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The world is Strangereal, a not-Earth from the previous games that was first fleshed out in this installment. The year is 2040. In the past few decades, the national governments of Strangereal have decayed beyond repair and were replaced by a global rule of Mega Corps, chief among whom are General Resource Limited and Neucom Incorporated. Naturally, the two companies' competition for power is far from friendly, and the only thing standing between them and an all-out war is the Universal Peace Enforcement Organization. Further upsetting the fragile balance of power are the GR's latest Super Prototype, the Night Raven, and its groomed pilot, the sickly Rena Hirose; the Neucom scientists' questionable experiments on the recently discovered Cyberspace and Brain Uploading; an overzealous military commander's schemes; and a Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy lurking in the background and pulling every string.
You fly as Nemo, a nameless and initially unknown UPEO pilot, and become entangled in a complex plot that borrows heavily from the Cyberpunk genre and stars a diverse cast of pilots, scientists, and politicians. With frequently branching storylines, five distinct endings, and one massive wham in the epilogue, Electrosphere is a tale of loyalty, betrayal, revenge, scientific ethics, Family Drama, and social critique, fondly remembered as the definitive highpoint of the Ace Combat series.
...unless, of course, you live in the insignificantly tiny portion of the world that is not Japan, in which the story was remade into a lone pilot working for the UPEO, protecting the world from Neucom's increasingly desperate attacks. Namco currently has no plans to deliver the original Electrosphere to the outside world, but the release of a remake of Ace Combat 2 for N3DS gives us a faint glimmer of hope. Don't hold your breath, though.
Despite the game having never been translated into English, it is the seminal installment of the series that codified its setting and most of the associated gameplay tropes (the honor that usually goes to Ace Combat 04 Shattered Skies in the West). It has been said that ever since 1999, the AC series has been slowly working its way back up to Electrosphere (all following Strangereal games were technically prequels to it), but never quite achieving the same level of expansiveness, plot intricacy, and gameplay finesse.
Tropes found in the game
- Ace Custom: Both Cynthia's and Rena's planes have a customized paintjob. Justified in Rena's case, as she is an Ill Girl and requires special equipment just to fly.
- Arc Words: "Discard your flesh and transcend your limits", referring to Sublimation, an Arc Word unto itself.
- "Night Raven".
- Always Someone Better: Cynthia for Fiona, and, considering Cynthia's adoration of Dision, she views Rena as this.
- Ambiguously Evil: Dision. Second mission he's featured, and he's trying to get you to join his Company faction. No one knows if he's aligned fully with GR, aiding UPEO's chessmaster Park, or is all about himself. In the end, it's neither; he only wants revenge for his then girlfriend Yoko.
- And I Must Scream: The PC is a Tomato in the Mirror AI named Nemo designed by Simon of Neucom Inc. to be run in a simulated war and determine if one pilot can change the course of a war. In the end, Simon decided that no significant change could be achieved and he purged Nemo out of Electrosphere. After that, Nemo became nothing more than a mere simulator, cut off from the rest of the world and doomed to repeat the war simulation forever.
- Animal Theme Naming: Neucom's R-series planes are most often named after Latin genuses of aquatic creatures. Case in point are R-101/102/103 Delphinus (Dolphin), R-211 Orcinus (Orca/Killer Whale), R-201 Asterozoa (starfish), etc.
- The Atoner: Poor, poor Cynthia. After her sister got offed by the organization she defected to, she performs a Heel Face Turn from Ouroboros and singlehandedly (with you, of course) reversed the entire mess she has gotten into. It's even written in one of the mission name: Counterrevolution.
- Bad Export for You: There's a fan translation project in the works, so this should be rectified soon. Assuming you don't mind using an emulator to play, of course.
- The Blank: Jets that use the COFFIN system typically have no outwardly-visible cockpit.
- Brain Uploading: Sublimation is the process of uploading a human consciousness into the Electrosphere. Known successes include Abyssal Dision and Cynthia Fitzgerald.
- Call a Rabbit a Smeerp : The Electrosphere is Strangereal's version of our Internet (well, at least of its futuristic counterpart, anyway).
- Cloudcuckoolander: Rena Hirose seems to go off on her own whenever she is flying with you and sends you various video messages. Apparently Dision has been messing with her mind.
- Continuity Cameo: Before being really popular in Ace Combat 5 The Unsung War, Kei Nagase makes an appearance as a member of Ouroboros in a news broadcast. You need to take a particular route (specifically, Neucom/Fiona route) to view it though.
- Cut Song: The Japanese version does not use the Briefing theme specifically composed for this game. Only the US version does, which is probably the only good thing about the otherwise Macekred edition.
- Cutting Off the Branches: Subverted, as Namco never confirmed which ending (if any) was canon. After jumping from 2040 back to 2004 in Ace Combat 04 Shattered Skies (and even to 1995 in Ace Combat Zero), the series took the The Slow Path back, slowly approaching the Electrosphere times... and then, just before running out of options and making a canon sequel to AC3 (the most recent Strangereal game was set in 2020), Namco instead relaunched the series on Earth with Ace Combat Assault Horizon.
- Dead All Along: Abyssal Dision. Shortly before her death, Yoko Inoue copied Human!Dision's consciousness into the Electrosphere, creating the self-aware AI!Dision, the first ever human to be Sublimed. Before she realized it, however, she and Human!Dision were killed by a bomb and their laboratory destroyed along with their research.
- Everything Is Online: Complete with its own search engine, the Peek-A-Boom! system.
- The Dog Bites Back: Cynthia, having been fed up by Dision's propaganda, abject lack of respect for her and his doting on Rena, decides to do this.
- On UPEO route, Rena herself does this. Apparently Dision's plans did not expect this particular thing to happen...
