Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere
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|Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere|
Japanese cover art
|Genre(s)||combat flight simulator|
Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere[a] is a combat flight simulator video game developed and published by Namco for the PlayStation. It was released in Japan in 1999 and in Europe and North America in 2000. The third in the company's Ace Combat series, Electrosphere features a more futuristic aesthetic compared to the modern-day theme of its predecessors. Players control one of several different types of aircraft and must complete various mission objectives, such as destroying a fleet of enemies or protecting a base from enemy fire.
Directed jointly by Takuya Iwasaki and Atsushi Shiozawa, Electrosphere was designed after its predecessor Ace Combat 2, borrowing many of its design elements. The team wanted the storyline to be an integral part of the game and serve an actual purpose, unlike earlier games where it was secondary to the gameplay. Its futuristic landscapes were inspired by a combination of 1970's-esque city designs and modern-day architecture. Electrosphere has gained infamy for its drastic differences in content in the Japanese and international releases; Namco intended to retain the Japanese version's two-disc campaign and larger story, but due to financial constraints the game was cut down for North America and Europe.
Despite a lackluster marketing campaign and Namco remaining relatively silent about the project, Electrosphere sold over one million copies, and was later reprinted under the PlayStation the Best budget label. The Japanese release received positive reviews and was seen as ambitious in its design. International releases received a polarizing reception, with critics expressing confusion towards the lack of content and bland gameplay. In retrospect, Electrosphere has been well-received, with critics identifying and appreciating its ambition, story, and changes to the gameplay of the series.
Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere is a combat flight simulator video game. Like its predecessors, it is presented in a more arcade-like format in contrast to other flight sim video games. Players pilot one of 23 different aircraft across four separate factions, and must complete each of the game's 52 missions. These missions range from destroying a squadron of enemies to protecting a base from enemy fire. Player performance is graded from an A to D letter scale, which are logged in a chart on the title screen.
Electrosphere adds several new mechanics to the core Ace Combat gameplay. One of these is the ability to fly spacecraft, with one mission taking place above Earth in outer space. Players can watch instant replays of their best kills at the end of each mission. A limited number of planes and weapons can be selected for the first few missions, but only one can be used for the remaining half of the game. Missions also contain radio chatter from both the player's faction and opposing ones. The player can rotate their camera 360-degrees around their fighter in order to see what is behind them or get a better view of the level.
The Japanese version of the game features additional content not present in the international releases. The most notable of these are the branching stage paths; depending on actions made by player input at certain sections of the game, the plot will change based on the outcome of those decision, leading to one of five possible endings. An in-game encyclopedia can be accessed, documenting information regarding the game's characters and technology. Anime-style video emails with voice overs can be accessed, played through a fictional email inbox. Obtaining all five endings will unlock Mission Simulator mode, which allows the player to replay any mission with any fightercraft and weapon of their choice.
Ace Combat 3 is set within the United Galaxy Space Force saga, a fictional universe by Namco that connects many of their space-related games into a cohesive timeline. It takes place in a world where government and rule of law have been superseded by sheer economic power and multinational corporations. The largest of these are Neucom Incorporated and General Resource Limited, fierce rivals that have competed against each other for power for many years. Despite efforts of peace-making by the Universal Peace Enforcement Organization (UPEO), war eventually breaks out when Neucom launches large-scale strikes against General Resource, forcing the UPEO to deploy a series of fighters to end the rivalry between the two companies and put an end to the war.
With Air Combat and Ace Combat 2 having performed well critically and commercially, Namco began work on a new game in the Ace Combat series. Beginning development in 1998, the third game was planned to be much more ambitious than its predecessors, with a major, gameplay-affecting storyline and plenty of more content available. Takuya Iwasaki and Atsushi Shiozawa directed the game, with Takashi Fukawa serving as the project producer. It featured the work of several composers for its soundtrack; most notable of these was Go Shiina, known his work on Mr. Driller and Tales. Since most of the development staff for Electrosphere had previously worked on Ace Combat 2, they drew much inspiration from it. Plotlines had been relatively unimportant to the gameplay of earlier Ace Combat games, so the development team wanted the story to serve an actual purpose and affect the gameplay as a whole based on player decision; this move was inspired by R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 and drama shows, with the team hoping it would make it stand out from similar games on the market already.
