the Su-30MK2 used for combat training. In mission 18, he enters the fight in a X-02S Strike Wyvern, an evolution of the PS 2 games' own forward-swept variable wing X-02 that comes equipped with a EML.
    • Trigger's canon plane is (again) the Lockheed Martin F-22, this time with wing-mounted stealth weapon pods.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Evidently, the Federation of Central Usea set up range tables when they were building Stonehenge, despite the fact that in its intended use of shooting falling asteroid fragments, it would need its supercomputer targeting array to have any chance of hitting its targets, and even in its later Erusean use of long-range aerial interdiction, without computerized targeting, it would be nearly useless.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Discussed in mission 18, "Lost Kingdom", when the conditions are met. Getting hit by Mihaly's EML will turn your plane from undamaged to 99% in one hit. Count and Jaeger will comment on how your plane should be shrapnel by now and is just barely holding together.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Trigger's first encounter with Erusea's hijacked Arsenal Bird ends in a disastrous defeat for the IUPF, with the entire Skeleton squadron wiped out and Osean command forcing a retreat due to being unable to even put a dent in the airship. note 
    • Champ versus Mihaly in the canyons of Yinshi Valley. The former thinks he can go toe-to-toe with the Erusean ace, ignoring Bandog's orders to disengage and pulling a Pugachev's Cobra to get behind "Mister X". Mere seconds later, Mihaly pulls a Kulbit and shoots down Champ in reverse position. Mihaly's bored tone when Wit berates him for not downing Champ straight away confirms that he was toying with Spare 8 and hoping there would be at least a worthy fight, which he does get moments later against Trigger.
  • Darker and Edgier: In addition to having one of the higher body counts in the series, Skies Unknown touches on some fairly dark themes such as the usage of convicts as military assets, the efficacy of drone warfare, and the utter chaos of war in general and its effect on the civilian population. As well as deconstructing the typical Ace Combat player through the character of Mihaly. This trope especially comes into play in the last act when the collapse of Usea's satellite network plunges Erusea into civil war, sparks refugee crises across the continent, and very nearly allowed two highly advanced drones to launch an apocalyptic Robot War. There is also a lot more swearing.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: AA guns and CIWS try to inflict this upon you, and it's very likely that you'll take one or two hits from them over the course of a mission. However, there are very few cases in which they're likely to actually get the "thousand cuts" they need.
  • Deconstruction:
    • Of the trope Would Not Shoot a Civilian. For most of the war, Erusea used drones to target Osean military targets without even scratching a single civilian. But this was due to the work of the radical faction within the Erusean military, who are driven by the AI technology they received from Belka and use it to develop an advanced drone army. The drone performance and accuracy goes beyond all expectations, so they use this to gain public opinion on their side and opportunists into declaring war on Osea , even manipulating the Princess. To put it simply, the radicals avoided civilian casualties simply as a means to their end.
      • Taken further, the use of drone launchers disguised as commercial shipping containers is a bad idea: later in the game, you're clearly attacking shipping containers that MIGHT contain drones. You get points for killing them no matter what, but there's no guarantee that they're launchers. The use of camouflaged drone launchers results in devastation to civilian shipping.
    • The Erusean top ace Mihaly is also a deconstruction of typical Ace Combat players: he's an ace pilot who's a Living Legend who finds little to no enjoyment in life other than flying, and he's been flying for so long through so many wars, it's putting a strain on his aging body. He also doesn't care what he shoots down, even if it's harmless, fleeing pilots who posed no threat like Brownie, even toying with her as she's scared out of her mind, before taking the shot anyway, the same thing we've been doing before as a Mercenery-route Cipher and even Mobius 1 himself.
    • Of previous Ace Combat games, which depict war as clean and controlled, and flying as safe and reliable, only breaking these rules to twist the plot. Clouds constantly block the player's view and missiles, icing up if they spend too long in them. Powerful and sudden windbursts can knock planes off course or into the ground. Lightning will cause instant Interface Screw, often recovering straight into a mountainside. War itself is shown to be brutal, where Anyone Can Die is in full effect; people can and do just perish from random fire and events, with Plot Armor kicking in just a few times. Identification tech is unreliable, not every target really is one, and weapons don't just cleanly do what they're supposed to. As a result, almost every mission has some sort of Plot Twist in it.
  • Deflector Shields: The Arsenal Bird is able to deploy a large spherical barrier called the Microwave Powered Dome around itself to protect itself against long-range missile strikes. Said shield is so powerful, even a concentrated missile attack won't hurt it. However, it's not so mighty as to withstand a direct hit from Stonehenge.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The LRSSG commander reaches this after the satellite communications networks go down, throwing the entire continent and both sides into chaos, and their one chance at restoring peace is killed in a case of friendly fire. It is so bad that your AWACS operator is forced to step on as the de facto commander for the rest of the game.
  • Developers' Foresight:
    • Different planes have their gun types accounted for; planes like the Su-37 and Su-35S (which have a single-barrel autocannon) have a lower ammunition cap and fire slower, while the A-10 has its famous GAU-8 Avenger with a cap of 4800 rounds, higher damage and a faster fire rate. Similarly, planes like the F-22 and F/A-18F (which have multi-barrel Gatling guns) have higher fire rates and higher ammo caps.
    • There is overall a surprising level of detail on the various mission maps. In mission 1 you take off in the midst of an air raid, and the activity of the base reflects to prove it; people running around, ground vehicles mobilizing for emergency response, and other aircraft lining up to take off behind you as choppers lift off from helipads. And the kicker is that those units don't just dissappear once you get far enough from the base; they all have their own set locations and objectives to get to. For example, as you begin your takeoff roll, a pair of Chinook helicopters next to you take off as well. If you follow them, they cross the channel and hover near a burning watch tower, ostensibly for the purposes of recovering injured personnel. In Mission 2, when you begin the attack on the airbase, you can not only hear enemy radio chatter referencing the preparation of the drones you fight in the last part of the mission, but, if you have a good eye, you can actually see the disguised container trucks moving across the airfield from their staging positions to the launch positions. The game will even hold off on moving to the final part of the mission until all the trucks are in position, even if you already somehow cleared the area of objectives.
    • On mission 3, you conduct a joint operation with the Navy. Before you start the mission, you play a mini-game to refuel your plane in mid-air. However, if you select a naval aircraft (like the F-14D), you take off from the Navy's carrier instead of refueling with the tanker.
    • Halfway through mission 3, Brownie gets severely damaged and has to withdraw while your job is protect other retreating allied aircraft from the Arsenal Bird's drones. While your doing this and she is about to leave the area, Mihaly shows up and manages to shoot her down. Even though you are far away from them because you are to protect the other allies, if you follow Brownie, you can see the whole encounter play out in-game, Mihaly's Su-30 and all. Unfortunately he is invulnerable; Brownie must die for the sake of the plot.
    • If you think you can shoot down the Arsenal Bird in mission 3 with a powerful enough plane, think again. If you render enough damage, the Arsenal Bird will activate its shield and will remain active throughout the mission.
    • In Mission 11, your other squadron leader will show that the support pylons of the ocean platforms can be destroyed, sending the platform and anything on it and under it crashing into the water. However, even though you can't directly lock onto the pylons until after the event, you can still shoot and destroy them, if you manage to damage them with direct hit weapons or a lucky hit from a cruise missile. The dialogue will even change, with your fellow pilots in awe of your skill for hitting something with no targeting and Long Caster even swapping his line to reference you instead of your fellow pilot.
    • In the final mission, after you shot down either Hugin or Munin, the surviving drone will quickly shoot down Wit in retaliation. If you're fast enough, however, you can shoot down the other drone before it can kill Wit, which is addressed in a minor dialogue change later in the mission. If Wit is shot down, Seymour will said that he will avenge his death, but if Wit survives, both of them will tell you that they'll take on the last drone together.
    • Also in the final mission, your plane will take off from the aircraft carrier Admiral Andersen. You can choose any plane for the mission, but if you pick a non-carrier-based plane, your plane will launch from further back of the aircraft carrier. If you pick a carrier-based plane, it will launch from the middle of the carrier with normal procedures, including using a catapult and jet blast deflector.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Unknown Known - Erusea neglects securing Stonehenge after it once again falls within their territory, not because they don't know its power, but rather because they don't see how a wrecked superweapon could be useful. By the time they realize that it's not completely useless (Mobius One only smashed seven of the eight guns during the Usean Continental War, as the eighth had been silenced by a meteor impact that took out its power supply, but left the gun itself intact prior to the war) and there's a reason there's a small pocket of Osean forces there, it's almost too late for them to do anything about it. This failure to recognize the importance of this particular known value and close the pocket around Stonehenge sooner costs Erusea one of the Arsenal Birds.
