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Video Game / Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War

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"Did you know... there are three kinds of aces? Those who seek strength, those who live for pride, and those who can read the tide of battle. Those are the three, and him... He was a true ace."

"This is the Round Table. Dead men's words hold no meaning."

In this, the seventh game in the Ace Combat series (released in 2006), a journalist from the Osean Federation named Brett Thompson films a documentary on the history of the Belkan War, which was alluded to in the previous game. In 1995, the Belkan Federation began an invasion of the newly-autonomous Republic of Ustio, hoping to reclaim the resource-rich territory that had once been theirs. 90% of Ustio's air force was destroyed in the opening days of the war and as they were overrun, Belka turned its attention towards the Osean Federation, the Union of Yuktobanian Republics and their allies. Unamused, the allied nations sided with Ustio and delivered a smackdown of national proportions and everyone lived happily ever after, right? Well...

In the war's final days, Ustio took desperate measures and recruited a number of mercenary pilots in a last ditch effort to fend off the encroaching Belkans. One of these pilots is the true interest of Thompson, a legendary ace known as the Demon Lord of the Round Table. In his time, he was known by the callsign Cipher, and was number one of the Galm Squadron alongside Larry "Pixy" Foulke, aka Solo Wing. As Cipher, you play through the most famous battles of the Belkan War and deal with its bloody and tragic aftermath, as Thompson interviews the various people that encountered the Demon Lord and lived to tell the tale, as he tries to find out the identity of this mercenary, and with him, the truth of the Belkan War.


In terms of the Ace Combat series, The Belkan War differs mainly in its presentation of the story. It takes the form of a retrospective using live action actors to play the parts and invests a significant amount of effort in demonstrating the extent to which the Demon Lord affected the lives of everyone who fought him. It is also the only installment that features a Karma Meter: based on whether you spare non-hostile targets or destroy them for more cash, the game identifies Cipher as either a Knight, a Soldier, or a Mercenary, which determines how other characters treat you and which bosses you face.

The events that take place in this game are not to be confused with the other Belkan War that brought about the downfall of an ancient empire, though the similarities are strong and Shout Outs to this game abound.


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  • Accidental Pun: In Mission 13, PJ will comment that he should be able to fly more like Cipher, and while he praises Cipher's efficiency if he's a Knight or Soldier ace, as a Mercenary, PJ comments that "Cipher's actions are inhuman", alluding to both his incredible skill as a pilot and to the incredible extra damage Mercenary Cipher does, but the way he says it, PJ seems unaware of the wordplay and seems to have been only intending the former meaning.
  • Achievement System: One of the earliest instances: the game included a number of medals that could be earned by completing story missions and beating certain challenges across multiple playthroughs; the medals can be viewed from the main menu.
  • Air Jousting: The final mission has you do the closest equivalent fighter jets can get to knightly jousting. Considering the Arthurian motifs present, it is absolutely deliberate.
  • The Alliance: The Osean-led Alliance against Belka.
  • Always Someone Better: Larry "Solo Wing Pixy" Foulke starts the game more notorious than the player character Cipher, and mentions at the end of the first mission that "he (Cipher) had potential." He goes on to have a friendly relationship with Cipher and refers to him as "Buddy" whenever possible even after turning on you and becoming the final boss.
  • An Asskicking Christmas: Mission 15 takes place on Christmas Day.
  • Arc Words: "Yo, Buddy, you still alive?"
  • Art Shift: In contrast to the anime-style video cutscenes of Ace Combat 3, the slide shows of Ace Combat 4 and Ace Combat X, and the CGI-based video cutscenes of Ace Combat 5 and later games, Zero features live-action video cutscenes.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: " [Morgan]'s only weak point is in the front air intake. You'll have to attack it head on."
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The true strength of a Soldier Ace, according to Grun 1.
    "I squinted my eyes and confirmed the situation. Checked the terrain, the air currents, his plane, his remaining ammo, his maneuvers... I figured I could do it. I knew what I was getting into, yet he still outmaneuvered me beyond my expectations."
  • Badass Army: The Belkan Air Force.
  • Badass Back: Gelb Squadron's Su-37's can fire missiles backwards, as can Mobius One's F-22A Raptor. Truth in Television: Some of the latest AAMs, like the Python 4/5 or AA-11/R-73, have a 360-degree targeting capability.
  • Badass Boast:
    • "This is our turf and we'll fly how we please!" — Schnee One
    • For a Well-Intentioned Extremist organization, A World With No Boundaries gets a pretty one.
  • Bait-and-Switch Boss: Happens in the Gauntlet on the highest difficulty, if you manage to shoot down Espada Squadron in under one minute. The final squad is wiped out by the real boss... Mobius 1 in his signature Raptor. If you manage to shoot him down, that's 30,000 points for you. Yes: Mobius 1 is considered so badass that shooting him down is equivalent to shooting down six of Pixy's ADFX-02, or roughly twenty "normal" Aces!
  • Battle Couple: Espada 1 and 2 are romantically involved and fly in the same squadron. It always ends poorly.
  • Battle Intro: Whenever an Ace squadron is introduced, their emblem and military division is flashed on the screen, complete with Boss Subtitles. Notably, this also applies to your team, Galm, when introduced at the very start of the game.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment:
    • In-Universe, the FALKEN is just given to you when you unlock it. It really has no mention anywhere in the storyline. This is Gameplay and Story Segregation, as the Morgan is very clearly an early version of the FALKEN, with standard jet engines, a normal cockpit and a less efficient laser weapon. The FALKEN doesn't even exist when Zero takes place (later materials mention it was built in response to the Belkan War's outcome), it's just a bonus.