Programming for the game, conducted primarily by Kenji Nakano and Katsuhiro Ishii, took several months to complete. They recall the in-game world being difficult to program; due to the limited hardware capabilities of the PlayStation console, the team struggled to make the system render more of the map the player was flying around in. Nakano created a work around to this problem by rendering far-away objects with far fewer polygons than they were up-close; this took two months to solve. A total of 23 aircraft were created, some being based on real-world ones and others being entirely fictional. Like Ace Combat 2, developers focused on making the player feel as if they're actually flying. The animation for the in-game cutscenes was provided by Production I.G, featuring dark shadows and contrasting lines. The futuristic landscapes were the result of a combination of 1970's-esque city designs and modern-day architecture. To give the game the illusion of time passing, a day-to-night cycle was implemented. Graphic designer Minoru Sashida, who worked on the arcade game Techno Drive, designed the game's menu interface.
Namco announced Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere in August 1998. The company remained quiet about the game, making minimal comments during that year's Tokyo Game Show. The company broke the silence in November, opening up an website and showing conceptual artwork to video game publications. Only a single level and a select few aircraft were shown. Namco announced it was slated for a release in the first half of 1999 in Japan. A small sample of video footage from the game was presented in a bonus disc shipped out with the Japanese release of Ridge Racer Type 4. Famitsu reported that the game was roughly 80% complete by January 1999. After months of secrecy, Namco demonstrated Electrosphere at the 1999 Tokyo Game Show, presented alongside World Stadium 3, Dragon Valor, and the Dreamcast conversion of Soulcalibur, taking up most of the Namco's booth. Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere was published on May 27, 1999 in Japan by Namco. Its size forced it to be split across two discs, each containing 26 missions for a total of 52 different missions. Alongside a 26-page instruction manual, it contained a 30-page promotional booklet called the Ace Combat 3 Electrosphere - Portfolio Photosphere, which details the game's characters, fightercraft, storyline, and other information regarding its fictional world. On December 7, 2000, it was re-released in Japan under the PlayStation the Best line of budget titles.
For the North American release, Namco America translated the game into English. Frognation, a Japanese dubbing company, was contracted to assist in production of the localization process. Frognation contacted Agness Kaku, a translator known for her work on games such as Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and D2, to help translate the game. She recalled doing a demo translation based on the original Japanese storyline, but because of funding being cut Namco America scrapped the translation entirely and chose to completely re-do the plot for overseas audiences; this included removing the multiple endings, branching story paths, and almost half of the missions. It was also slightly altered to fit onto a single disc. While an official reason was not given for the cut of funds, Kaku believes it was due to the game not selling as well as Namco hoped in Japan, which gave the American division little hope in it being successful either.
Namco presented the game at the 1999 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) exposition to mostly positive coverage. Before the funding was cut for the translation, Namco had already begun advertising the game's interconnected storyline. According to Kaku, when Namco stated that the American release would be heavily cut down and omit the original Japanese storyline, it was met with backlash from fans and publications, causing interest in the game to severely diminish when it was ready to ship. Electrosphere was released in Europe on January 21, 2000, and in North America on March 3.
Commercially, Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere under-performed, and was not as big of a hit as Namco hoped it would be. It was commercially unsuccessful in North America, and pulled fewer units than previous entries. It holds a 74% on the video game review aggregator website GameRankings. By 2008, Electrosphere had sold 1.164 million copies worldwide, barely surpassing Ace Combat 2's 1.092 million worldwide sales.