    • Unknown Unknown - neither side could forsee that they would launche their ASAT missions at exactly the same time while Osea was besieging the Erusian capital of Farbanti. On top of this, neither side had a real contingency for what to do if their entire communications network goes dark, resulting in widespread chaos and anarchy as nations secede, entire military units rebel, and people start shooting at each other.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: In multiplayer, the Electromagnetic Launcher is a One-Hit Kill on all planes with a value below 2000 points. Manually lining up your plane to aim it is the challenge. You can get a kill or two on an unsuspecting player at the start of a match, but good luck when they all gather into a furball.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Osea and Erusea's simultaneous anti-satellite attacks kick off an ablation cascade, a well-documented hypothetical real life Disaster Dominoes scenario wherein space debris starts hitting satellites, breaking them and spreading more debris that breaks more satellites and making more debris and so on, that destroys most of the global satellite network and creates an information blackout that plunges the world into chaos.
  • Disc-One Nuke:
    • The F/A-18F Super Hornet and Su-33 Flanker-D, some of the earlier planes you unlock and more or less equivalent aircraft between the US and Russian branches (each only has a single pre-requisite - the F-14D for the F/A-18F, and the MiG-29A for the Su-33), share access to some of the most powerful special weapons in the entire game, including the EML railgun and the deadly LASM, which makes mincemeat of otherwise highly durable ships. While the planes starts to fall behind later in the game, they can easily last you a long time just by themselves.
    • In multi-player, the MiG-21 bis. It's far, far more maneuverable at both high and low speed than its stated stats would indicate, and due to its massive parts cap, it can buff its missiles so high that normal missiles maneuver almost like QAAMs. This, combined with its low "cost" makes it a monster in low-points and no-subweapon rooms, and surprisingly competitive in unlimited rooms.
    • If a player is persistent enough, there's nothing stopping them from grinding out enough MRP to unlock the YF-23, F-22, or Su-57 by playing Multiplayer or Free Mission after playing the first mission in the story. Any MRP you earn is permanent and carry over, so you can play through the campaign on your first try with the best planes. Previous games in the series required completing the campaign before even unlocking free mission mode and better aircraft were unlocked through campaign progression, instead of the now free-form Aircraft Tree. You still have to beat the campaign to unlock the X-02S Strike Wyvern though.
  • Dude Where Is My Respect?: Zig-Zagged - at first, it's averted, as Trigger is a new pilot who quickly earns the respect Mage squadron and becomes trusted enough by high command to send on extremely dangerous missions, then it's played straight when he gets reassigned to Spare Squadron, as Spare is a penal unit and the base C.O, McKinsey, takes all credit for Spare's achievements. Then the trope gets subverted as Spare Squadron's accomplishments convince HQ that they're worth being incorporated into the military proper. All members of Spare Squadron are pardoned. Some of the members are sent off to other squadrons. Meanwhile Wiseman vouches for Trigger and Count, which gets them both absorbed into the Long Range Strategic Strike Group as parts of Strider and Cyclops Squadrons. Finally owing to his great success commanding the Spare Squadron, McKinsey is reassigned to a prestigious post on the front lines.
  • Duel Boss: In Mission 18 - "Lost Kingdom", you fight Mihaly for the third and final time as he pilots the X-02S Strike Wyvern equipped with an Electromagnetic Launcher, and Strider Squadron, fully aware that only Trigger is able to match the Erusean ace, resign themselves to forming a perimeter around the duel so that no other hostile may interfere. Meanwhile, Mihaly instructs the rest of Sol Squadron to retreat and pursue their objective of claiming independence for their own land from Erusea, adding that he's not the one that will be guiding them towards that objective.
  • Dummied Out: Unpacking the Unreal Engine 4 files from the PC release reveals quite a bit of cut content in various stages of completion includingnote :
    • Three additional VR stages including taking out a Free Erusean fuel depot in Roca Roja, an assault on Erusean naval forces trying to join Free Erusea, and preventing the Free Eruseans from acquiring a ballistic missile submarine from a base in Anchorhead.
    • All or nearly all of the files to implement the ADF-11F RAVEN as a playable plane, including refueling ports and variant skins.
    • Other aircraft in various stages of readiness, some of them likely enemy-only if completed, including the EA-18G Growler, Ka-27PL Helix A, and Mi-24P Hind E, none of which are seen in-game.
    • The names of the MQ-99 and MQ-101 - Wasp and Vogel, respectively. Conspicuously, the similar looking drones deployed by the Belkan-modified Arkbird in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War were also called Vogels.
    • AWACS callouts for shooting down specific kinds of planes.
    • Additional SP weapons including Fuel Air Explosive Bombs (FAEB), ECM pods, Multi-Purpose Burst Missiles (MPBM), and deployable UAVs of your own along with a set of parts to boost their firepower, endurance per use, and how many you actually get.
    • A clear explanation of what MRP stands for - Military Result Points.
    • A variety of additional objectives for nearly every mission to either spawn more aces or reward more medals.
    • An additional Menhir defensive line in mission 12 (Menhir 8).
    • An alternate version of mission 4 where Sea Goblin isn't wiped out, or at least not before meeting up with Harling.
    • Additional objectives involving the mass driver in mission 16.
    • Models and dialog that indicate that at some point in the game's development, Trigger was going to carry out at least part of the anti-satellite attack personally.
    • Someone or other outright saying "I'm the one who killed Harling".
    • A great deal of other unused dialog.
  • Dwindling Party: 444th Fighter Squadron is send up against impossible odds again and again and is guaranteed to lose some of their members in every other mission, to the point that even your named wingmen are not safe. It starts with High Roller, Champ, Full Band, and Tabloid. By the end of the game, Trigger and Count (and Avril, but she is the mechanic) are the only known survivors of the original squadron.
  • End of an Age: The onset of unmanned aircraft with AI comparable or superior to regular pilots brings forward the question: "What does it mean to be unmanned?". Avril recounts that her grandfather gave her a magazine with the title "Era of the Drones" and the tagline "Soon, there will be no one gripping a control stick and taking to the skies", referencing the increasing replacement of pilots by unmanned aircraft. On the Erusean side of the story, Dr. Schroeder tries to extract flight data from the aging ace Mihaly in order to improve the UAVs' war performance and produce powerful drones armed with a depth of combat experience and unhindered by human limitations. Eventually, several characters start voicing their disapproval of UAV technology being used in the war, claiming that it has no place in the conflict and is no better than witchcraft, thus defying the trope.
  • Enemy Civil War: Both sides. The spread of false information causes infighting within both Osean and Erusean militaries. While Osean forces are able to re-organize and join up with anti-war Erusean elements, Erusea pretty much disintegrates as a nation.
  • Escort Mission: Two of them.
    • Mission 10 has you escorting a transport plane. You need to protect the plane from long-range anti-air sites scattered across the countryside and a couple of squadrons of planes.
    • Mission 16 requires you to see a civilian vehicle through the a battlefield of chaos where enemy units aren't immediately identified as such.
  • Exact Words:
    • Several of the in-game medals require the player to perform certain feats with machine guns. Since the MiG-21 bis's machine gun pods are machine guns, even though they're not the internal machine guns and are fired separately from them, they do count for the medals and can be used when pursuing them.
    • On your first mission as the 444th, Erusean bombers are fooled into thinking that the base (which was initially a decoy) is legit. Mckinesy orders you to intercept them to make it more convincing. However, he did not say to shoot them down (though you need to in order to progress), and throws the whole squadron in solitary for "disobeying" orders.
  • False Flag Operation: Erusea sics drones on Spare Squadron during a recon operation. But what's worse than just killer drones? The drones are conventional aircraft converted into UAVs and painted in Osean colors (and they spoof IFF signals, making them a violation of international law). One can tell that the planes are drones by the weird glowing bars below the cockpit canopies, but that requires getting a little too close to the drones for comfort.
  • Fictional Geneva Conventions: As part of the game's analysis on the growing role of drones in warfare, Erusea appears to be exploiting a loophole in laws prohibiting combatants from disguising themselves as civilians with intent to attack - apparently loading an armed drone into a shipping container and getting it into position across state lines via civilian freight doesn't quite constitute a war crime (it helps that the Princess immediately leans on how this allowed them to hit military assets without damaging civilian centres, in contrast to messier counter-attacks, which causes Osea to get lots of news flak from the media). As autonomously self-guided drones are not people, they cannot be prosecuted.