    • The X-02 Wyvern is the same. It's a bonus given to you when you unlock it. Its description still says it's the latest in Erusian technology, even though it wouldn't be developed until the Erusian War many years later.
    • Mostly averted with the Morgan itself, which comes out of nowhere to fight you, but its defenses are addressed when you encounter it.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Knowing some German (and to a lesser degree, Russian and Spanish) helps you recognize references.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On various fronts.
    • The Allied Counterattack arc of the game, spanning from missions 7 through 12, ends with Belka being decisively defeated and the war officially coming to an end. However, this only comes after the Allied Forces' bombing of Hoffnung and Belka detonating nuclear weapons on their own soil in an attempt to stave off the invasion. Worse still, the combined weight of these events causes your wingman Pixy to go rogue and attack you, not to be seen again until the final level.
    • The final third of the game ends this way as well, arguably more bitter than the former example. Cipher's replacement wingman, PJ, is shot down and killed by the now-rogue Pixy, who proceeds to engage in seemingly a battle to the death with Cipher. Cipher successfully manages to shoot down Pixy during their battle, and thus prevent a nuclear apocalypse in the process. For reasons unknown to anyone but himself, Cipher disappears from the battlefield and from history immediately afterwards, never to be seen again.
    • For Thompson: Despite interviewing every surviving ace pilot who faced Cipher in battle, he is ultimately unable to uncover the mysterious Demon Lord's identity. However, he notes at the end of his documentary that all the pilots had the same smile on their face when they spoke of Cipher, and concludes "that, perhaps, may be my answer."
  • Bleak Level: Mission 11, "The Inferno", involves the Allied Forces indiscriminately bombing the Belkan industrial city of Hoffnung and setting it ablaze, killing scores of Belkans including civilians. Then retreating Belkan troops implement a scorched-earth policy and set fire to their own city's buildings. Even the mission's music sounds like a dark reprise of the upbeat music that plays during the liberation of Ustio's capital earlier in the game. The horrors of the bombing lead to Pixy's Face–Heel Turn and eventual defection to A World With No Boundaries.
  • Bonus Boss: Mobius One, the Player Character from AC04, and his Raptor in the Gauntlet, though only on the Ace difficulty. Eliminate Espada Squadron in under a minute, and you get to fight Mobius One. Regular missions also often have optional aces you can down, but these aren't really harder than the compulsory ones.
  • Bookends: It is snowing during both the first and last missions of the game. Why note this? Because that's when Cipher and Pixy first met each other, and when they last fought each other. Pixy even makes note of it both times.
  • Boss-Only Level: The final mission is just one long fight against the final boss. Same with the Bonus stage, Gauntlet, a Boss Rush.
  • Boss Remix: "Zero".
  • Boss Rush: The bonus stage 'Gauntlet' allowed the player to face four randomly chosen enemy ace squadrons in a row.
  • Call-Back: Among the aces duking it out at the Round Table in mission 10 are Heartbreak One and Huckebein the Raven. Playing the mission on Ace difficulty likewise lets you shoot down Ashley Bernitz (Grabacr) and Michael Heimeroth (Ofnir) in respectively the Mercenary and Soldier paths.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Missions 9 and 10 are the highest point in the game, with you feeling like the king of the world for destroying a humongous superweapon and conquering the Round Table. Mission 11 has your side fire-bombing civilian territory, to horrific effect. Mission 12 takes place on the day Belka detonates seven nukes, and you get to see it, just after you thought you prevented it. And it goes waaaaaaay downhill from there.
  • Chasing Your Tail: Inverted for the final mission, as noted in the King Arthur trope entry below, you have to attack the ADFX-02 Morgan's front air intakes head on... essentially "a missile-enhanced game of chicken."
  • Cherry Tapping: Beating Pixy with the A-10 Thunderbolt/Warthog (close air support ground attack), F-117A Nighthawk (stealth ground attack) or EA-6B Prowler (electronic warfare, and due to how its ECMP works possibly even more useless in most missions), none of which are meant to be an air superiority fighter... or try a gunkill. On Ace. Then Serial Escalation kicks in with the Gauntlet, ending with Mobius One and his Raptor using an Ace Nighthawk Gunkill. Or take a ride in a J35J Draken and Hoist Alberto "Espada One" Lopez By His Own Starting Plane.
  • Combat Commentator: Pretty much any radio chatter that doesn't pertain to your mission objectives.
  • Continuity Cameo: Somewhat Inverted as it is a prequel, but pilots from nearly all the other Strangereal Ace Combat games show up in one form or another (and most can be shot down). To wit:
    • Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies:
      • An optional ace on the Knight variation of mission 10 uses the paint scheme of Yellow 13, Mobius 1's rival.
      • And also the game's secret boss on the Bonus Stage: it's Mobius 1 himself.
    • Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War: Being a set-up to this game's events, this is inevitable.
      • The Kestrel shows up as an escort objective in the "Operation Costner" variation of Mission 4. This is in fact its trial voyage.
      • Mission 10 is full of AC5 characters: Captain Bartlett is one of your allies in the Knight version, the leader of Ofnir squad can be shot down in the Soldier route, and in the Mercenary version you can also meet Huckebein the Raven aka Pops and either rescue him from the leader of Grabacr squad or shoot him down.
      • Heierlark Air Force Base, where the Wardog Squadron was trained, serves as a refueling point in Mission 13. The mission itself also takes place in the same area Missions 21 and 22 did in 5. Likewise, both Mission 12 and Mission 15 both take place in the same area Mission 20 did in 5.
    • One of the multiplayer levels is an all-out furball between two groups lead by each player, each of which has three pilots with specific names. Player one's named wingmen are Edge, Chopper and Archer from Ace Combat 5, while player two's are named after the allied Omega, Viper and Halo squadrons from Ace Combat 04. All the multiplayer levels also use music from AC5's arcade mode.
