Think back to your favorite song. Chances are when that song comes to mind, there is a memory. For example, “Happy” by Pharell Williams may harken back to happier times. Adele’s songs might do the opposite. Everyone’s choice is different; music can express feelings and thoughts better than we can. The Ace Combat series’ ability to do it well makes it one of the more engrossing selections of music in recent video game history.
Ace Combat is known for its over-the-top presentation of air-to-air combat: planes carry hundreds of missiles, take multiple hits and, oftentimes, end up flying through a tunnel of some sort, somehow.
Set in “Strangereal,” a fictionalized version of Earth, the series revolves around a global catastrophe – asteroid fragments destroying numerous countries – where the only constant is war. To recover from the asteroid impact, countries often start wars to get land and industries. A familiar formula plays out: the player’s country is invaded and is pushed to the brink of defeat.
With the war shifting as the player progresses, Ace Combat does a phenomenal job of placing the players in the thick of the action through music. Much of the credit goes to Keiki Kobayashi, one of the main composers at Namco Bandai. He mixes different genres and styles to great effect to complement the game.
That said, here are five tracks from the Ace Combat series that set the bar.
5. “Lightning Speed” from Ace Combat 2
At only 1 minute, 10 seconds, “Lightning Speed” is the shortest song on this list, discounting the #4 bonus add “Rex.” That said, this track is essentially the late 1990s in music form.
A guitar riff greets the listener, with drums following soon. About halfway through the track, the guitar and drums go fast and furious, with a brief guitar solo that thoroughly sets the tone for the game: flying at over-supersonic speeds to destroy enemies.
The song ends with a guitar solo and a fevered drum pattern. “Lightning Speed” is the perfect way to introduce Ace Combat 2 to players and is a good listen, length notwithstanding.
4. “Rex Tremendae” and “Agnus Dei” from Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies
“Rex Tremendae” – a 30-second prelude – has to be included. A choral arrangement, “Rex” prepares the player for the final mission: destroying the enemy’s last-ditch doomsday weapon, which is guarded by their best pilots.
“Agnus Dei” is more complex: drums and horns combine along with the chorus. At around 2 minutes, 24 seconds, the chorus cuts for a brief moment while the drums and strings play in unison. For reference, at this point, the player is engaging the enemy ace squadron, adding to the suspense.
The rest of the song continues the haunting chorus, never allowing the player respite from the situation at hand. As a whole, “Rex” and “Agnus Dei” beautifully lay the foundation for what the player can expect in the final mission.
3. “The Liberation of Gracemeria” from 6 Fires of Liberation
The string, horn, and woodwind sections all slowly build in a feeling that seems akin to cautious optimism itself. At around 2 minutes, 30 seconds, all three sections gain momentum, eventually culminating in all three sections breaking through with a feeling of exultation.
“The Liberation of Gracemeria” is reminiscent of the players’ in-game journey, from being pushed to the brink of destruction to taking the mainland back.
It’s a perfect song to “Go dance with the angels” with (a phrase littered throughout the game.)
2. “Daredevil” from Skies Unknown
A loud horn and a combination of synths welcome the player before a bevy of strings joins in as well. In a way, the music mirrors what happens in-game: the player (the horn) is joined by numerous squadrons – both friendly and foe (synths and strings) – with one goal in mind: to end the war.
The piece continues building throughout, emulating the ebbs and flows of battle. Almost 2 minutes in, there’s a choral arrangement with only synths, serving as the perfect interlude for what’s to come. Then the song continues building yet again, eventually culminating in a brief silence. At around 3 minutes, there’s a massive explosion of sound: the choral arrangement, horns, drums and everything in-between collide together.
1. “Zero” from Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War
Arguably Kobayashi’s magnum opus, “Zero” begins somberly, as two friends-turned-foes fight for the freedom of the world. The string section – joined by drums and flamenco guitars – gradually rises to a crescendo.
From there, all the elements join together to form a wall of sound that’s infused with a choral arrangement about a minute in. All the while, players “air joust” their buddy. “Zero” is the perfect encapsulation of the players’ emotions during the mission: the choral arrangement and the accompanying string section is the realization that players must shoot down their friend to save the world; the flamenco and clapping represents the frenetic nature of war; and the subtle horns add to the grandeur.
“Zero” is a masterpiece in every sense of the word and is not to be missed.