Ace Combat X: A Classic Enhanced by Emulation
It has been almost a decade and a half since Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception launched for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) back in 2006. Personally, it doesn't feel like it was that long ago but indeed, it has been 15 years since ACX released.
And like other titles of the era, specifically ones for portable consoles, it is undeniable that the game has aged since then. When played on its original hardware and screen these problems are not as noticeable, but the moment you try to emulate it it is when you realize the severity of these issues. Particularly as you are pushing the game to resolutions it just was not designed to manage.
The issue is that emulation has become one of the only ways to play this title. Access to the original hardware is rare and will only become rarer with time. To me, this has been the avenue that has allowed me to truly appreciate the true beauty of this entry in the Ace Combat universe. Let's delve into how PPSSPP and the work of some amazing modders have made ACX into one of my favorite titles in the franchise. Thanks to Ostrich for his help and collaboration while writing this article.
ACX ON THE PSP: HOW A GAME CAN BE LIMITED BY ITS HARDWARE (GOOD AND BAD)
Just like many others, I got excited when I saw that my favorite franchise at the time was going portable. I had just played Ace Combat 5 on my PS2 and the fact that I would be able to have an Ace Combat title with me at all times made young Cube one happy kid.
I finally managed to get my hands on it a couple of years after its original release. Everything was well until, well, I actually started playing it. It was obvious from the get-go that this title was being seriously hurt by its controls. The PSP lacked several buttons and a second joystick, this meant that to yaw the aircraft you would need to take your finger away from the stick to use the d-pad. It is inconvenient and show that, if you wanted to play it like a regular console release, the PSP was not the best fit for the game. I finished it and played it, but it always felt awkward. Additionally, the flat joystick on the PSP did not lend itself well to this kind of game. Was it sufficient to play it? Yes. Was it ideal? Far from it. Story-wise I love this title, it is a proper Ace Combat game in every sense of the word. Despite being limited by its hardware, the developers used it to its limits and presented players with a proper narrative structure told in the best way possible within their limitations.
PPSSPP: UNLEASHING THE TRUE POTENTIAL OF ACE COMBAT X
Emulation with PPSSPP (a free open-source PSP emulator) is where we can take ACX and let it shine like it never did on console. Almost every single issue I mentioned in regards to the controls are fixed by the ability to use a Xbox controller, a DualShock 4 or any other type controller! This way you can map yaw to the lower bumper buttons, allowing you to finally play it with a very similar layout to all the other home console titles.
With the control issues aside, there is only a single major problem that shows its ugly head only when emulating: Low resolution textures. The assets that this game were designed to be seen from the infamously low resolution screen that the PSP had. As a consequence, the moment that you try to push the game to higher resolutions thanks to the upscaling features native to PPSSPP it will look like a pixelated mess.
This is where texture modding comes in. For years, AC Fans have been working on HD texture packs that drastically change how the game looks. Today, we'll be featuring Super Ostrich's HD texture pack since it is the most complete one out there. Not only limiting himself to redoing the texture for almost every allied and enemy unit but also re-doing a lot of the UI elements that the game uses.
Here is a side to side example so you can see how much these textures change the look of the relatively low-poly models. To the left are the original textures and to the right are the ones included with Ostrich's package. Click to expand them!
The UI also goes from barely readable/a pixelated nightmare to something that is incredibly sharp and unrecognizable when compared to the original textures. ACX is still very much a PSP game in function but these changes make it so much more bearable.
You can find the latest version of this pack and installation instructions by clicking the button: Additionally, the full list of credits for this pack is on Ostrich's website!
I was able to test some of the textures that will be included on version 2.0 of this pack, and I absolutely love them. A lot of attention went into making them, so here are some of the ones I personally found to be excellent.
Mitsubishi F-2A with warning labels, BuNos, etc!
Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet with its correct panel lines, markings and BuNo styles.
Dassault Mirage 2000-D with detailed panel lines, markings and warnings
Saab JAS-39C Gripen with impressive attention to detail, just look at that APU exhaust (left)!
ONE LAST ISSUE TO BE SOLVED: 60 FPS
The only issue with ACX in PPSSPP is that it is limited to 30FPS. Even when 60FPS is enabled via cheats, parts of the game start breaking. Both Ostrich and Alban (one of the main admins Acepedia) have opened a bounty of USD$475 for anyone that is able to solve this emulation issue. So if you have the technical know-how, go ahead and give it a chance!
I no longer own a PSP and I know that finding one in decent condition as well as a physical copy of ACX will not be easy. If it wasn't for PPSSPP and the amazing community that surrounds it, many of its titles would have been destined to be forgotten. ACX is important to me and the fact that I can enjoy it in a completely different way thanks to emulation is something truly noteworthy. To me, the definitive edition of ACX can only be enjoyed on PPSSPP. PS: Little known fact, but did you know that there is was a beta version of ACX that never saw the light of day? It was most likely a de-bug build used by the developers, but the build date is awfully close to the official for the game. This might be one of the last builds before the game went gold. It has been preserved and archived by the Hidden Place, in no small thanks to DRW, kabojnk and MysteriousCube. If you are curious, info on it can be found HERE.
DISCLAIMER: We do not advocate piracy so, if you have the capability, you should dump your own ROMs for your own personal use, here is a short guide by the PPSSPP devs. But with that being said, we stand by data preservation and we understand the importance of not letting these games become lost media.
In a world where many of these titles have become hard or outright impossible to acquire legally through official means (official stores or directly from the developers), it is inevitable that some of these games will be lost if we don't do something. Contribute to these conservation projects that are making that dream a reality.
About the author:
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and the co-founder of Skyward ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034