  • Controlled Helplessness: When the Hresvelgr starts bombing the base, you have to wait a few minutes before you're cleared to taxi and take off. All you can do is sit in your plane and move the camera around to watch the chaos around you as the bomber flies overhead.
  • Darker and Edgier: Especially by comparison to the previous two entries in the series. Usually, the lines between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" are pretty clear-cut. Here, however, while the Belkans are clearly the aggressors, the Allied Forces demonstrate themselves to be both willing and eager to extract their pound of flesh for no better reason than simple revenge. It's also the only game in the series that lets you deliberately target non-combatants. Not to mention that the Final Boss of the game is your own brother-in-arms.
  • Dashing Hispanic:
    • Espada Team is a Battle Couple made up of two.
    • On a musical level, the Hispanic instruments in "Zero" are part of what makes it one of the most badass, if not the most badass, tune in the series.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: This game questions A LOT about the franchise.
    • The concept of the Featureless Protagonist. People know almost nothing about you except your skills, to the point that you're seen as a demon on the battlefield because that's all people really know. Years later, because you disappear after the events of the game, people don't even remember you existed until Brett Thompson finishes his report, and even he still only knows of the "Legendary Ace Cipher, called The Demon Lord of the Round Table". He has no idea who it actually is.
    • The game also takes what happened to Yellow Squadron in the fourth game and ramps it up to the max, with bios for all 169 aces you can shoot down.
    • The game also shows exactly what happened during the Great Offscreen War that was the Belkan War, as well as why the Gray Men from the last game were so angry about all of it. You thought Belka was just being petty? You have no idea.
    • In-universe, of the Belkan War. Those who played Ace Combat 5 first will be told that the evil Belkans invaded other countries and the heroic Allies liberated them. That happened, sure, but after Ustio was liberated, Thompson says it perfectly, "The true nature of the war begins from this point forward." Not all Belkans were evil, as evidenced by the interviews. And the Allied Forces invaded Belka in the first place to secure "resource interests." Come Mission 11, Allied bombers destroy an entire Belkan city, and the Belkans rush frantically to defend it... before deciding to burn it anyway just so the Allies can't say they did or claim any material they happen to miss. To quote Thompson again, "Everyone is a hero and a villain. And no one knows who's the victim or who's the aggressor." Pixy didn't know either, so he defected to a third party who had no interest in the war except in making sure ones like it never happen again, by any means necessary.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Inverted. Almost every single one of the 169 named aces you shoot down has a unique brief biography written for them — but it is only unlocked after you defeat them, and being defeated by you is also their single purpose in the game. Whether or not they die or become better afterwards zigzags this trope.
  • Disc-One Nuke:
    • The F-5E, one of your three starting planes, is equipped with QAAMs, which can down non-ace squad enemies in one shot and don't require constant target painting like the Draken's SAAMs, and is nearly as agile as mid-range planes that unlock quite a bit later, like the F-20A and F-16C.
    • Have a save file from the previous two games and you can unlock superfighters from both as early as mission 1. Play as a mercenary, and you'll soon rake in enough cash to afford either one, and you can basically cruise through the rest of the game easily.
    • Even without an Old Save Bonus, if you either kill or spare every single yellow target in missions one and two, you can just barely push the ace style gauge into the mercenary or knight styles, respectively, in time for the first battle of the Round Table. Playing as a mercenary nets you the Typhoon, which is just barely inferior to endgame planes like the F-22A and Su-47, while playing as a knight nets the Gripen, which is only slightly inferior to that and easily equal or better than mid-game planes like the F-15C.
    • And at the end of what could be considered "disc one", no matter your ace style, you unlock the Su-37 Terminator after mission six, which is fully equal to planes like the F-22A and Su-47, has some of the best SP weapon options in the game (XLAA and FAEB), and can easily carry you through the entire rest of the game once you can afford it.
  • Disney Villain Death: Darren Knowles (Sorcerer 2) died on impact when his parachute caught fire after ejecting from his plane.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Belka nuked themselves on June 6, 1995. Might crossover with Rule of Symbolism since this is the earliest time in the story's canon nukes being used are mentioned.
  • Downer Ending:
    • Some of the pilots that you (have to) shoot down do not have happy endings, or at least must have taken quite the hit to the ego in their postwar lives: Anthony "Bedivere" Palmer works for an insurance company; Dominic "Vulture" Zubov is a fugitive war criminal; Franz Breitner (Indigo 4) was killed after the Belkan War in a crossfire with guerrillas while visiting a village on behalf of a children's charity; and Marcela "Macarena" Vasquez's beloved flight lead Alberto Lopez does not survive long after being shot down by Galm 1: in the Mercenary story path he's killed when his J35J Draken fighter is destroyed, in Soldier he eventually passed away from his injuries suffered that day, and in Knight he eventually returned to the sky only to get shot down again and die there. Possibly the most visible would be former Belkan Air Force poster boy turned history professor Detlef "Red Swallow" Fleisher who wouldn't even look directly at the camera, still unable to swallow his pride a decade later and accept his defeat by mercenaries.
    • Named enemy pilots whose defeat is not required include: Hariman Reinhardt, who had to retire due to vision problems; Dietmar Wolf was dubiously tried as a war criminal (though the charges were dismissed); Yuri Dashkov's own wingman testified against him after their capture; and there's Daniel Bierofka the car salesman...
    • On the other hand, the narrator later says that "They always had a slight smile on their faces" whenever they talked about the Demon Lord. Perhaps the point of the interviews is to say that the only glory in war is to live long enough to see its end. In fact, the final line in the trailer of Zero is "There is only one rule in war: Survive".
