"Welcome back to Strangereal!" Masato Kanno tweeted from Project Aces' official Twitter account on December 6, 2015, shortly after the newest Ace Combat game's teaser trailer. Fans rejoiced upon the news. After all, the last numbered Ace Combat title before then, Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation, released way back in 2007.
Strangereal is the name of the alternate universe where most of the Ace Combat games take place. As brand director Kazutoki Kono has mentioned in interviews, the name "Strangereal" was first coined as "Strange Real World" to refer to the reality within Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies (aka Ace Combat: Distant Thunder in Europe) when the developer was constructing the said game's lore, albeit a grammatically wrong term. The name "Strangereal" stuck among fans, and now for the upcoming Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown the developers endorsed it as the universe's official name. It's worth noting that Strangereal is often referred to the universe's planet by fans, but the planet's name is actually still Earth.
The fictional world of Ace Combat that we know today is not the same as its initial appearance. The continent of Usea was first seen in Ace Combat 2. While various locations like Chopinburg and Comona Islands were seen and named, the continent itself did not have a name until Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere. Even then, it was an acronym that stood for "United States of Euro-Asia". It wasn't until Ace Combat 04 that nations were introduced, primarily Erusea, which would make a return in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War (aka Ace Combat: Squadron Leader in Europe) and more importantly in the upcoming Ace Combat 7.
Strangereal was greatly expanded in Ace Combat 5, with continents and nations beyond Usea being featured for the first time. The world layout has remained largely consistent from then onwards, with occasional minor updates in subsequent game releases to reveal more nations and locations featured in other conflicts. Moreover, prominent nations such as Osea and Belka (both first featured in Ace Combat 5) would continue to be referenced in some of the later games.
While there are a few spin-off titles that are set in the real world, the main numbered Ace Combat games, together with a smaller number of handheld games, are set in Strangereal. By setting Ace Combat stories in an original world, the developers have a greater freedom in telling stories free from the restraints of our real world, as well as the ability to create fictional weapons ranging from futuristic fighter jets to massive aerial warships.
One of the major background lore elements for Ace Combat games set in Strangereal is the asteroid named "Ulysses 1994XF04". First discovered in 1994, the asteroid's destructive potential urged various nations to construct planetary defenses, but only Stonehenge was known to be operational by the time of impact in 1999. Despite Stonehenge's effective interception of meteorites to prevent mankind's total extinction, Usea and another continent, Anea, still suffered incredible impacts. The aftermath of Ulysses had major influences on the world: societies collapsed, conflicts sprung out from nations badly hit by the asteroid, and some of the former planetary defenses were repurposed as strategic superweapons. Even though Ulysses' fall on the planet was not seen as an in-game event apart from flashback cutscenes, impact craters can be found throughout Ace Combat 04, Ace Combat 6, and Ace Combat 7.
Strangereal's lore is not limited to in-game missions and intermission cutscenes. Many more background information and stories can be found elsewhere, including but not limited to Assault Records (collection of aces with short bios, featured in Ace Combat Zero and Ace Combat 6), in-universe news articles featured on official websites, and books. Moreover, Project Aces left small hints of continuity between games, be it characters or events, which are referenced from one game to another, bringing each game's story together under one world. However, it's worth noting that each Ace Combat game is independent from another, hence players do not have to play an older game in order to understand a sequel.
As mentioned above, there are spin-off titles that are not set in Strangereal, but in the real world. These games' stories and settings are independent from each other. However, despite the lack of continuity, they do share some elements borrowed from Strangereal. While Ace Combat: Assault Horizon's story was relatively grounded, it did bring the CFA-44 Nosferatu from Ace Combat 6 over to the game as a DLC, and it was an important plot element in the side story novel Ikaros in the Sky. Meanwhile Ace Combat: Joint Assault features multiple massive aerial warships that cause worldwide terror. Ace Combat Infinity combined multiple aspects of Strangereal into one setting, featuring Eastern Europe and Asia together as USEA (United States of Eurasia), as well as bringing many iconic superweapons for emergency missions and raids.
Ace Combat's appeal is not just the breathtaking flight action, but also the fictional world and atmosphere that the games provide. With Ace Combat 7 coming out next January, the world of Strangereal will continue to grow.
- Thank you Ribbon-Blue and Cubeboy of Project Lighthouse for inviting Acepedia on the community collaboration project.
Special thanks to SlyCooperFan1 for the kind assistance on creating this article.