Review by Exhuminator

Reviewed: 02/19/19

What Namco taketh away hackers giveth back.

"Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere" is a jet fighting simulator developed and published by Namco for the PlayStation. Namco released AC3:E in 1999 in Japan and Germany, and in 2000 for the rest of Europe and the USA. The Japanese version of AC3:E was very different than the western releases. Only the Japanese version retained the anime cutscenes, video emails, and vocal dialogues for plot exhibition. For the western releases, Namco excised these elements thus making the plot presentation painfully threadbare. Furthermore, this redaction removed the campaign altering paths Japanese players got. Instead western gamers were given a linear series of missions. Worse yet, a large portion of the optional missions in the Japanese release were completely removed from the western iterations. Meaning western players did not have nearly as many available missions to play. Thankfully in 2016 Team NEMO released a full English fan translation for the Japanese version of AC3:E. Finally English speaking gamers could experience AC3:E the way it was always meant to be.

AC3:E was a large departure from the first two series' entries for a few reasons. One being the large focus on plot exhibition, the other being the nonlinear campaign progression, and lastly a strong science fiction slant. (Some of the fighters and weapons the player receives are entirely fictional.) AC3:E takes place in a future where corporations have become as strong as governments. Two particular "goverations" are nearly at war with one another, with only a third party policing force to keep them at bay. The player begins the game working for this mediation military, but in is given a series of choices that will dramatically alter the storyline, as well as the missions the player engages. AC3:E has multiple endings as a result, lending itself to high replayability. Outside the strong plot aspect, AC3:E's gameplay is largely the same as its predecessors. The player flies jet fighters around to blow up land and air targets, receiving score ratings based on their performance.

+Lots of high quality anime cutscenes (thus this is a 2-disc release).
+Blissful late '90s styled electronica OST.
+Strong sci-fi elements in later mission designs.
+Impressive 3D graphics for a PlayStation release.
+Slick menu system.

-Difficulty is a total cakewalk for series' vets.
-The story only really makes sense if all endings are achieved.
-Missions are quite short and lack complexity.
-No significant aerial dog fight bosses.
-Mission instant replay system lacks camera angle variety.

While it has its core fans, overall "Ace Combat" is a series I often see wrongfully ignored by the gaming masses. I imagine that's because most people think these games are dry aviation combat simulators. While that distinction could be levied against particular "Ace Combat" entries (1,2,4) other entries are far more interesting. ("Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War" for example is a masterpiece of intriguing plot and exciting game design.) "Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere" was Namco's first strong effort to push this series forward as more than just another jet fighting sim. The impressive anime cutscenes and player agency in altering the plot were a seachange for this series.

It's quite sad that Namco flubbed the localization so badly for AC3:E's western release. Thanks to the fan translation however, English players now have access to a great starting point for this series. While veteran pilots will be disappointed with the low difficulty, newcomers will likely find that aspect appealing. If you don't speak Japanese, but do think blowing planes out of the sky, while enjoying a story straight out of "Ghost in the Shell" territory sounds fun; thanks to Team Nemo you're finally cleared for take off.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere (JP, 05/27/99)

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