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: As always for Ace Combat, beautifully averted. Zero is the king of all AC heroes in the respect department: some of the cutscenes between missions are full-motion video interviews with ace pilots about you, the Demon Lord of the Round Table, ten years later.
  • Dueling Player Characters: In the (non-canon) Brutal Bonus Level you, as Cipher, can fight Mobius One, the protagonist of Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, if you manage to shoot down Espada Squadron in under a minute. This has since become a staple in the Ace Combat series to include protagonists of previous games as bosses in the non-canon bonus levels.
  • The Empire: Belka.
  • Episode Zero: The Beginning: Zero sets up the events of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War. It shows the Great Offscreen War with Belka 15 years before, shows the motivations behind their actions in said game, and shows why Osea and Yuktobania were allies at the beginning of the game.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In Mission 12, when you learn about the bombers carrying nuclear weaponry, a large squadron of neutral Belkan aircraft show up and tell the target aircraft that if they do not immediately turn around and return to base, the neutral squadron will destroy them themselves.
  • Evil Is Easy: Not so much. You get better planes, yes, but you have to defeat ace squadrons flying them against you first, and you have to take time to destroy yellow targets to stay evil. It definitely pays better, though. That's not to say the ace squadrons specific to that path are much more difficult than the others, but they do tend to outnumber you more severely than other squads (Schwarze has eight planes, for instance, while Silber and Schnee have four fighters and one backup).
  • Face–Heel Turn: Pixy. Even though he's obviously reconciled with the player character by the time of his video interview, he still killed the replacement wingman PJ and nearly nuked Osean continent on terrorists' behalf.
  • Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: The Belkan War is an odd blending of elements of both World Wars, as well as dashes of the Balkan Wars and a few seasonings of modern day Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Though Patrick "PJ" James Beckett was never considered the sharpest tool in the shed, his sense of Genre Blindness reaches a head when the last words out of his mouth are "I'm gonna ask her to marry me when I get back, I even bought flowers!" Boom.
  • Foregone Conclusion: If you've played 5, you already know that the Belkans lose, and that they drop nukes on their own territory. But despite knowing that, the major twist is that's not the end of the game. The failure of the Belkans and AWWNB, and their goals to change the world, is all but outright stated to be the inevitable conclusion by the last text slide of the intro video.
    An unchangeable world
  • Foreshadowing: Pixy's dialogue with Wizard in an early mission foreshadows their creation of A World With No Boundaries. A second dialogue he has with PJ in the same mission also foreshadows PJ's death at Pixy's hands.
  • Framing Device: A documentary written by Brett Thompson, an Osean journalist; according to Thompson, he discovered several files alluding to an unknown mercenary who played a major part in the outcome of the war, said mercenary being Cipher himself. To uncover Cipher's identity, Thompson begins interviewing pilots who encountered him, and the game plays out during the course of the documentary, with the gameplay segements depicting Cipher's actions and choices during the war, and the interviews showing how he affected pilots who fought against him.
  • Gameplay Ally Immortality:
    • Averted with the mission-critical carrier OFS Kestrel, and only if you choose Operation Costner for your fourth mission.
    • Similarly Averted by various allied units who call for aid, such as allied tanks under attack by an A-10 in mission 6, or an F-20A that's being chased by four Belkan aircraft who flies into the operation airspace asking Cipher and Pixy to save his hide in mission 8C. Save them and they'll thank you, ignore them and they die, but nothing else happens.
    • Played straight by most other allies.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: According to Aces At War: A History, the TLS used on the Morgan (both ADFX-01 and ADFX-02) necessitates a G-limiter preventing the plane from exceeding 7 G's to avoid damage to the laser. Neither plane is actually restricted from performing extremely high-G maneuvers (justifiable as overriding or disabling the G-limiter) or suffers loss of use of its TLS during or after high-G maneuvers.
  • Genre Blindness: A particularly cruel example with PJ: "Now the war is finally over. I got a girlfriend back at the base. I'm gonna propose to her when I get back. I even bought flowers." Three seconds later, he's blown out of the sky.
  • Goroawase Number: Raising each plane's Kill Tally up to 765 (Na-Mu-Ko) will visually change the kill tally into Pac-Man, Ghosts, and Pellets.
  • Gratuitous German: Subverted. All of the Belkan Air Force ace pilots are named with German words such as Schnee (Snow), Rot (Red) and Schwann (Swan), though sometimes they do get the translations wrong (for example, Grun is supposed to have an umlaut over the U, several adjectives are gendered wrong for the nouns they're attached to, and Trombe is incorrectly translated as "tornado"). On the other hand, Belkan may not actually be 100% identical to real life German.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Ace Combat Zero has this in spades, though it is possible by attaining Supreme Knight to make Cipher almost totally "white".
  • Hufflepuff House: Ustio and Sapin are this to Osea and Yuktobania despite the fact that the player character is from (or at least working for) one of these Third-Party Countries.
  • 100% Completion: Getting an S-rank on all missions on Ace difficulty gives you a few cosmetic bonuses.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: While superhuman piloting performance is to be expected of both the Player Character and ace opponents, it is taken to the extreme in the final battle — according to the Aces At War: A History art book, Cipher forced Pixy to override the 7 G limit on the "Zoisite" Tactical Laser System, and the stress of operation under G-loads explicitly exceeding 11 G's (sustaining 9 G's is just about the upper end of G-suit augmented human limits before succumbing to G-LOC) was at least as important to destroying his TLS as actual battle damage.
  • Insult Backfire: An amusing conversation between Pixy and PJ:
    Pixy: Galm 2 to Crow 3, if you get shot down, crash where I can't see.
    PJ: Uh, Roger, leave it to me.
    • Even funnier if you're playing Knight: PJ cheerfully agrees with Pixy's "order."