- False-Flag Operation: Mission 13, UPEO Route, Pawns In The Game: Fly advanced Neucom bomber jets to General Resource territories to provoke all-out war, under orders from your "peacekeeping" commander.
- Fun with Acronyms: The COFFIN (COnnection For Flight INterface) system.
- High Altitude Battle: There's a special case where you fly an RF-12A2 into the stratosphere via rocket engine and shoot down bombers.
- In the Japanese version on one path you can play as one of the bombers you have to shoot down in that mission! It's a really unique experience from the SR-71 version because the planes handle completely differently. Props to the dev team on doing that for just one mission.
- The Chessmaster: Park. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, though, considering how fishy he acts in general and the fact that he's playing chess of all things in the Japanese intro video, but other than the dead giveaways, it's supposed to be revealed slowly.
- More than that is Dision himself. Not only he tried engineering you to join GR, he's also the head of Ouroboros, assisted Park with his scheme to usurp control of UPEO, offs his own company's CEO, and basically grooming Rena to be the perfect Tyke Bomb.
- Ill Girl: Rena Hirose, who suffers from a disease that prevents all exposure to sunlight. She became a General Resources pilot to view the exterior.
- Just Plane Wrong: While some of Neucom's R-Series planes are plausible (R-201's double-body design has been used since WW 2), some planes feature some very questionable design choices, such as R-102/103's protrusion and R-211's second cockpit and nose as well as its forward-swept tailplanes.
- Kill Sat: General Resource's satellites. In Neucom route, you get to destroy them, and in a subroute, you need to protect a fallen Kill Sat in order to capture it and prove that GR really was up to no good.
- Beat all missions with S-Rank and you get to use it. It's a one-hit kill against everything, provided you are outdoors (some missions take place inside undersea colonies and such}
- Laser Guided Tykebomb: Rena, specifically to pilot the incredibly overpowered X-49 Night Raven. While Real!Dision did not intend to make her into one, AI!Dision does.
- Lensman Arms Race: Both General Resource and Neucom develop (or, in the case of GR, upgrade) their fleet to better fight one another. The zenith of this is in Neucom's race to copy General Resource's ace-in-the-hole: The X-49 Night Raven. They succeeded in making eight of them.
- NGO Superpower: The Universal Peace Enforcement Organization, Neucom, General Resources, and Ouroboros.
- One World Order: The Ouroboros wants this.
- Post Cyber Punk
- Posthumous Character: Yoko Inoue, Dision's late lover who researched the Electrsophere and uploaded him into it shortly before her death.
- Propaganda Machine: There are several "news" outlets. The take on these propaganda vehicles is a bit more realistic than most; the networks' bias in favor of their sponsors is apparent, but isn't over the top. GBS (General Resource's TV news network) in particular is a censored news source and makes few bones about it.
- Scenery Porn: One mission has you flying in a canyon while trailing a plane with absolutely no dogfighting.
- Show the Forehead: Fiona is this, adding to the dash of her genkiness.
- Space Battle: The only example in the entire series has you controlling Neucom's R-352 Sepia manned starfighter, killing orbital satellites. In a moment of The Dev Team Thinks of Everything, the controls of a spacecraft in zero-G feels entirely different than in atmosphere, throwing players out of the loop and forcing them to unlearn everything and adapt in one minute or else. All this for one mission.
- Super Prototype: Many General Resource planes are actually born from prototypes of otherwise abandoned or shelved projects. Discounting the F-15S/MTD which appears all over the series, the RF-12A2 is not actually a variant of SR-71, but of an earlier prototype interceptor called A-12 Oxcart. This is the same case with F/A-32C Erne being the finalized product of Boeing X-32 and XFA-36A Game derived from the otherwise proof-of-concept plane McDonnell Douglas X-36.
- A straighter example is the massively overpowered X-49 Night Raven, which is the whole reason of GR-Neucom conflict.
- Sequential Boss: The final battles against Rena and Dision in one of the endings.
- Taking You with Me: If the player sides with Ouroboros, Keith joins you, and attacks Dision and Rena. After he takes enough damage, he gets his plane stuck between the wings of Rena's Night Raven; when you shoot him down, Rena goes down too.
- The Starscream: While Chairman Clarkson is truly committed to pacifying the two Companies, Park has...ambitions of his own.
- Transhuman Treachery: This is the modus operandi and rallying cry for those who have "discarded their flesh", that is, the people who have Sublimated. Subverted with Cynthia, who is truly in it only for the sake of her curiosity, and she becomes devastated when her plans involve sacrificing her younger sister Fiona.
- Tomato in the Mirror: The final ending, obtained by completing all five story paths, reveals that the player was an AI taking part in a fully simulated war to determine whether a single pilot could change the course of a war. It is decided that they couldn't, and the plug is pulled; you achieved nothing, and never could have. This ending is somewhat unpopular among series fans (in Japan - no one else got to see it), and subsequent entries reverted to the player being a One Man Air Force.
- Another character is revealed to be this as well: AI!Dision. Bonus points of him realizing it while the real one is still alive, and him seeing everything through security cameras, since he doesn't exist in the flesh.
- Ubermensch: The Dision you meet is actually an electronic AI copy of a flesh-and-blood Dision; this AI wants humanity to progress to an electronic form as he has, all while the Corporate War is heating up and he (it?) plays a part. Ultimately subverted, in that his ultimate goal is not to "advance the human race", but rather of Revenge against the companies who killed his or rather, his flesh-and-blood counterpart girlfriend, Yoko.
- With This Herring: Double subverted. You start with an Eurofighter Typhoon, one of the coolest planes of today... however, it's the far future, by then the Eurofighter is severely outdated, and flying it is kinda like nowadays flying a World War II fighter.