Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown has brought Bandai Namco’s popular combat flight simulator series back to the forefront of gaming. While it managed to break out from its niche during the PlayStation 2’s heyday, the series has been offering up thrilling experiences ever since the original PlayStation. While several mobile and handheld spin-offs have been made, the series has primarily been released on consoles.
With only the console releases in mind, let’s take a trip through memory lane and rank the main Ace Combat games from worst to best.
10. Ace Combat Infinity
When one looks at Ace Combat‘s structure, they don’t immediately think of an action game that translates to a free-to-play title. However, Bandai Namco was all in on trying to make free-to-play entries of their successful franchises in 2014. Similar to Tekken Revolution and Soul Calibur: Lost Swords, Ace Combat Infinity wasn’t a successful title. It didn’t offer a satisfying experience for fans of the series due to its limited scope and it awkwardly being shoehorned into a free-to-play business model didn’t make it a success with casual players either.
9. Air Combat
While released in Japan under the name of Ace Combat, the series made its debut in North America as Air Combat in late 1996. While not as graphically impressive as the similar Warhawk, the first entry became a fan favorite thanks to its fast-paced gameplay. It hasn’t aged all that well since the series has improved greatly in the decades since, but the early PlayStation title remains an enjoyable enough trip through gaming history for those that wind up returning to it.
Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere receives a low ranking due to Bandai Namco doing an absolute disservice to the game’s international release. Despite releasing nearly a year after the Japanese original, the company wound up removing the innovative 52 mission campaign that featured branching paths over two discs. Instead, the international version featured 36 missions with no story or cutscenes. It’s truly one of the worst localizations of all-time and it should receive a proper remake so more fans can enjoy its six separate endings (one of which is an incredible twist that breaks the fourth wall).
The PlayStation 2 era of Ace Combat ended with Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, and it was a solid, if unspectacular, entry. It was primarily interesting due to it serving as a prequel to Ace Combat 5, but suffered from no real innovation from a gameplay standpoint. Thankfully, more of the same isn’t much of a complaint when the action remains fun. That being said, if you’re not a big fan of the fiction then you can safely skip this one.
Set on actual Earth rather than the fictional setting for the bulk of the series, Assault Horizon allowed players to fly across a number of cool locales ranging from Miami to eastern Africa and Dubai. It suffered from some repetitive additions, such as close range assault, but it was an enjoyable spin-off. It’s also one of the most gorgeous looking games in the series, only being eclipsed by the newly released Ace Combat 7.
Released relatively early on for the Xbox 360, Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation was the first time that the series had been in high definition. It also was the first entry to feature online multiplayer and these new additions were enough to please fans at the time. However, the gameplay wasn’t improved from the prior generation and the visuals now look dated rather than impressive. It just hasn’t aged all that well despite being a good entry at the time of release.
4. Ace Combat 2
Ace Combat 2 is when the series started to come into its own. It brilliantly built upon its already solid base to surpass the aforementioned Warhawk and became the combat flight simulation king on consoles. It was also much more graphically impressive than its predecessor and featured enhanced artificial intelligence that made the dog fights even more exciting than before.
Arguably the best story mode in an Ace Combat title, The Unsung War features several nations at war after already being fractured by the events that take place in Zero. What’s most impressive is how it managed to meld its story and gameplay together as the missions always helped to further the story, which is something the series had previously struggled with.
Along with several gameplay improvements, like the ability to actually interact with wingmen, it’s essentially the blueprint for how an Ace Combat sequel should be made since it builds upon the previous game while also adding its own distinct elements.
Fans received a treat early this year as Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown lived up to the hype. Not only is it a fantastic virtual reality experience, but it is one of the best games in the series. Graphically, the series has never looked better and the action is often impressive with striking explosions and some incredible looking water that made the game quite a looker. It’s not overly complicated from a gameplay perspective, but this allows the arcade action to really shine through. It’s the perfect return for the series, and it shows that Bandai Namco knows what fans were looking for from a new entry. If this is any indication, the future looks extremely bright for Ace Combat.
While Ace Combat 3 disappointed fans due to its butchered localization, its PlayStation 2 sequel more than made up for it. Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies was truly a turning point for the series as it upped the production value a tremendous amount and its 18 missions brought a new level of complexity to the gameplay. It also impressively told its story (which is later continued in Ace Combat 5‘s arcade mode) through anime-style cutscenes and became a huge hit for Bandai Namco as it sold over 2 million copies worldwide. It will forever hold a special place in the heart of fans and it’s still a blast today.