  • Interface Screw: The briefing interface is screwed with by the Hresvelgr bombing the base. And then there's mission twelve where not only does the screen shake, everything goes all fuzzy, and your radar range is cut nearly in half and stays that way until the mission ends, due to the EMP from the Belkan nukes going off scrambling your jet's electronics.
  • It's Raining Men: Mission 5 is mostly about this.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The opening of Zero: "It was a cold and snowy day..."
  • Just Plane Wrong: In real life, Galm Team would suffer a huge case of Crippling Overspecialization, as the F-15C was specifically made for air superiority - "not a pound for air-to-ground", as the F-15 Special Project Office put it. The fact that it carries bombs means it's a jury-rigged Japanese F-15J or Israeli F-15I. Many other planes have similar equipment oddities, such as the Su-27 and MiG-31 also being fitted for the UGBL despite neither being provisioned for dumb bombs or bombs over 500 kg (which would more likely be the UGB than UGBL) and the weapon in question not seeming to accurately correspond to the design of any common Russian bomb. And, as is common in Ace Combat games, there are even armed versions of experimental and test planes that were never intended to be armed, such as the F-15 S/MTD and X-29, as well as the addition of guns to the F-117 and EA-18G (though the presence of an internal gun on the F-35C is more a case of Technology Marches On - at the time, it was believed that the C model would have an internal gun like the A model) and the fitting of the F-117 with any air-to-air weapons whatsoever. Its setting of 1995 also makes some of the planes anachronistic at least as far as real history goes, such as the production version of the F-22 (finalized 1997), the aforementioned EA-18G Growler (first flight in 2006; this is interesting in contrast to the use of the regular Hornet, since the Super Hornet's own first flight wasn't until the final weeks of 1995), or the Su-47 Berkut (first flight of the last version was in 1997, and wasn't officially named the Su-47 until 2002).
  • Karma Meter: Knight/Soldier/Mercenary. Mercenary is as much evil as the game gets, as pilots see you as a despicable bastard who's only concerned with money. Soldiers are more neutral, as you're only following orders and doing whatever it takes to turn the tide of battle, and knight is not-quite-Good but at least honorable in battle.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • One mission has you assisting Allied bombers destroying a Belkan munitions facility, but they make it known right from the start that they're prioritizing destruction over accuracy. The whole mission is a reference to the firebombing of Dresden during World War II, where the Allies were equally indiscriminate. It's not just a munitions facility — it's the entire city of Hoffnung. And the Allied forces aren't the only ones kicking the dog — Belkan forces are committing arson to many buildings, some of them privately owned, on their way out just to deny the Allies use of anything that they don't bomb. Even more disturbing, its implied that the Belkan Army is doing it to Belkan civilian homes and then retreating from the city and leaving those civilians to burn. If you slightly graze one of the factory targets with bullets, there is a chance they will tell you over the radio that they are not a weapons factory. And yet, it is still listed as a target. Ouch. The bombers' radio chatter is borderline Ax-Crazy as well:
      Bomber pilot: Turn it to ashes! (pause) That's not enough! DROP MORE BOMBS!!
    • Playing a mercenary is this in a nutshell, as you rack up kills, including on noncombatants and even civilian targets, for the sole purpose of building up more dosh.
  • King Arthur: Ace Combat Zero is positively rich with Arthurian motifs. Notable ones included names like the "Hydrian Line"note  as a defended area and "The Round Table" as a nickname for a famous battlefield. Also present are the Excalibur laser tower (complete with a comment from a soldier after its destruction that "the sword has been pulled from the stone") and fighter pilots with names like Joshua "Lucan" Bristow and Anthony "Bedivere" Palmer. Furthermore, members of A World With No Boundaries begin to refer to Pixy as their "King" and note that he has departed for "Avalon", actually a code name for a weapons lab hidden under an artificial lake, and at the end of the game the last boss fights you in a plane called the ADFX-02 "Morgan" and the mastermind behind A World With No Boundaries delivers his final speech from prison where he is serving his life sentence for war crimes, much like Merlin locked in his stone tower (appropriate for the leader of a squadron named "Wizard"). And the only way for you to finish off said last boss is pretty much as close as jet fighters can get to knightly jousting.
  • Kill Tally: Since Cipher is a mercenary, the game keeps track of how many kills you rack up with each plane by representing marks for every 1, 10, and 100 kills. When you reach 765 kills total, the kill tally icons are replaced with Pellets, Ghosts, and Pac-Man respectively.
  • Lampshade Hanging: In the final mission, just before the last phase of the fight, Pixy, who has become disillusioned with the nature of war, remarks that "this twisted game needs to be reset!" For bonus points, it's then followed up with the Title Drop mentioned further down in the article. While it's unlikely the character knows he's in a game, it's still a great moment, especially if you've been playing the game as a Mercenary Ace, reminding you of just how much of a bastard you've been for blowing up defenseless targets just for extra cash.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The Belkans' detonation of seven nuclear weapons on their own soil is one of these, as it was given away at the start of the previous game as part of the backstory.
  • Law of Chromatic Superiority: Used with Pixy's colour scheme, though only on the right wing. Averted with Cipher, who is most associated with the same F-15C as Pixy, but with a blue-themed paint scheme.
  • Live-Action Cutscene: Used as a deliberate stylistic choice. The Framing Device is an Osean journalist conducting a series of interviews with Belkan War veterans to investigate the mysterious pilot going by the callsign "Cipher". Said interviews star live actors (who were still dubbed over by voice actors) and punctuate gameplay segments where their characters fight either alongside or against Cipher.
  • Lost in Translation: In the original Japanese, the title "Demon Lord of the Round Table" is a pun on "Knights of the Round Table", since the pronunciation of "Knight" and "Demon Lord" is almost the same (kishi and kishin, respectively), even though written with different kanji.