  • Final Boss Preview: Exactly halfway into the game, you fight a prototype drone with extreme maneuverability and combat skills, to the point that Strider Squadron, who were following it, didn't expect anyone to be able to shoot it down. Two drones of the same type appeared in the final mission, code-named ADF-11. They split off of their "shell" - the ADF-11F - after they were shot down by Trigger, forcing Trigger to fight them again as the final enemies of the game.
  • Foreshadowing: It wouldn't be an Ace Combat game without it.
    • The news broadcast after Mission 1 shows Erusean UAVs launching from cargo containers, one of which is labeled North Osea Gründer Industries. And in Mission 2, some of the Erusean radio chatter talks about giving "feedback for those war merchants" and complaining about manuals written in a foreign language both of which are hinting at a Belkan connection behind the drones.
    • One of the first things Bandog says to Trigger is that "I decide when you die!" Bandog later tags Full Band as an enemy, causing Count to inadvertently shoot him down. Bandog claims it was an accident, but several in Spare Squadron think that it really was Bandog making good on his threat.
    • The first time Cyclops Squadron and Strider Squadron are introduced, it is mentioned that they are returning back from a deep reconnaissance mission into Erusean territory. When one of the Spare pilots questions what they are doing so far behind enemy lines, Full Band says that all he could dig up was that they were investigating "the ruins." Said ruins turn out to be that of Stonehenge, and the Osean military forces move in the capture it in order to repair the remaining cannon and use it to shoot down one of the Arsenal Birds.
    • During the mission where the enemy planes are tagged as allies ambushing the Spare Squadron, the Arsenal Bird starts firing the Helios weapon into the area as well. Tabloid is puzzled as to why Arsenal Bird would shoot Helios into the area indiscriminately without caring that it might shoot their own planes down. The enemy planes are also conspicuously silent during the mission without the usual enemy chatter that often accompanied them. This is a hint that those planes don't actually have any pilot flying inside them: they're all being flown by AIs.
    • Trigger and Count encounter an odd drone while on an escort mission, one that is much more maneuverable and capable than the previous UAV's. It is a prototype of the final drone they fight, based on Mihaly's (and Trigger's!) complete flight data.
    • Mage Squadron's AWACS calls attention to Osea's satellite-based IFF system in the second mission of the game, mentioning on how it is almost infallible and explains how it is what allows for Osea's almost-instant IFF tagging. Later the entire system goes down when Erusea destroys Osea's communications satellites, forcing Trigger to rely on the more traditional (and slower) visual processing-based IFF systems and AWACS datalink for the rest of the game.
    • During the first battle at the space elevator, Gargoyle Squadron's flight leader suddenly yells: "Babel, babel, babel!", followed by the entire squadron turning towards the space elevator and firing a volley of missiles at it, though the UAVs suddenly swarm the elevator and intercept almost all the missiles themselves. Mage Squadron wonders what the hell was going on until they conclude command forgot to keep everyone informed again. When the satellite network goes down, this sort of right-hand-vs-left-hand conflict becomes commonplace.
    • Combined with Jump Scare, at certain points of the early campaign some ground targets will inexplicably explode with a huge, loud blue blast that briefly rattles your HUD. Strangely, it also goes unremarked on by either your AWACS or your wingmen. Eventually, you find out that these were warheads for the Arsenal Bird's Helios burst missiles.
    • There is an early hint in Mission 4 that the Erusean military is factionalized. The Erusean radio chatter shows the Arsenal Bird's operator complaining to someone else about a senior officer who is ordering him to have the drones fire "warning shots" at Harling's escape craft. The operator (who sounds rather young himself) then snidely remarks "He's an old-timer. Has no idea how drones are used." This is the earliest hint in the game that the younger Eruseans are very gung-ho about using drones aggressively while the older Eruseans are more cautious, a split that becomes official after the satellites go down.
  • Four Is Death:
    • Osea's expendable penal fighter squadron is the 444th Fighter Squadron "Spare". They are sent on the most dangerous missions to earn redemption either through victory or through death, with the latter being implied to be the far more common outcome. This is also further emphasized by the fact that the squadron (and their airbase) is nearly always referred to as the "four-four-four" or "four forty-four", rather than the "four-hundred-forty-fourth".
    • Mission 4 has you leading an operation to rescue Vincent Harling. However, this time it didn't have a happy ending like in the fifth game.
  • Fragile Speedster: MQ-99 and MQ-101 drones are absolutely inhumanly agile, but they go down in a single missile hit, while manned jets and the somewhat less agile drone-controlled versions of normally-manned jets take at least two normal missiles, and some, such as the A-10C, can survive even that.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • For the part in Mission 4 when you shoot a missile in the general direction of former President Harling, triggering the cutscene in which he gets killed, it turns out that another missile gets fired from off screen at the same time. In Mission 16, it is mentioned that a drone disguised as a friendly fighter was the actual culprit. After Harling is shot down, the cutscene shows the drone flying past your plane from behind and to the right.
    • In mission 10, a Z.O.E emblem can be seen on the unknown drone, hinting who is supplying Erusea with drones and helping drive the war, but it's so small and fast that it's very easy to miss.
    • In the cutscenes that have Dr. Shroeder in them, if one were to look really closely when his namebadge is in the frame, they’ll notice that the letters ‘Z.O.E.’ is directly underneath his name.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams:
    • The F-15C, MiG-31B, and Su-57 can carry laser pods that shoot out blue laser blasts (PLSL or Pulse Laser) similar to how previous games used the Machine Gun Pod (MGP).
    • The F-15E and Su-37 Terminator can carry a single TLS pod that resembles a streamlined version of Morgan's "Zoisite" TLS, and fires a continuous red laser beam at significantly reduced damage.
    • Much like the Arkbird before it, the Arsenal Bird has a massive laser cannon that fires a large, continuous purple beam and a pair of Pulse Laser turrets which shoot out blue laser blasts.
    • The ADF-11F RAVEN superdrone is able to fire a lengthy pink laser beam from its beak, much like its predecessor, the ADF-01 FALKEN. It can also deploy smaller UAVs that also fire a continuous pink beam.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration:
    • Tabloid is the one who came up with the idea of sticking with Trigger in order to make it through each suicidal battle the 444th goes through. This is reflected in gameplay where his plane will stick close to you no matter where you go, even as you're on the run from the enemy F/A-18 drones with spoofed Osean IF Fs in Mission 9.
    • After the Osean and Erusean satellite networks go down, you start having to manually ID targets to determine if they're friend or foe, and until those forces get that data, they don't know if you're friend or foe, either and even forces that turn out to be friendly once IDed will shoot at you.
    • The briefing screens change not only based on who Trigger is deployed with, but they also differ before and after the satellites go down. Before they go down, the briefing map will update slideshow-style with enemy territory, movements, and objectives automatically updating from data forwarded from high command. After the satellites go down, you can actually see the person operating the briefing computer manually clicking and inputting the information, and the briefings are a lot more simplified due to the loss of communication.
    • Once scattered forces start coordinating more fully in the endgame, Long Caster updates IFF manually upon beginning missions. You even see initial targets show up in yellow for a moment before the data is sent through.
    • During the final two missions, it's stated that secure comms are still down and the plan isn't subtle at all, so everyone's just communicating on open frequencies. Accordingly, allies Erusean still have red tags in radio subtitles, normally reserved for enemies.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: You unlock planes through the Aircraft Tree. However even when you're supposed to be doing time for Spare Squadron, you still have access to the Aircraft Tree, which allows you to unlock military grade airplanes and put in military grade customization in your control. You even still have Queen's Custom to be applied to newer planes even after you split up from the Scrap Queen for a good chunk of the game. Later in the game, where you're most likely unlocking late-game plane, it happens in the middle of a chaos where chain of command and obviously supplies were cut.
  • Genre Throwback: To the Playstation 2 installments of the Ace Combat series.
