It was inevitable that I’d eventually have to feature Namco’s Ace Combat here in BGM Mode, since Ace Combat 5‘s soundtrack was directly responsible for piqing my interest in the series. Actually, Soulcalibur–another Namco game–also deserves some credit; after countless hours spent playing SC2 and 3 and enjoying the catchy and bombastic soundtracks, I started looking for more work from the series’ main composers, Junichi Nakatsuru and Keiki Kobayashi. As it turned out, they both worked together on the Ace Combat series, along with Tetsukazu Nakanishi. Somehow I settled on Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, picked up the soundtrack, and–after being totally blown away–finally played the game.
Eventually I made my way through each of the PlayStation 2 installments, and while their quality went up and down, the soundtracks were consistently excellent. Here are a few of the most memorable tracks, starting with Ace Combat 04, from all the way back in 2001, and wrapping up with Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, which just came out last month.
Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies
This plays as you fly through a snowy mountain range during one of the game’s early missions. The storyline hasn’t started to heat up quite yet, so this track remains fairly relaxed. The calm pace and majestic combination of strings and french horn perfectly suit the sense of isolation and awe you’d get from flying one of these missions.
Ace Combat 04 is a fan favorite for the story thread that plays out between missions and takes a more intimate look at how people are affected when their country goes to war. Much of the emotional impact comes from the music during these segments, like this melancholy guitar piece.
Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War
A really cool electronic song that plays over Ace Combat 5‘s menus before you begin the game. Combined with the menus’ HUD-like appearance, this really created a feeling of being in a top secret briefing room before a mission.
This plays when you’re assigning planes to your squadron just before launch. It’s got that signature, string-punctuated Ace Combat sound but is much more upbeat than the usually dramatic mission songs. This never failed to build up my adrenaline for the upcoming mission–plus it’s just a great background track while you’re browsing through your fleet of planes.
A decidedly more dramatic song from when you face off against the rival 8492nd Squadron. The first half of AC5 builds up this squadron’s ominous reputation, until you finally face off against them and all hell breaks loose. This song captures that build-up of tension and the drama of the much-anticipated confrontation.
Although a regular contributor, Hiroshi Okubo usually only composes a handful of songs for each game since AC5. They tend to be fairly minimal and more electronic than the standard Ace Combat fare, but they’re memorable nonetheless. The drum intro here is one of my favorite sections from the game’s whole soundtrack.
In many ways, Ace Combat 5 was the series at its most grandiose and indulgent, with lengthy CG cutscenes, a twisting storyline, and even a licensed song to play over the credits. (“Blurry” by Puddle of Mudd, in case you’re wondering. And I’m not going to force that on you here.) “The Unsung War” is a further example of this. What better way to set the stage for your final mission than with a live orchestra, accompanied by a choir chanting (in Latin, naturally) the legend that comes to be associated with your squadron? It’s a bit over the top, but by the time you hear this song in the game, you’ll feel that your squadron of ultimate badasses has earned this caliber of entrance. The buildup at around 3:30 is really something else.
Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War
I wonder if the Project Aces composers drew straws to see who got to compose all these little between-mission songs, this one being from when you’re reviewing your mission performance. They just seem so fun and spontaneous as opposed to the heavier mission songs.
Another suitably epic final battle song. This combines all of Ace Combat Zero‘s musical elements–orchestra, synths, choir, and its distinctive Flamenco themes–into one colossus of a track. As Ace Combat Zero is a prequel to Ace Combat 5, it even fits in sections from The Unsung War.
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation
Hiroshi Okubo returns for another minimalist track. Towards the end, the foreboding percussion and bass give way to some strings that set a heroic tone for this battle, which ends up being a turning point in Ace Combat 6‘s war.
I like to think that the virtual drummer on this track was having a great time. Love that snare.
The capital city of Gracemeria was at the core of Ace Combat 6‘s storyline, so it’s appropriate that its invasion and eventual liberation were accompanied by one of the series’ most memorable themes. Your long-awaited return to Gracemeria opens with this track that slowly builds as your megasquadron checks in over the radio, and it finally launches into full anthem mode as you begin your attack. It’s Ace Combat melodrama at its finest, but you can’t help but feel invincible with this song practically cheering you on.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
I haven’t yet played Assault Horizon, but this song featured prominently in all of the trailers. It’s heavier on guitars than past Ace Combat soundtracks (probably appropriate considering Assault Horizon‘s decidedly grittier spin on the series) and the main theme is unusually similar to Ace Combat 6’s, but boy, can Keiki Kobayashi wield a string section. My only complaint is that it’s very short and doesn’t have a lot of time to develop, but hopefully there’s more to it in the rest of the soundtrack.
So those are my highlights from Ace Combat, a series I often wrote off as “that jet game” until my curiosity got the better of me. If you enjoyed any of the tracks here, it might be worth your time to give the series a look as well–at least you know you’ll enjoy the music.