  • Louis Cypher: Cipher... sort of.
  • Merging the Branches: Cipher fights five out of eleven elite Belkan squadrons in any given playthrough (which ones depends on your Karma Meter). However, the in-game Assault Records and later lore implies that at the branching points, Cipher faced all three respective bosses at the same time.
  • Mission-Pack Sequel: Serves as a prequel to Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, greatly expanding upon the Belkan War and having a handful of Unsung War's characters in cameos. Fittingly, the game itself looks and plays more or less exactly like 5, and even features a couple of the same areas.
  • Mood Whiplash: The triumphant victory of Cipher and Pixy ending Belka's dominance of the Round Table, resulting in Cipher being dubbed "Demon Lord of the Round Table", is immediately followed by the horrific bombing of Hoffnung.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong:
    • Despite attempting to invade half a dozen countries at once to expand its borders and avoid an economic crisis, Belka had corps of extremely loyal pilots proud of their own nation. In an interesting game concept, there are cutscenes of interviews of the Belkan pilots the player fought, depicting them as obviously likable men ten years after the war. The pilots explicitly state that they hold no animosity towards their enemies, during and after the war. It was just war, and it was just what they were trained to do. In fact, many of them revere Cipher, the player character; in a decidedly odd twist, one character fought in the Knight path even states that Cipher is comparable to the old orders of Belkan Knights, an honor that he doesn't even give himself.
    • Subverted with the Belkan remnant forces, who at first seem to be continuing to fight even after Belka has been defeated on every front. Eventually it's revealed that they're actually an N.G.O. Superpower made of defectors from both Belka and the Allied Forces, united as the radically anti-nationalist World with no Boundaries.
  • My Nayme Is: It's the case with Galm, which is supposed to be Garm. Likewise, the briefing text for one of the missions in Zero refers to "Operation Broom", whereas the spoken briefing clearly calls it "Operation Bloom".
  • New Year Has Come: Used symbolically. The final mission takes place on December 31. 15 years before the Final Boss of the last game... To signify the coming of a new era.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: In the second part of Zero they are a mishmash of disgruntled former soldiers, but all have some mix of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Airborne Aircraft Carriers/supermassive bombers and entire units of conventional forces.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    Pixy: You and I are both sides of the same coin.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Zero masterfully uses a Type 2 situation in the Stage of Apocalypse mission.
  • Number of the Beast: Galm Team is the Ustio 6th Air Division, 66th Squadron. Demon Lord indeed.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Happens in the mission briefing for the Hresvelgr mission:
      Base commander: Your mission is to pursue the XB-0 and... (radar screen flickers and a warning message appears) Wait... we've just received an emergency transmission from the control tower. Unidentified aircraft are approaching our base! Scramble all planes! Quick, there's no time! Get into the air immediately!! (radar screen goes completely black)
    • Occasionally, when you take down the leader of an ace squad, the rest of the squad will start to panic and be easier to shoot down as a result.
  • Old Save Bonus: You can unlock the X-02 Wyvern and ADF-01 FALKEN superfighters more easily if you have save data from Shattered Skies and/or Unsung War, respectively. Players with save data from both games need only complete Mission 1 to unlock both superfighters for purchase. Affording them, on the other hand... is fair game on a mercenary playthrough.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: "Zero". But in truth, seeing as its a remix of "The Unsung War", it's actually heroic Latin chanting.
  • One-Man Army: Stated as much after the destruction of Excalibur: "Head Operations has recognized you as an indispensable component in this war." To the point that for the penultimate mission (the bombing mission at Avalon Dam), the Allies' entire plan is basically "get Cipher and PJ through, then draw the enemy away from them while they save the day". And after PJ is shot down at the end of the mission, you don't even have a wingman for the last one.
  • One World Order: Joshua Bristow and Pixy want to see this happen.
  • Peace Conference: According to the Narrator in Zero, a peace conference was held in Lumen, a city on the border between Belka and Osea, to end the Belkan War. The player doesn't see it happen, but it can be overheard while fighting what's left of the Belkan military.
  • Pixel Hunt: A few ace squadrons have at least one of their pilots flying electronic-warfare planes to hide their radar presence.
  • Private Military Contractors: Ustio hires several mercenaries to bolster its forces. Belka also hired a squadron — Schwarze — to do their dirty work.
  • Protagonist Power-Up Privileges: Only Cipher can purchase better planes (including superfighters) for himself, while his two wingmen are stuck with their starting planes for the entire game. This is in contrast to Ace Combat 5 and the later Ace Combat 6, where you could equip wingmen with the same planes as yourself.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: In the mercenary route (the evil route), the Belkan ace squadrons faced at the Round Table are Rot Team and Schwarze Team (literally red and black, respectively), both of whom fly black and red livery and they are the most overtly hostile (and difficult) opponents of their respective sets of possible Round Table opponents.
  • Remixed Level: Zero reuses a few locations from 5 because they're the same locations 15 years apart.
  • Route Boss: Zero has different enemy ace squadrons show up depending on whether the player has been flying as a mercenary, a Knight or a soldier.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Zero easily beats the rest of the series combined in the sheer number of symbolic allusions, ranging from The Bible, through the Norse Mythology, to the King Arthur. The game's story even follows the symbolism of the fictional legend of Razgriz featured in Ace Combat 5.
  • Saved by the Church Bell: As the Belkans are pushed out of Directus, the resisting citizens take the opportunity to climb up snd start ringing the church bell to signal to the entire city that they're finally free. Ace pilot Rainer Altman would be shot down by Cypher that day, but he remained in Directus after the war in order to become a writer. During his interview, the church bells began ringing. He mentions that they ring every day at five PM to symbolize the moment that Galm squadron brought them freedom.