  • Geo Effects: One of the new features is the introduction of clouds as a gameplay element. Flying into one can cause your aircraft to become more sluggish, and thicker clouds will interfere with your lock-on capability, disturb missile trajectory, and may completely darken your vision. Furthermore, all but the wispiest of clouds completely block the Tactical Laser System and Pulse Laser. Fly too high up and your plane will begin to ice over, stalling you and obscuring your vision in the process. Fly through a thunderstorm and your instruments may become less useful or fully inoperable.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Late in the war when Osea occupies Farbanti, both Osea and Erusea decide to shoot down the other side's military satellites. Not only does this blind the militaries of both sides, but the resulting debris destroys almost all of the civilian satellites as well, plunging the entire world in chaos. Each country was unaware that the other had the same exact plan, making this a complete failure on part of their intelligence.
  • Goroawase Number: One of the achievements requires flying a total of 76,500km in the campaign mode. "7 6 5" is spelled as Na Mu Ko, or "Namco".
  • Grand Theft Prototype:
    • Of a superweapon variety. Erusea's lightning blitz against Osea and its allies resulted in the capture of the two Arsenal Birds, Liberty and Justice, used to defend the nearby orbital elevator.
    • Osea returns the favor by taking over Stonehenge and reactivating the one cannon Mobius One didn't destroy (prior to the events of Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, one of the cannons' electrical or control systems was smashed by a rogue fragment of Ulysses, silencing the otherwise intact asteroid defense cannon) and use it to bring down one of the Arsenal Birds. Unfortunately, while the shot tears through the Arsenal Bird's shields like a hot knife through butter and splits the Arsenal Bird in half, the stresses placed on the old gun by firing it once more render it as inoperable as the other seven.
  • Gratuitous French: The ending song, "pensées", sounds like it's a love song, but is really a long string of gibberish to even French speakers, as the lyrics simply do not make sense and lack coherence, despite being sung in phonetically correct French.
  • Guide Dang It!: While the Campaign Assault Records screen does give hints toward spawning certain ace pilots (some of them are quite specific), many of them still require some seriously tricky precision at times. Be it flying through an absurdly tiny tunnel in the Roco Rojo desert, or downing every enemy on screen inside a ridiculous time limit, there's a lot of trial and skill required to get them all.
  • Hegemonic Empire: Erusea is revealed to be a collection of different nations and ethnicities that have all at one point been annexed and assimilated by the old Erusean kingdom, among them being Mihaly’s homeland. Following the communications blackout caused by the Osean and Erusean ASAT attacks, several of these nations take advantage of the chaos to declare independence from Erusea.
  • Heir Club for Men: The epilogue reveals this is in full effect in Erusea. The king and any sons or brothers, as well as presumably any uncles or nephews, he may have had died during the Lighthouse War, leaving Princess Rosa Cossette D'elise the sole living member of the royal family. Erusea's legislature is mentioned to be working on changing the law so Cossette can become queen, but until they can manage that, the throne is vacant.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: Once again, Belka is involved in instigating a major conflict in Strangereal. Dr. Schroeder states that this trope is all the Belkans have left after they nuked their own country and had much of their own territory claimed by other nations.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: The Arsenal Bird's first appearance in Mission 3 boils down to the IUPF being unable to even get close to it as it spams a ridiculous amount of missiles and drones at them, while taking advantage of the game's cloud mechanic to cover itself. The best Trigger can do is dodge until a retreat order is issued, as firing missiles will only prompt some UCAVs to take the hit for the Arsenal Bird, despite the airship having multiple target hitboxes. Even if the IUPF pilots do manage to inflict some damage on the Arsenal Bird, it just activates a set of Deflector Shields which destroy all missiles and force away all aircraft within the shield's radius. After that, command orders all squadrons to retreat.
  • Hope Spot: The game has quite a lot of these.
    • Brownie's plane gets hit by a missile but is still able to fly. Her squadron leader orders her to return back to base with another escort plane while the rest of the squadron hold off the enemy force. Just when the two planes are about to exit the combat zone, they fly straight into Mihaly.
    • The mission to rescue ex-president Harling goes roughly at first, with the Sea Goblin squad that sent in completely annihilated, but Colonel Johnson manages to rescue Harling and the two fly a V-22 Osprey out. Just when it seems like they're going to make it, the plane catches a missile and Colonel Johnson is killed, and for some unknown reason, Harling decides to pilot the plane back to the space elevator. When Trigger tries to shoot the drone that is trailing the plane, the missile instead hits Harling's plane directly, downing the aircraft and killing everyone onboard.
    • Osea stages an invasion of Farbanti to neutralize Erusea's civilian and military leadership and hopefully end the war, as most of the past wars ended with the capture of the enemy capital. Here, however, the global satellite communication network is destroyed, throwing everything into chaos. In addition, with most of Erusea's top ranking officials killed in the fighting, there's nobody with the authority to actually convince all of Erusea to surrender.
      • During the Battle of Farbanti itself, after Wiseman is killed by Mihaly, Trigger duels Mihaly one-on-one and actually scores a few good hits, and is implied that he got within one missile shot of bringing Mihaly down and avenging Wiseman. Unfortunately, the satellite network is destroyed in just that exact moment and everyone's HUDs on both sides of the battle subsequently malfunction. Mihaly takes that moment to slip away in the confusion, while Trigger and the rest of the squadron are left reeling and unable to pursue them.
    • Osea then attempts to back an anti-war Erusean general who has the influence to reunify the country. However, despite Trigger's best efforts, the general is killed by a rogue Osean plane (or Erusean drone disguised as one).
  • I Did What I Had to Do: The Strider Squadron feels bad for having to raid the countryside of Shilage. They know how culturally important it is, but the Squadron needs the food, fuel, and ammo supplies stashed in the castle. Húxiān mentions that she feels like a burglar, but Jaeger reassures her that it's for the best, even if he himself vows to never tell that part of the story to his son. They start feeling even worse when the notice the lines of refugees crowding the roads, now realizing that they're not just stealing from rebel militants, but innocent civillians as well. The reluctance extends even to Long Caster, who drops his usual casual demeanor to broadcasts demands of surrender to the defending enemy forces and making it clear Strider Squadron doesn't want to fight anyone that they don't have to, but unfortunately Sol squadron is having none of it and gives Strider an earful for acting like common bandits. Mihaly's entrance puts an end to the discussion, as he uses the event to challenge Trigger to a duel.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The Erusean drones used against Osea's navy in the initial offensive manage to not harm a single civilian, even when attacking Osean ships in their harbors. Not a single civilian is caught in the blast of any of the weapons the drones fire, nor presumably, are any civilians caught in the secondary blasts from the ships the drones hit, nor are any drones shot down and crashed into the cities. That the drones manage not to shoot down Osean fighters and crash them into civilian property is also impressive.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: Spare 8 "Champ" disobeys his operator and decides to engage Mihaly's pursuing Su-30SM by performing a not-quite Pugachev's Cobra in a MiG-29A, which has never displayed such a capability in real life, to get behind Mihaly. Sadly for Spare 8, the Erusean ace quickly shows him up with a Kulbit and disintegrates him with a missile at point blank range. And then Mihaly finds his match in Trigger, the one pilot he could not instantly kill with his usual point-blank missile attacks.
  • Irony: In Mission 12 Stonehenge Defensive, you, the Oseans, are defending the Stonehenge from the attacking Eruseans, a complete role-reversal from Mission 12 of Ace Combat 4, Stonehenge Offensive. This is further compounded as the mission boils down to the Oseans hijacking an Erusean superweapon to shoot down an Osean superweapon hijacked by the Eruseans.
  • Infinity -1 Sword: The YF-23 Black Widow, F-22A Raptor, and Su-57 are the final planes at the end of their aircraft trees. They're quite powerful in their own right, but there's one plane that's stronger.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: The X-02S Strike Wyvern requires beating the campaign to open up in the Aircraft Tree, and requires the purchase of at least one of the YF-23, F-22A, or Su-57, AND 2 million MRP to unlock. Its stats are unparalleled.
  • "Instant Death" Radius: Get out of the way when the Arsenal Bird fires up its Deflector Shields, or you're dead.
  • Institutional Apparel: Downplayed with "Spare" Squadron when they're not off on missions. Being both fighter pilots, and convicts, the 444th Squadron pilot's flightsuits also double as their prison jumpsuits, despite being military green rather than bright orange, as seen with Tabloid when he meets with Avril. Their only identifier as convicts is an orange armband that states their prisoner number.
  • Interface Screw:
    • Flying into the clouds of an electrical storm will cause your HUD to flutter slightly. Getting struck by lightning makes the plane lurch as the systems spasm, and then the entire interface starts to wobble and flicker for a full minute, with your radar dropping out at random until it dies down.