The Japanese version of Electrosphere received mostly positive reviews. Famitsu appreciated the game for its "overwhelming" graphics and deeper storyline, in addition to its realism. Official Czech PlayStation Magazine had a similar response, enjoying its futuristic approach, realistic graphics, and refined gameplay. In an early preview, GameSpot commented that, while it was not as fun as Ace Combat 2, had the same ambitious design as R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, with personality-driven cutscenes, sleek fighter craft designs, and detailed graphics. Edge highlighted its branching storyline, stating that it makes the game more involving and rewarding than its predecessors.
By a drastic comparison, reviews for the North American and European releases were met with a much more mixed response. Because international versions had a significantly lower amount of content than in the Japanese version, reviewers showed confusion and disappointment towards the lack of missions and a proper storyline for diminishing the game as a whole. GameSpot presented a radically different response to Electrosphere from their preview, writing that its removal of content from the Japanese version and linear approach made the game feel inferior to its predecessor Ace Combat 2. Next Generation agreed that without its branching level system and additional campaign, it felt boring to play and not nearly as refined as earlier Ace Combat games. Electric Playground showed disappointment towards the plot and bland cutscenes for creating a story that had little to no significance over the game itself. Official UK PlayStation Magazine said that it felt more like a PC flight simulator than an Ace Combat game, mockingly writing: "Namco prove that yes, it is possible to recreate PC-style flight sim graphics on the PlayStation. But, unfortunately, they forgot to include a game to go with them." Not all reviewers expressed criticism over the game; IGN and GamePro both praised the gameplay for being solid and energetic, with IGN in particular commenting that it "delivers the same action-packed air combat experience that you've come to expect from the series, and does it with an unmatched style and flair that's never over the top." Jeuxvideo.com said that it had the same refinement as Ace Combat 2, with a large selection of fighters and varied missions.
Critics agreed that Electrosphere posed "gorgeous" graphics with plenty of detail. IGN said it had an amazing sense of detail, and proved to be one of the game's strong points. GamePro and GameSpot both agreed, with GamePro in particular saying that it had a unique blend of realistic and arcade-esque graphics. GameSpot also liked the game's high production values. Electric Playground complemented its visuals for their high amount of detail, as did Jeuxvideo.com and Official UK PlayStation Magazine. Reviewers also praised the game's control scheme for being responsive and easy to use, with GamePro specifically pointing out its realism to actual aircraft. Jeuxvideo.com also praised the game's usage of the PlayStation DualShock controller to great effect, namely with its rumble feature and smoothness. Electrosphere's soundtrack, usage of instant replays, and considerable lack of slowdown were also the subject of praise. While Next Generation praised the graphical style and gameplay mechanics, they felt it ultimately fell short compared to its predecessors, writing: "Ace Combat 3 has too many arcade elements to be a serious flight sim. Unfortunately, it's also too boring to be a great arcade-style dogfighter."
Ace Combat 3 has received better feedback in retrospect, with critics identifying its ambitious design and story. In celebration of the game's 20th anniversary in 2019, Game*Spark retrospectively compared the complex storyline of Electrosphere to that of Final Fantasy VII and Ridge Racer Type 4, praising it branching path system for having a meaningful, interesting impact on the plot as a whole. They also liked the game's futuristic atmosphere and theme, a drastic departure from other Ace Combat games. Game*Spark further stated that Electrosphere was one of the best and most unique games in the series, showing disappointment towards the lack of a modern digital release on platforms such as PlayStation Network.
Italian publication Player.it reviewed the game in 2019 to commemorate the launch of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. They compared its story and visual style to that of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell, enjoying its larger storyline for being far darker than its predecessors. While they praised its Wipeout-influenced soundtrack, Player.it was critical of the international version for being inferior to Air Combat and Ace Combat 2 from a content standpoint. GameRevolution also expressed their disappointment in the game's international release, believing it made for one of the worst attempts at video game localization.
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