    Rainer Altman: It signals peace...but to me, they are the sounds of death.
  • Schizo Tech: Zero takes place in 1995 and features squadrons of both the Su-47 and F-35C, years before the only Real Life prototypes for each were ever flown.note  You can also own a fully operational and in fact has-more-options-than-a-later-version ADF-01 FALKEN at a time when its series' immediate predecessor is the most amazing plane in the world and a treasure trove of otherwise one-of-a-kind technology. In the FALKEN's case, its inclusion, along with the inclusion of the X-02 Wyvern, is most likely non-canon. Since this is an alternate world, the inclusion of the Su-47 and such fits in with this world's more advanced technology.
  • Scenery Gorn: The Hresvelgr mission opens with your airbase being bombed to flaming ruins by what is basically a flying aircraft carrier/battleship. And you see it happen in first person, from the cockpit of your plane still on the ground. The entire level takes place in ground zero of the bombing, as you fly over the desolate landscapes of the mountains.
  • Schrödinger's Gun: Played straight in most ace squadron battles, but with Silber, Gelb and Espada, the surviving pilots will react accordingly depending on who you shoot down first.
    If Gelb 2 gets shot down first:
    Gelb 2: This is Gelb 2, I'm hit.
    Gelb 1: Bail out. That's an order.
    Gelb 1 gets shot down first:
    Gelb 2: Captain! Was he shot down?
    If Espada 2 gets shot down first:
    Espada 1: Espada 2, come in!
    Espada 2: *radio static*
    If Espada 1 gets shot down first:
    Espada 2: Espada 1, give me a status report! ESPADA 1!!!... I will shoot down the Demon Lord myself.
  • Sequential Boss: Morgan. First, it only uses its Tactical Laser System. After a few hits it follows up with its Multi-Purpose Burst Missile, and then you destroy both. Then it activates V2, and you have 5 minutes to shoot down the Morgan, by literally jousting it from the front with arrowhead attacks. Justified, as the first two phases are you stalling for time as your AWACS analyzes the Morgan for any weaknesses.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The origin of Solo Wing Pixy's nickname is a shout out to a real life situation where an accident caused an Israeli F-15 to continue flying after losing its entire right wing. This is actually not a fluke — the way the F-15 is designed, it can stay in the air if it loses one wing and half of the other one, albeit precariously (the real F-15 in the incident had to fly with its afterburners on and land at twice its normal landing speed to keep generating lift).
    • As in The Unsung War, the default F-14 scheme is white with black tails and yellow ribbons. Many may think this is a Shout-Out to Super Dimension Fortress Macross, but with the exception of the skull and crossbones it is in fact a replica of the real life VF-84, the famous squadron Roy's Valkyrie fighter honored. And, in a shout-out to itself, the Soldier paint scheme for the F-14 in this game is the same as the Razgriz paint scheme in the previous game.
    • The Knight paint scheme for the F-20 Tigershark is a reference to Area 88.
    • Grun Squadron all fly F/A-18C Hornets. In other words, they're all Green Hornets. As an added bonus, they all actually use a green paint scheme.
    • In the plane-selection screen, you can see icons indicating how many enemies you've shot down with any given aircraft, with different icons to represent a hundred, ten, and one kills. Pass a certain threshold (765 kills) for a plane and the icons change into, respectively, Pac-Man, a ghost, and a pellet.
    • According to concept art (in Japanese), the energy output of Excalibur's laser is 1.21 gigawatts.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Probably the most cynical Ace Combat game to date, with it being more or less cynical based on your Ace Style.
  • Sphere of Destruction: The V2 weapon at the end. Random little beamlets of light even shoot out as well. The Multi-Purpose Burst Missile the Morgan fires also results in a spherical blast.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: The story tells how Belka's poor economy allowed the eastern portion of the country to secede and become independent nations, including Ustio. Belka's economic problems didn't end, and their borders continued to shrink, allowing those new nations to further expand, and allowing Osea to claim some of the country's western borders. Belka went to war started expanding outwards to reclaim their lost borders and acquire more resources. They even invaded the southern country of Sapin, who wasn't involved at all.
  • Super Toughness: Pixy's Morgan can take at least six missile hits. Almost every other enemy plane goes down after two. Somewhat Justified in-universe as it being a Super Prototype (his is marked as an ADFX-02, where the model you get is an ADFX-01). Granted, that makes it a super prototype of a super prototype, but for gameplay balance reasons, it still makes sense. Wouldn't be much of a final boss fight if he went down with two relatively easy-to-make shots.
  • Taking the Bullet: Seen in the penultimate level, where Galm and the Allied Forces launch a massive air raid on Avalon Dam, the headquarters of a World with No Boundaries. Since the dam is blanketed by anti-air fire, the Allied pilots fly en masse against its defenses to give Galm Team a chance to get to the dam in the chaos. Most of them are killed or at least shot down, though a handful may survive long enough to engage the enemy pilots above.
  • Those Two Guys: The commander of Ruchs unit (a Belkan transport unit) and his second-in-command Johan. They never appear in person, but their radio chatter can be heard in a few missions as a sort of Running Gag. They can be heard in missions 2 (where the commander tells Johan that they're going to break through the Allied offensive to deliver their cargo), 11 (where they flee Hoffnung in trucks, carrying a wounded soldier with them) and 14 (where they supply renegade Belkan troops with ammunition).
  • Title Drop: "We'll start over from 'zero' with this V2..." (complete with quotations in the subtitles).
  • Truth in Television:
    • Though the times and planes are different, Belkan enemy pilots seem to show some signs of the code of Chivalry. In real life early World War I pilots displayed such acts.