    • One late-game escort mission has your allies and even the escortee set as valid targets. You have to double-check for the TGT label to avoid failing the mission.
    • For a couple of missions after the satellite IFF network goes down, targets have to be manually ID'ed with a flyover before they're marked as friendly or hostile.
  • Interface Spoiler: Those who have purchased the Season Pass have full access to the entire game's soundtrack from the menu. Careful not to read the song titles before you play the game.
  • It Can Think: The drones initially avert this for most of the game, but there are a few moments that imply that the drones are smarter than they let on.
    • During "Last Hope," The F/A-18 drones escorting Schroeder's plane suddenly attack Trigger and Count even after the two defend the drones and Schroeder from Erusean conservatives. During the fight, the drones not only call for backup from nearby MQ-99 drones (by overriding the authority of the Erusean radicals, which shocks them), but Schroeder makes some comments that imply that the drones know Schroeder is carrying Mihaly's flight data and are actively trying to kill anyone who may try to stop them from obtaining the data for themselves.
    • Hugin and Munin play this trope to a T. Not only are they loaded with Mihaly's flight data, giving them almost unparalleled combat prowess, but they also are very smart. To start, when they go active, they immediately proceed to the Light House and establish air superiority while they wait for the Lighthouse's transmitter to power up so they can upload Mihaly's flight data when it does. When Trigger crashes their party and turns the battle in his favor, they begin studying him and recording his flight characteristics, adding it to their own databanks. And then, when one of them is destroyed, the other, instead of fighting, flees into the Lighthouse's tunnel and hacks the tunnel doors to try and prevent Trigger from following, even staging an ambush within the tunnels itself. It was pretty much all but said in words that if they had succeeded, they would have brought a real Robot War to Strangereal.
  • It Only Works Once: The Oseans capture and repair the remaining railgun of the Stonehenge battery to destroy one of the Arsenal Birds. However, because its been neglected for over a decade, they can only get one shot in. Fortunately, it hits home, and the Arsenal Bird is destroyed, turning the tide of war in Osea’s favor.
  • It's Up to You: Lampshaded and used for characterization. Spare Squadron is mostly interested in keeping themselves alive, which leads to the AWACS, Bandog, constantly berating them to follow Trigger's example: shut up and actually get on with the mission. Even afterwards, when you face Mihaly, the rest of Strider and Cyclops Squadrons quickly realize that they're no match for the Erusean ace and leave him to you.
  • Keystone Army: Once an Arsenal Bird goes down, its MQ-101 drones cease to be a threat and there is no need to shoot them all down.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: More like Boring, but Practical compared to the energy weaponry that is available for some of the mid-tier airplanes and the X-02.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Upon learning that Tabloid is actually Belkan, Avril comments that Belkans are known for their conspiracies, to which Tabloid replies that it's just stereotyping, reflecting the sentiments of fans of the series who always believes that Belkans always has a hand in whatever conflict that took place in each game somehow. Of course, this game is no exception as well, when it's revealed that the whole reason for the war is that some upstart Erusean officers get their hands on Belka's advanced AI technology, and Dr. Schroeder - a Belkan - takes advantage of this and offer to make them into better and better killing machines.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In the aftermath of mission 10, the debriefing mentions that Commander McKinsey gets sent to the front lines for being The Neidermeyer that he was. He did stress his achievements he "accomplished" while commanding the 444th to the top brass.
  • Last Lousy Point: Certain achievements, like acquiring S-Rank on every mission for one difficulty or downing all of the named aces, will have one or two major hurdles that will be a roadblock, the most common ones being:
    • The named F-35C, Mantis, requires you to fly directly along the mass driver rail in mission 17. However, you have to fly very close along it, and for the entire length, during a part of the mission with a hidden timer in the background counting down for when the armada of planes that the ace accompanies spawns. And you won't even know if you did it right until you can find, identify, and then shoot down the ace among the dozen or so other stealth fighters he spawns with.
    • S-Ranking missions 9 and 13. Both of these missions have a series of main targets for you to go after, but due to the point requirement you're also going to have to take down a large number of other enemies, which is a lot harder than it sounds when outside circumstances related to the mission force you to either move fast to make the time requirement or just not die to unavoidable missiles.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Mihaly's training software looks exactly like a game of Ace Combat.
  • Legacy Character: Or rather, Legacy Ship. The aircraft carrier Kestrel II plays a part in the story, as a successor to the original OFS Kestrel.
  • Macross Missile Massacre:
    • Among the new weapons in Ace Combat 7 are the 4-Target Air-to-Air Missile (4AAM), which is similar to the old XMAA, the 6-Target Air-to-Air Missile (6AAM), the 8-Target Air-to-Air Missile (8AAM), and the 8AAM's anti-ground counterpart, the 8-Target Air-to-Ground Missile (8AGM). Following up an 8AAM or 8AGM launch with firing off the two standard missiles would allow the player to send 10 missiles foe-wards inside of a second. Additionally, there is the returning Rocket Launcher Pod, here abbreviated to RKT, which rapidly fires off a large volley of unguided rockets, and it's more advanced version the GRKT, which fires a rapid volley of homing rockets.
    • The Arsenal Birds have massive batteries of ten VLS anti-air missile launchers, which have the agility to perform the classic Macross Missile Massacre "missile bloom" and the following inverse "missile bloom" effect, resulting in about ten missiles doing a 270 degree or more turn to converge on a single point, often your tail.
  • Made of Indestructium: As Count himself is surprised to discover, the main propellers of the Arsenal Birds are extremely resilient. You can knock them out for a little while, but they'll eventually come back online and still function without a bent propeller to be seen.
    Count: The main propeller is moving again! Just how hard is that thing!?
  • Magnetic Weapons:
    • The F/A-18F, Su-33, and X-02S can mount an underslung Electromagnetic Launcher, previously only seen on the CFA-44 Nosferatu, as one of many examples of the integration of advanced weapons systems with proven airframes, befitting of the Twenty Minutes In The Future setting.
    • Osean forces repair or replace the wrecked systems of the the eighth and final gun of the Spaceguard Turret Network "Stonehenge" that was destroyed in a meteorite impact prior to Mobius One's attack that had silenced the turret network in the Usean Continental War, bringing the aging hybrid electromagnetic/chemburning cannon back to life for one last shot to bring down one of the Arsenal Birds.
  • Mêlée à Trois: Hoo boy...After all the world's satellites get destroyed, chain of command for both sides become non-existent. As a result, the Erusean military splinters into various factions including but not limited to: anti-war conservatives, pro-war radicals and those who want to liberate nations annexed by Erusea many years ago (of which they are plenty). Of course, some prisoner soldiers assigned to Osean penal units turn against their captors. And with all this going on, remember that everyone's IFF is faulty, so allies end up shooting each other anyway. Interestingly, your squadron remains loyal to Osea this whole time, and you never actually engage other Osean forces if they have been identified as Osean.
  • Mildly Military:
    • The 444th Fighter Squadron is composed of a bunch of expendable convicts and Jerkass operators, hence they're not as professional as the official military forces. They are prone to swearing, cracking jokes, and insulting each other.
    • Downplayed with the Long Range Strategic Strike Group. It's an official military group now and its members are more professional than the 444th, but it still has looser regulations than what you would expect. AWACS Long Caster constantly eats on the job, and members of the two squadrons in the group appear to be interchangeable at will, with Count and Húxiān, who are both members of the Cyclops Squadron, replacing members of the Strider Squadron in some missions. After the satellite attacks disaster, the LRSSG is left with no clear chain of command, thus they drop all professionalism and just do what they need to survive.
  • Minimalist Run:
    • One of the medals requires doing a full completion of the campaign without using any weapon except machine guns. This means no firing missiles and no using any SP weapons except for the MiG-21's machine gun pods. Another medal simply requires doing the same on the final mission.
    • Another medal requires defeating Mihaly in the final battle with him without using SP weapons in under 5 minutes.
    • Inverted by the medal for taking down the second Arsenal Bird, which requires never using machine guns throughout the entire level, which is harder than it sounds.
  • Mood Whiplash: Mission 09 sees Trigger finally leading the Spare Squadron into a great victory against the enemy planes, only for Full Band to be accidentally shot down by Count because the former's plane is tagged as an enemy by AWACS Bandog, and it's heavily implied that Bandog might have done it on purpose.
  • More Dakka:
    • The MiG-21 has been seen armed with machine gun pods, which fire very rapidly and ups the plane's number of gun barrels from one to five.
