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Ace Combat 7 Interview - Producer Talks Strangereal, the Pleasure of Flying, and More

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Producer Kazutoki Kono explains the story behind the name "Strangereal," talks about gameplay and more.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown will soon bring the series back to the traditional fictional world of Strangereal, much to the joy of many fans of the franchise.

Personally, I have enjoyed the past entries of the franchise massively, so it was my pleasure to talk to Producer Kazutoki Kono about the upcoming game, and what players can expect from this much-anticipated comeback.

Giuseppe: We finally have a release date. It’s just a bit later than expected. I’m guessing the game required some more polish?

Kazutoki Kono: Yes, we’re in the middle of the polishing phase.

G: Can we say that it’s almost done?

KK: Just a little bit more.

G: The PC version is coming out a little bit later than the console versions. Is that to add further optimization and options? Do you already know what kind of options PC gamers can expect?

KK: Yes, that’s correct. It’s going to take longer to optimize for the PC version. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything about the options, but we will have some elements that can be adjusted depending on the specs of your PC.

G: The recent trailer at Gamescom showcased a lot more of the fictional secret weapons that veteran fans of the series know and love. You seem to be going all out with those with this title. 

KK: Yes. Since with that trailer we announced the release date and it’s such an important piece of information, we tried to show all the elements we could about the game. We’re more worried about not having enough stuff left to show with the launch trailer. [Laughs]

G: There is still one big element that hasn’t been shown, and that’s the iconic trench or tunnel flights that old fans like me really love. 

KK: That will remain a secret even after the release!

G: Have all the planes that will be in the game been revealed by now?

KK: There is still more.

G: Do you know how many planes will be flyable yet?

KK: I can’t tell you that (laughs). For AC7 we have created the 3D models of all the aircraft from scratch. In terms of the amount of work, that was enormous. Basically, what we tried to do was to listen to the fans on what is popular among them, and we prioritized those aircraft, trying to implement as many as possible.

G: Did you learn anything from Ace Combat: Assault Horizon that you applied to the development of Ace Combat 7?

KK: When we create a numbered Ace Combat game, we shouldn’t change certain things. With something like Assault Horizon, which introduces new gameplay, I don’t think we need to use the name Ace Combat. 

G: So you wouldn’t call something like that Ace Combat anymore?

KK: If we do something like that, we would probably think of a new name, but I don’t know for sure, we have no plans for now.

G: I do remember Sky Crawlers for instance. 

KK: Yes, some of the staff who made that are working on Ace Combat 7. 

G: Would you like to apply the Ace Combat formula to other IPs again as you did with Sky Crawlers?

KK: Actually, I asked Producer Shimomoto [Editor’s Note: Producer Manabu Shimomoto] about the possibility of doing something new using the Ace Combat formula, but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. [Laughs]

G: Maybe after Ace Combat 7 is released. 

KK: Yes, everyone is very focused on Ace Combat 7 right now.

G: The story appears to be seen from two different perspectives, but there is only one playable character, right?

KK: Scenario Writer Sunao Katabuchi who worked on Ace Combat 4 and Ace Combat 5 is the one who had the idea to convey the message that the same fact can be completely different depending on how you look at it.

G: I have seen an F-104 Starfighter in many of the trailers. How did you come up with the idea of using such an old and legendary aircraft?

KK: The reason we have the F-104 is that it’s considered the last fighter plane to be completely controlled by the human pilot. Another theme of this game is the contrast with drones and unmanned aircraft, so the F-104 highlights that difference and the generational change.

G: Did you implement any learnings from Ace Combat Infinity?

KK: The purpose of Infinity was to be free and easy to play. That purpose was achieved, but of course, there are fundamental differences in value for the audience between free-to-play games and packaged games, so we didn’t take specific inspiration from Infinity. 

G: Now that the Nintendo Switch has become popular, have you been thinking about a port, or talking about it internally in the office?

KK: Not just for the Switch, but for all kinds of different hardware, we always discuss among the team about it. In terms of what to choose, there are different criteria to think about. I know that the team is discussing it, but to be honest, I have no idea about what the decision might be.

G: Would you maybe rather work on a dedicated game for the Switch, like Sky Crawlers for the Wii, or Ace Combat Advance for the Gameboy Advance?

KK: For now we’re only working on Ace Combat 7. I think there is a bit of a widespread misunderstanding: Project Aces is a very small team.

G: Could you tell me how many developers work within the team?

KK: The core team is between 10 and 20 developers. Of course, there is a team of visual designers and engineers who work with us, and others can help with specific projects. You could say that the brain of the team is very small, so we don’t have enough people to work on multiple projects. We have to complete Ace Combat 7 to the best of our abilities, so all of our manpower is focused on the game.

G: Is the main story complete by now?

KK: The gameplay and all the missions are complete, but there are small details that are still being tuned.

G: Is there any branching in the campaign?

KK: There is no branching, pretty much like Ace Combat 4. 

G: What do you think is the most relevant thing that old fans of the series should look forward to?

KK: It’s going to be something in between Ace Combat 4 and 5 in terms of style and atmosphere. Veteran fans can enjoy the quintessential Ace Combat. In addition to that, there are some elements that you can enjoy if you know the old characters.

G: What about new players? Did you include any element specifically geared to attract those who never played the series before?

KK: We made sure that players can still enjoy the story even if they don’t know the connections to the previous games. Also, a selling point of the game is about the 3D clouds, so newcomers can feel good simply by flying in the sky.

G:  Even if it’s dangerous, considering that you implemented some challenges with flying into the clouds.

KK: Indeed.

G: Do you think this might actually discourage a little bit inexperienced players who aren’t used to finding this kind of dangers into the clouds?

KK: Ace Combat is about maneuvering the aircraft itself, and that isn’t easy. By practicing how to fly so that you can do so as you wish is in itself something that feels good. Of course, you know this already, don’t you? [Laughs]

After you learn how to fly as you wish, you can learn how the clouds are dangerous, to avoid them or to use them. I think this can be fun even for new players.

G: I believe Ace Combat 7 is the first time in which the name Strangereal has been used officially within the promotion of the game to define the world. Can you tell me about the story behind this name?

KK: I started to use that name with Ace Combat 4, calling it “a strangereal world”. Then my colleagues overseas told me that my English was wrong. [Laughs] Due to that, I wasn’t allowed to use it anymore. Then when social networks became popular, many started to talk about Strangereal. That was a surprise, but this is why we decided to use it officially. I’m actually a bit upset because those who used to tell me I was wrong, now are calling it Strangereal themselves. [Laughs]

G: Are you thinking about the usual collaborations with other IPs, as you did in past games with the liveries of the planes?

KK: Yes, Producer Shimomoto is going to think about that. In recent years, games have become not just about the launch, but we also have to think about what comes after release. That being said, at the moment we’re focused on our release, and we’ll think about what comes next afterward.

If you want to learn more, you can watch me play the seventh mission of the campaign. You can also check out a recent trailer showcasing the VR modethe trailer that revealed the release date, and a previous video also focusing on the story.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown will release on January 18th for PS4 and Xbox One, while PC gamers will have to wait a little longer to February 1st for the release via Steam. You can already pre-order the game on Amazon.

Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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