On March 31, 2018, Ace Combat Infinity officially shut down its servers, rendering the game unplayable for all users after almost four years of service. Despite the flaws the game had as a result of Free-to-Play nature, Infinity also served as a shining example of classic Ace Combat gameplay on current-gen platform that was sorely missing from its predecessor Ace Combat Assault Horizon, originally released in 2011. With Ace Combat 7 coming from the horizon with plans to restore everything that made the franchise iconic to its audience, it appears that Infinity’s time has finally come to its end.
One of the interesting features of Infinity was numerous collaborative projects it held with outside franchises that brought characters and designs towards in-game universe. While many were reserved towards simple cosmetics as customizable graphics and cameo appearances, Area 88 turned out to be an exception with introduction of several playable aircrafts from the series along with its own exclusive in-game event.
Area 88 is a Japanese manga series created by Kaoru Shintani, running from 1979 to 1986. The story chronicles a young Japanese pilot named Shin Kazama, a rising star in prestigious airline pilot forced into a life of mercenary fighter pilot situated in eponymous air base in North Africa called Area 88, the front lines experiencing heavy warfare. Area 88 was one of the first mangas to be translated and published in the west, adapted into several video games, animated series, and model kits.
In Ace Combat Infinity, five playable aircrafts featuring liveries from Area 88 were introduced as a collaborative event in 2014, bringing the series into the spotlight 10 years after its last major appearance in 2004 anime television series. Unfortunately, bringing characters and designs from franchises not owned by Bandai Namco (Infinity’s publisher) meant that they would be available for the players to unlock only while the licensing was in effect—meaning that once the licenses expire, they would no longer be unlockable for anyone that did not manage to acquire it before then. Players that did manage to unlock them were free to continue using them until the end of game service.
Luckily, I was able to acquire all five aircrafts while they were up for grabs. Area 88 played a significant role in my childhood, serving as one of the major motivation for my interest towards aircraft and mechanical designs. Its introduction in Ace Combat Infinity turned out to be a pleasant surprise for many including myself, and I did not hesitate to jump on the chance to unlock the planes for myself as soon as they became available. While not perfect in terms of in-game performance, Shin Kazama’s F-20A Tigershark remained my top choice for any fighter engagements for the remainder of Infinity’s service.
I made this short video to commemorate my experiences with the game, grabbing all the necessary footage I could before the closure date, since once the servers go offline the game becomes effectively unplayable by any means, even single-player mode. Due to lack of in-game replay or other machinima tools featured in previous Ace Combat titles, I had to get creative using target tracking, viewport rotation, and campaign cutscenes to help diversify the clips.