    • The A-10 and its infamous GAU-8 Avenger carry more ammo than any other machine gun on difficulties where machine gun ammo is limited - 4800 rounds, where most other American aircraft (and derivatives thereof, as well as the MiG-21 bis and MiG-31B) carry 2400, and everything else carries 800.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The two ADF-11F RAVEN drones are visually designed after the FALKEN, a superplane that has never been canonically explained.
    • The various songs that play in Multiplayer matches include "Gambit", "Megalith ~ Agnus Dei", and "Zero", among others.
    • The medal awarded for dealing laser damage to enemies in multiplayer is called "Excalibur", after the superweapon from "Zero"
    • The last time an enemy boss deployed UAVs equipped with laser beams to swat down incoming missiles was in the spin-off game Ace Combat Infinity, where the Butterfly Master was never seen without a flock of MQ-90Ls that made her aircraft impervious to missiles until most drones were incapacitated. During the final mission, Hugin and Munin each deploy a pair of Weapon UAVs that intercept your missiles with laser beams and will impede your endeavors to damage the superdrones.
  • No Communities Were Harmed:
    • The city of Selatapura is believed to be one for Singapore, considering that it was a third world city before its economy prospered due to the construction of the space elevator, which resulted in having first world standards. It's located in an unknown part of the Usean continent, and was formerly part of Erusea. This would make Erusea a superpowered parallel to Malaysia, which Singapore was ejected from in 1965. Or Indonesia, which was once a Hegemonic Empire in the past. Unlike Erusea and Selatapura however, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia have only been embroiled in border and territory disputes.
    • Large parts of central Usea have naming conventions that imply it to be the Strangereal equivalent of Mexico and central America, but isn't explored too much more than the Roco Rojo Desert and the Erusean city of San Salvacion.
  • No-Damage Run: One of the in-game medals, and thus by extension, some of the achievements/trophies, require you to do a run of the campaign without ever getting hit. This is much easier said than done.
  • No Ending: For the VR campaign. After the third mission, the debriefing officer wonders out loud if the fight against Free Erusea is about to enter a new phase, considering that the third mission had them using a drone-operated transport plane as a decoy and then unleashing a four-plane stealth fighter squadron. And... that's it. Time will tell if there may be more DLC missions coming out to conclude the campaign.
  • Nostalgia Level: Being the game that connected with many previous games in the series, it has several of this:
    • Mission 4 - "Rescue": You're leading the operation to rescue former President Harling, who's trapped inside the Space Elevator, from behind the enemy lines. This mission harkens back to two missions in Ace Combat 5 that Harling appeared in. At first you must sneak through a hole in the enemy's anti-air radar network similar to how you guide Harling's plane in Mission 8 - "Handful of Hope" in the fifth game. When you break through and deal with the anti-air defenses, the Sea Goblin arrives to rescue Harling just like in Mission 20 - "Ancient Walls". Sadly, it doesn't end as well this time.
    • Mission 9 - "Faceless Soldier": In the latter half of the mission, you're ambushed by a squadron of "allied" planes in a mountainous landscape, similar to how the 8492nd turns on you in Mission 18+ - "8492" in the fifth game.
    • Mission 12 - "Stonehenge Defensive": Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Your battlefield is the Stonehenge once again, except this time you're defending it instead of attacking. For bonus nostalgia points, you can select the SU-37 with Yellow Squadron's paint scheme as your craft in the mission (if you pre-ordered the game), and it's the exact same mission number as "Stonehenge Offensive" was in Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies.
    • Mission 15 - "Battle for Farbanti": Once again, you're fighting at Farbanti. The western part of the city still remained flooded just like how it was in 04. The battle even took place on the same date as the first Battle for Farbanti (September 19) except it's fourteen years later. At the end of the mission, you also fight with the Sol Squadron, just like how you have a showdown with the Yellow Squadron.
    • Mission 16 - "Last Hope": The stage took place in Anchorhead - the same city that appeared in Mission 3 - "City On Fire" of Ace Combat 2 and Assault Horizon Legacy, where Scarface One must destroy the enemy aircraft carrier. The city is heavily expanded upon, but the overall geographical features still remain the same, with two large metropolitan areas separated by a mountainside tunnel and a long suspension bridge over the bay area.
    • Mission 17 - "Homeward": The northeastern part of Tyler Island is a space center similar to the Basset Space Center in Mission 6 - "White Bird (Part I)" of the fifth game. The mass driver even plays a role in the mission, except this time you're the one who's trying to stop the enemy from flying away with the payload.
    • Mission 20 - "Dark Blue": The first half of the mission begins with you taking off for the final time from an aircraft carrier that just happens to have every plane in the game available to choose from- just the same as the Kestrel from the fifth game. The latter half of the mission has you flying into a long tunnel similar to the one in Mission 27 "ACES" also from the fifth game, complete with shutters closing down on you. Not only that, you have to choose the right path to continue as some shutters are closing faster than the right one, hearkens back to the "Tunnel Vision" mission in Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Played for Drama. Mission 4 ends suddenly when the player fires a missile, cutting to a warhead taking Harling's plane out of the sky. These are two different missiles, but Willing Suspension Of Disblief regarding Cutscene Drop conspires to make the player think they just shot Harling, the person they were trying to save.
  • Nuke 'em: It's strongly implied that the Eruseans were trying to do this in Mission 13 "Bunker Buster", not dissimilar from in the mission "Breaking Arrows" in Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies. While nuclear weaponry is never specifically mentioned, there is almost no use for IRBMs (or, indeed, any ballistic missiles) other than delivering nuclear warheads, as they're very expensive, and to any observer, there's no apparent difference between a nuclear and conventional ballistic missile, and it would therefore be responded to as if it were a nuclear weapon. The missiles, when destroyed, make a massive explosion that is very different from the Arsenal Birds' Helios missiles and similar to that of V2 in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, though other high-yield non-nuclear weapons are known to exist in the Ace Combat universe, so it is left somewhat ambiguous.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: "Archange", the song that plays when Trigger faces off against Mihaly for the final time, starts off with traditional Gregorian chanting before becoming a bit more complex.
  • One-Man Army: The "One-Mobius-Army" title obtained through the Playstation VR missions is a nod to Mobius One being the integral key to winning the Usean Continental War in Ace Combat 4.
  • One-Woman Wail: Used every now and then in various missions throughout the soundtrack, but it's "Daredevil" during the penultimate mission where the singer really opens her pipes, coinciding with Cossette successfully sabotaging the device in the Space Elevator required for Arsenal Bird Justice to maintain its shield up.
  • Orphaned Etymology: AWACS Long Caster mentions that he'll take the squadron out to eat at an "Italian place" in town, despite the fact that the country of Italy doesn't exist in Strangereal. There's also the offhand mention of "Jesus", and the game's description of the Mig-29a specifically explains how its nickname is of Russian origin. The F-2's description is more vague, saying how "It's country" (Japan) built it with their territorial needs in mind. Special mention also goes to the F-15J: While the description does a good job of not mentioning its country of origin outright (in the same manner as the F-2), they seemed to have overlooked that the "J" in the aircraft's designation stands for Japan, since the F-15J is in fact a Japanese licensed copy of the F-15C built by Mitsubishi.
  • Paper Tiger: The 444th's "air base" is actually just a military prison with a single access runway. Everything else is balloons for vehicles, wooden shells for buildings, and painted-on airstrips. Erusean bombers fell for the decoys a bit too well, necessitating the activation of the penal fighter squadron just so that the Eruseans don't figure out what's really going on. The penal unit wasn't even supposed to take off; their primary objective was just to taxi out of the hangars and essentially rev the jets' engines and mill about on the tarmac in order to look busy, for the purposes of looking like the air base was trying to scramble jets in response. Unfortunately, Champ gets a little....too enthusiastic during the daily run-up and forces a takeoff...which results in the rest of the planes taking off as well, and from there they essentially went from a paper tiger to a real one.
  • The Pardon: Spare Squadron's members get one for their heroism in the conflict, with most of them joining the regular force while Trigger and Count are absorbed into the LRSSG's Strider Squadron.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Full Band comments that you'd be surprised how many people leave the password to their computer on a note nearby.
  • Player Nudge: Briefings tend to heavily suggest choosing an interceptor plane if Mihaly is going to show up.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Erusea's definitive strategy to fight the war is by hacking the international community's satellites and using misinformation to spread confusion.