    • Also, Solo Wing Pixy keeping his plane in the air after losing a wing is based on real life pilot Zivi Nidivi doing just that. F-15Cs have bodies that can stay stable that way; Nidivi himself later commented that past certain speeds the F-15 was "like a rocket" and would have been able to keep itself in the air even if it lost both wings.
  • Upgrade vs. Prototype Fight: Can be invoked by the player. After beating the game three times, once as a Mercenary Ace, once as a Soldier Ace, and once as a Knight, the ADFX-01 superplane is unlocked, and able to field either a Tactical Laser System, Multi-Purpose Burst Missile, or an Electronic Warfare Pod. Then they can take that plane into battle against the final boss, who flies an ADFX-02note  that has all the aforementioned weapon systems. However, if you're fielding the laser, he goes down in three hits when it took dozens of normal missiles to do the same. Alternatively, the player can also take the ADF-01 FALKEN, which was developed from the ADFX-02 and gets an even better version of the Tactical Laser System.
  • Vestigial Empire: Belka has lost much of its territory due to economic troubles and past wars, leading to a radical faction seizing power and attempting to reclaim old territory by force.
  • Videogame Caring Potential:
    • Among all the carnage in mission 11, you have the option of sparing an enemy C-130 carrying wounded soldiers. This and other missions also occasionally feature friendly ground forces who ask for your help in defeating a squad of enemy A-10s. The Knight Ace path in general encourages taking this approach to the game.
    • Mission 2 has a couple AA guns hidden among a clutter of yellow targets (civilian farms and houses); Pixy, unless you're playing on the Mercenary path (at this point in the game, only possible on a New Game+), will note this and claim that he's not sure Cipher wants to go through with the mission. It takes some effort, but you can pick out those AA guns for a missile without harming the houses.
    • One version of Mission 4 involves escorting the Allied Fleet, including the aircraft carrier Kestrel. The main goal is to get the Kestrel out alive, and two or three allied ships being sunk is fairly normal for a good run of the mission. But with good reaction time, memorization of where the anti-ship planes attack from, and long-range weapons, it is entirely possible to escort the entire fleet with no losses.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Taking the Mercenary Ace path revolves around intentionally gunning down retreating planes, destroying civilian/unarmed ground targets, and refusing to spare enemy pilots whose weapons have been taken out of commission. On the plus side, you get more money; on the downside, you face harder enemy ace squadrons.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment:
    • As a general rule, Soldier aces face tougher enemy ace squads in the Round Table than Knight aces, and Mercenary aces face even harder enemies than Soldier aces.
    • If you're going for Supreme Mercenary, you would try to destroy all "yellow" targets (meaning that it's a civilian target, unimportant military infrastructure that isn't directly contributing to the battle at hand, or a damaged enemy plane or ship that is limping home after being rendered combat ineffective). In most missions, there is no punishment for this, save for AI pilots occasionally calling Cipher a coward for shooting unarmed targets and slightly harder boss fights at the Round Table. However, in Mission 13 "Lying in Deceit" — Operation Stone Age, there is a yellow target in the southeast area of the map with no defenses that looks like easy points, but when you get close to it, an ambush of several AA guns and SAMs appears to punish you for your greed and willingness to target non-combat assets. To drive their point home, they yell ""Those damn mercenaries, haven't you earned enough?!" at you over the radio when they appear.
  • War Crime Subverts Heroism: As you fight against Belka, your forces engage in a bombing run of the city of Hoffnung, which ends up hitting civilian areas (analogous to the bombing of Dresden, Germany in WWII). This is the turning point where Pixy realizes that the allied forces are really no better than Belka, and defects to A World Without Borders.
  • War Is Hell: Most evident during the bombing of Hoffnung; see Kick the Dog above. Both sides do their best to level the city — the Allies for revenge, the Belkans as part of a scorched-earth policy.
  • Wham Episode: Missions 11 and 12 deliver a series of back-to-back Player Punches in very short order. The first comes when your allies indiscriminately flatten a Belkan city with bombs and cruise missiles, while the Belkans themselves start burning whatever escapes the attacks to deny the enemy anything useful before they retreat. In the very next mission, you're sent to intercept Belkan bombers carrying nuclear bombs. Except it turns out that the planes you're sent out after aren't the ones carrying the bombs after all — as you learn when one detonates nearby, nearly frying your plane's electronics. While you're still reeling from that, your wingmate, who has obviously been rattled since the bombing mission, opens fire on you and deserts.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Both Belkan radio chatter and the interviewees' comments show disdain towards Cipher should he go the Mercenary route and destroy neutralized enemy vehicles or "innocent" buildings. Inverted however with Pixy and the ace pilots, who try to rationalize some of these. That said, he still has his limits — he's appalled by the Allies' indiscriminate bombing of Hoffnung. Unsurprisingly, especially after Belka goes even further, he defects to A World With No Boundaries in the next mission.
    Pixy: A Tomahawk just hit the city! Are those guys serious?!
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Played straight with your allies Pixy and PJ, who will only target combatants. Playing as a Knight involves the player as Cipher adhering to this as well. Averted with the Allied Forces in Mission 11, when you're tasked with accompanying a surgical strike that quickly turns into saturation bombing.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: A bit more literal than other examples in the series, in that most jets available to the player are unlocked by shooting down an enemy ace flying it, via the squadron boss-fights at various points determined by the Ace Style gauge; a byproduct of this is that the SP paint schemes for a lot of planes don't require any particular extra effort to get, because getting them is still tied to shooting down the aces that give you the plane in the first place. This also results in the odd situation that a Knight player will unlock the excellent Su-37 four missions before the F-4E, which is a flying brick in comparison — but won't be able to afford it for six more missions or so, especially if they bought the Gripen or Hornet they already unlocked three missions before that.

"Yo, buddy. Still alive?"

Alternative Title(s): Ace Combat Zero