  • Powerful, but Inaccurate: The entire shtick of HPAAs or High-Power Air-to-Air Missiles, and by extension, the almost-exclusively Russian aircraft that can use them. They do much more damage than normal missiles and are significantly faster, but they have poor homing capabilities.
  • Power Up Let Down: The level 1 missile damage upgrade does nearly nothing. Every enemy that takes two missiles to take down without it still takes two with it, and every enemy that takes three without it, still takes three with it. It may save a few rounds of machine gun ammo in finishing off said targets and might save a missile or two against harder targets like aegis ships, but those are much better dealt with by specialized weapons.
  • Rapid-Fire "Shut Up!": Should you fail your first mission with Spare Squadron by letting the Eruseans blow up the 444th's Air Base with their bombers, you get treated to an amusing 'secret' conversation where AWACS Bandog delivers this to your pals in Spare, who are busy laughing their heads off and insulting Base Commander Mc Kinsey and Bandog in response to what happened. It does nothing in making them shut up.
  • Real Place Background: The Shilage Castle in Mission 18 - Lost Kingdom looks very similar to the real-life Spiš Castle in Slovakia.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Modern missiles are pretty good at locking onto what the HUD says they will, but a fire-and-forget infrared-guided missile pointed at a tight cluster of signatures is liable to make mistakes. This appears to be what lands Trigger in the Spares, no matter what the player tries. It wasn't, but it's plausible enough that Trigger takes the fall.
    • In "Fleet Destruction", if you destroy the center platform of the runway at the northern sea base first, the planes trying to take off will fall off and crash because they don't have enough speed to reach flight yet.
  • “The Reason You Suck” Speech:
    • Wit gives one to the LRSSG when they attempt to raid Shilage Castle for supplies.
    • Ionela gives one to Dr. Schoeder after learning that he started the drone program as vengeance for losing Belka, his homeland.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: This is what happens to Trigger when he supposedly shoots down and kills Harling. He's officially transferred to the 444th squadron, but in reality it's a penal unit stationed in the middle of nowhere whose sole purpose is to serve as an expendable decoy force.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Mihaly, the central antagonist of the story, flies a black Su-30SM with red wingtips.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What motivated Harling to deliberately steer his plane towards the Space Elevator. The Oseans are convinced that he was making a desperate attempt to protect the Elevator from missile fire. However, the Eruseans believe that he was deliberately trying to destroy the thing. In-universe, this riddle becomes known as Harling's Mirror - due to the fact that the answer a person comes to regarding this question directly reflects how they view the Space Elevator, and what it stands for.
  • Robot War: A surprisingly realistic take on the genre. Erusea starts the war by smuggling unmanned drones developed using technology loaned from Belka to Osean naval ports, which do a lot of damage without harming civilians. They even use regular aircraft that are controlled by an AI system that are equipped with spoofed IFF signals to trick Osean pilots into thinking they’re friendlies. However, when the Usean Satellite Network is taken out by Osean and Erusean anti-satellite missiles, and Erusea collapses into a civil war, the AI goes haywire, and starts following their own orders. The Final Boss of the game are two highly advanced rogue UA Vs that are trying to use the International Space Elevator's transmission capabilities to transmit their combat data to automated drone factories across Usea in order to mass-produce an entire army of drones to win the war on their own.
  • Roc Birds: Jaeger compares the Arsenal Birds to the legendary Roc. Considering its size compared to regular fighters, it's pretty apt.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Stonehenge's last railgun (rusted over and barely functional as it is running on an improvised power supply made of Osean generator trucks) goes up against Arsenal Bird, with the latter activating its shields. Stonehenge's handicap is made worse by Erusean spies killing off the civilian contractors manning the observation vehicles, forcing the operators to use a (probably paperback) range table set that was conveniently located in the operations room. Stonehenge's railgun fires for the last time and its projectile punches through Arsenal Bird's shield, cutting the giant drone in half as well.
  • Scenery Porn: The landscape can only be described as highly detailed and photo-realistic, with revisited locations of previous games receiving an important graphical update (the Chopinburg Rainforest and its associated crater, as well as the Stonehenge ring, Anchorhead and Farbanti, for example). In the Gamescom Demo, one of the new locations, Yinshi Valley, is based on the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China, the same one that inspired the floating mountains in Avatar.
  • Schizo Tech: While it's normal for the series to have old Vietnam-era fighters like MiG-21s and F-4E Phantom IIs flying alongside the likes of F-22 Raptors and assorted superplanes, Skies Unknown takes it even further by pushing the technological timeline even further back with the F-104C Starfighter and exemplifies its technological mish-mash with the F-14D Super Tomcat, which can now carry the advanced 8AAM stealth weapon pods that were designed for the F-22A and will be entering service in real life long after the F-14D was retired. The Soviet/Russian side of the tree also gets in on this, with the Su-33 and MiG-31, two of the older planes in the game, mounting the near-future Electomagnetic Luancher and Pulse Laser, respectively.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: A large part of the Erusean military breaks off and joins the Oseans to fight the hard-lining government troops, who instigated the war and plan to use the Space Elevator to make Erusea a greater empire.
  • Sequel Difficulty Spike: Significantly so when compared to earlier numbered titles in the series. Enemies are more numerous and more aggressive in taking shots and pursuing the player. Enemy missiles track you more effectively and move at a speed compatible to the player's own, which makes evasion a priority when locked on. Defense systems like the AD Tank and CIWS can shoot down incoming missiles, which can force the usage of guns or bomb to effectively take them down. Missions often throw in tactical wrinkles such as rough weather or altitude restrictions along with tight time and score requirements to keep you under pressure. Earning the medals for completing the campaign without taking any damage or by using only machine guns are a challenge unto themselves and will put your mission objectives at risk by running out of time or being unable to protect an ally.
  • Shoot the Bullet: Certain enemies, including CIWS, AD Tanks, and the boss drone in mission 10, can actually shoot your missiles out of the air.
  • Shout-Out:
    • An enemy ace you encounter in the game is a Mig-29 by the name of Jester. His plane is colored with the same gold with blue undercarriage paint scheme as the two Mig-29s who crashed during the 1993 Fairfield Airshow in England.
    • The Selatapura equivalent of Singapore's National Stadium resembles Namco's famous circle section when viewed from above.
    • A Space Elevator, built to provide solar energy, becomes the point of contention between superpowers. Is this Ace Combat 7 or Gundam 00?
    • The game's opening scene, with Avril extending her hand toward the sky in the middle of a desert is very similar to Isamu Alva Dyson's introduction scene in Macross Plus. It even has a similar background soundtrack.
    • The special skin for the Mirage 2000-5, flown by ace "Foudre", is taken from the French film Sky Fighters (Les Chevaliers du ciel).
    • The mission where the LRRSG uses a canyon to hide from Erusean forces before raiding a base is based on 2004 version of Area 88.
  • Silent Protagonist: Lampshaded in Mission 14, when Count mentions that the best part of his squadron is how Trigger never runs his mouth off.
  • Space Elevator: One has been built in the Spring Sea southwest of Usea, near Selatapura. The site of construction becomes a point of contention for Erusea, claiming that it has been forced on their territory; this is seemingly one of their reasons for declaring war on Osea. In truth, Selatapura seceded from Erusea and became an independent nation. Said space elevator is primarily intended to deliver energy from orbit down to power plants groundside, and isn't fully completed yet, so it is not yet able to function as a ground to orbit cargo delivery system.
  • Speedrun: One medal, and by extension, certain trophies/achievements, require doing a full run of the campaign with no more than four hours of flight time. Due to how checkpoints work, this means that restarting from them is ill-advised when attempting this.
  • Spiteful A.I.: AA guns are nearly harmless, doing only 1% damage per hit, but they're far more accurate and faster-shooting than their predecessors in other Ace Combat titles, and while little threat to mission completion, will aggressively do everything they can to deny you the no-damage bonus and thwart your No-Damage Run.
  • Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder: Spare Squadron, initially, is seen as little more than a penal labor group, using mothballed and partially disassembled planes on the ground alongside decoys to give the impression of a larger air force presence than Osea actually has and draw enemy attention away from Osea's real forces. But little by little, they have to step up their efforts to appear "authentic" to the enemy, and before long they are being deployed on missions where the regular forces are too valuable to risk. Eventually they are recognized for their surprisingly effective contributions to the war, given general pardons, and promoted into becoming a regular Osean Air Force unit.
  • Take That!: In Mission 10, Count comments in disbelief at the sight of a border wall. The developers couldn't resist a light jab at the United States' own political situation in 2019.
    Count: Look below, is that a... wall? They built a wall along the border. That's nuts!
  • Theme Naming:
    • Osean military units seem to take their names from High Fantasy and medieval elements. Ace Combat 5 and Zero establishes the Razgriz (after the Valkyrie Randgrid), Wizard, and Sorcerer squadrons, but this game adds Skeleton, Golem, Cyclops, Basilisk, Salamander, Mace, and Gargoyle on top of the player's own Mage squadron.
    • Each operation undertaken by Spare Squadron is named after a better poker hand than the operation name before, starting with Operation High Card and ending with Operation Full House.
    • With one special exception, all Osean naval vessels are named after birds. Albatross, Kestrel, Vulture, Egret, Crane, Pheasant, Ptarmigan, Shoehorn, Stork, Bunting, Sunbird, etc.
  • This Means War!: Princess D'Elise claims that Osea has forced the construction of their Space Elevator on (formerly) Erusean soil, which is considered an illegal act threatening Erusea's sovereignty.
  • Title Drop: In Mission 19, while describing the painting in the space elevator's lobby that was commissioned by Harling, Avril notices that its title is "Skies Unknown."
  • Trailers Always Lie: An example that can be easily forgiven. The first reveal trailer for Ace Combat 7 showed someone geared up in a space suit getting ready to jump off the Lighthouse, and seemingly intercepted by an F-22 that flies past just as they do. This scene does happen in the story, but it's exactly what type of plane that intercepts that was intentionally kept hidden. This scene occurs at the end of the penultimate mission, as Cossette puts on a spacesuit to jump off from the Lighthouse while two ADF-11F drones arrive and fight the exhausted Osea-Erusea coalition, with one RAVEN flying past Cossette as she jumps off. Count's F-15C seemingly rams her by accident and causes an explosion, and Cossette's helmet can be seen flying off the screen just like the debut trailer, but she manages to survive.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: This brief shot from a pre-release trailers shows a flight of four Osean F/A-18F's, with three of them having some sort of red/magenta highlight on their canopy. These are not Osean Hornets, but actually Eurusean Hornets flying Osean colours and running spoofed IFF. These Hornets are also UCAVs, with the Euruseans having applied their newly acquired Belkan drone technology into turning even conventional aircraft into UAVs and UCAVs. That magenta highlight on the canopy is a tell-tale sign of a conventional aircraft being actually an Eurusean UCAV.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: Briefings are much less obvious about what priority targets you'll have to hit than in previous games, so choosing the right plane and weapon may take a second try.
  • Twenty Minutes In The Future: The game takes place in Strangreal's 2019 and features a wide array of aircraft from the past five decades and the near future, with the Su-57 making its second Strangereal appearance after Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy (where it was still known as the PAK-FA, and that game was set in Strangereal's 90's) before actually entering service with Russia, the first Strangereal appearance of the new Su-30SM, and the return of the F-35C, which still isn't in widespread use in real life. In addition, it features some of Ace Combat's near-future technology fictional aircraft and integrates many of their weapons, such as two variants of the Tactical Laser System (as both a beam and a pulse weapon) and the Electromagnetic Launcher onto real aircraft, as well as experimental real life weapons systems that haven't yet entered service, such as the stealth weapons pods carried by the F-22A Raptor. In non-weapons speculative near-future technology, one of the central points of the game's main conflict is the "Lighthouse" space elevator (however Lighthouse differs from other depictions of space elevators in media in that it does not deliver cargo or people, but rather functions as a means to collect solar energy and transmit it to power plants groundside, and as a docking/launch point for spacecraft). Perhaps the most futuristic technology seen is the microwave shielding that the Arsenal Bird possesses; said shield is able to withstand missiles and bullets, with only a high-caliber railgun projectile able to pierce it.
  • Uniqueness Decay:
    • The Tactical Laser System, the defining powerful weapon of the FALKEN and Morgan, has been adapted into a subweapon that variants of common planes like the F-15E and Su-37 can equip.
    • The Electromagnetic Launcher, once unique to the CFA-44 Nosferatu, is now carried by more mundane aircraft, such as the F/A-18F and Su-33. However, it has been balanced out with a much slower fire rate and a single launcher design (the CFA-44 had twin EM Ls, allowing for rapid fire).
  • Unusable Enemy Equipment: The enemy has only a few planes that you can't fly yourself: The AV-8B Harrier, and the F-117 Nighthawk being the primary ones. You also can't fly any of the enemy bombers like the TU-95, as is tradition with an Ace Combat game.
  • Variable Mix: The soundtrack becomes muffled when flying through clouds.
  • Version Exclusive Content: All of the plane emblems and titles specifically relating to Mobius One, including the Mobius Squadron, ISAF, ISAF Low Vis, and Free Erusia emblems, and "One-Mobius-Army" title can only be accessed to those who have the VR missions. Xbox and PC players currently have no means of obtaining them, and even Playstation users have to pay extra for the equipment and access to the missions.
  • Video Game Caring Potential:
    • The final mission features an allied pilot named Wit - the second in command of Mihaly's squadron, Sol, who will be shot down if you fail to shoot down the 2nd target fast enoughnote . There's no benefit to saving him other than the satisfaction of saving him.
    • There are various times where friendly NPCs are under attack while your main objectives are elsewhere. You can go rescue them, and you might even get an extra bit of dialogue for it. Bandog will chide you on Pipeline Destruction if you take out the UAVs that are going after friendlies instead of hunting the trucks, while your squad mates will cheer you on.
    • On Stonehenge Defense, you can kill the enemy ground forces before they make contact with your allied ground troops. If you're fast enough, you'll hear your ground force say, "they disappeared!" in disbelief about the detected enemy ground forces.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Eruseans engage in Would Not Shoot a Civilian with their drones, not out of any actual legitimate concern for civilian life, but because it gives them a huge PR win, while Osea's use of more conventional bombing makes them look bad in the eyes of many of the people of the Usean Continent.
  • Violation of Common Sense: In the mission "Long Day", Trigger can fly through a small tunnel and flush out enemies hiding inside. AWACS Bandog immediately thinks that Trigger crashed because he dropped off radar, but other members correct him by saying how crazy he is for flying through the tunnel.
    Bandog: Trigger crashed! Drooling idiot...
    Spare Squadron: No! He flew into the tunnel! He's crazy!
  • War Is Hell: Cossette gets hit with this pretty hard. In the beginning she actively calls for her citizens to wage war against Osea, but quickly realizes the error of her ways when she sees civilian casualties in the wake of the war.
  • We Have Reserves: The Spare Squadron is frequently reminded of who they are.
    Col. McKinsey: Remember, you are not bona fide military. You are expendable.
  • Wham Shot: Mission 4 ends very abruptly when you press the "fire missile" button, and watch helplessly as the missile apparently takes down Harling's plane.
  • The Worf Barrage: A massive barrage of air-to-air, sea-to-air, and cruise missiles from a joint Osean-Erusean coalition does absolutely nothing against the second Arsenal Bird's Deflector Shields, making it abundantly clear that without Stonehenge the shields are impenetrable.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Erusea knows it can't fight a superpower like Osea on equal terms, so they proceed ship armed UAVs in containers to Osea, where they are remotely launched and proceed to destroy naval bases across the country, crippling the nation's naval response and throwing it into chaos, while simultaneously launching a lightning offensive across the continent of Usea. By the time Osea and IUN forces can recover, Erusea and its allies have seized most of the continent, along with both Arsenal Bird carriers, and the crippling strike on Osea's maritime and naval forces means Osean forces are cut off from the mainland. Later on, when Osea seizes Farbanti, Erusea's capital, Erusea and Osea both launch anti-satellite missiles to take out the orbital satellite IFF network, crippling communications and causing widespread chaos.
  • You Shouldn't Know This Already: During the penultimate mission, a plane with 8AAMs and a few attack upgrades can take out all of Arsenal Bird's propellers during the moments its shield drops to deploy more drones. All this achieves is triggering the dialogue about this not working sooner than normal, the actual targets don't even have hitboxes until the mission script says they do.
  • Zerg Rush: Every time an Arsenal Bird shows up, it deploys dozens upon dozens of drones to overwhelm the opposition with sheer numbers.

"Tell me something. What color's the sky up there?"

Alternative Title(s): Ace Combat 7

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