• Aaron Mendoza

Interview with Ace Combat Brand Director Kazutoki Kono at PAX South 2019

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Our interview with Ace Combat Brand Director Kazutoki Kono at PAX South 2019 was originally scheduled for Tokyo Game Show in 2018, but under went a rescheduling due to unforeseen circumstances.

We give our special thanks to Bandai-Namco US community specialist Dmitryi Khlynin for assisting with the rescheduling of this interview. This interview is available in English and ​日本語 thanks to TaskForce23 who also assisted Ace Combat Fan in his interview with Kazutoki Kono.

Congratulations on the official release of Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. What a surprise it was to have you present on the launch weekend of Ace Combat 7. Thank you for making the trip to San Antonio, Texas to meet with the fans in person. What did you think of PAX South? Were you surprised by how many fans were wearing flight suits?

​I was really surprised. (lol) It was a sight that you really don’t see in Japan. They showed that they were fans of Ace Combat from head to toe, and I was really pleased.

What were your thoughts on seeing Ace Combat 7 played live on the PAX Arena stage in competition?

For this event, we showcased the multiplayer and VR modes. Many times I watched from the booth, wondering “what kind of playstyle are they going for?” in the multiplayer mode. I laughed because first place for the daily rankings went to community members every day.

Have you seen any events in Japan for Ace Combat similar to what you saw in PAX Arena?

There aren’t that many events hosted in Japan. In contrast, PAX is an event that takes place in many locations in North America over the course of the entire year, and was an impressive event  where “real game fans” gather, with these communities and fans at the core. Looking at the differences in how these events are in Japan and North America, it was very intriguing as an example of what we [in Japan] should aim for.

In AC7, Spare Squadron is a penal military unit, which is very unique for the Ace Combat series. The concept of using the 'Sin Lines' to represent how severe their crimes are is eye-catching. Why did you decide to use this kind of unit?

When brainstorming scenarios for Ace Combat, one very important factor to consider is “what kind of name/designation will the player be known by from his enemies and allies?” In the case of this game, we thought “what about having scars on the tail [of the aircraft]?” as a design-like symbol. That became “diagonal strike lines,” and while this idea was moving towards “sin lines,” we also wanted the game scenario to put the player in a situation that differed from previous installments. Thus this concept [of a penal unit] was born and both of these ideas [sin lines and a penal unit] were created accordingly.

About the mural "Skies Unknown". As you know, people find different messages or meanings when they observe art. When you view the mural, what do you think about it?

Since I’m the person who instructed the artist to “make a painting like this,” I know all the meanings that were put into it. (Lol) But I still think about the virtue of aiming towards a so-called Utopia that goes beyond ethnicity and nations, and how it can be realized in “a painting,” but is something that cannot really be done in reality.

"Skies Unknown" by Yukari Masuike.

Unrelated to the main story of Ace Combat 7, the hero Mobius 1 from Ace Combat 04 and 5's Arcade mode returns for the PlayStation VR missions. How did Project Aces feel reintroducing this iconic protagonist?

At first, I had doubts like “do we really need to bring back a protagonist from ten years ago?” I even had fears thinking, “will this ruin the dreams of all the fans?” In the end, I made the decision to entrust it to the staff’s strong enthusiasm. As a result, the fans were delighted, so I feel wonderful about it.

It seems like the pilots flying alongside Mobius 1 are unsure of his exploits from the past conflicts. One of them even said they don't like "old timer pilots." What a change of tone regarding a former hero! What was the reason for this change around Mobius 1?

One of Ace Combat 7’s themes is “the gap between the old era and the new era.” Even Mobius 1 cannot fight against this tide. However, through players flying as him, he was able to make those around him accept that he is a hero once again. Those actions themselves are our message.

In your opinion, what is the greatest accomplishment the Project Aces team achieved during the development of Ace Combat 7?

The fact that we developed the game with new members and a new [organizational] structure, overcame huge hardships, but was able to good results. This was especially true for the clouds. “Through the use of clouds, effects of  weather and air currents will be added, revolutionizing the environment in the sky, and the gameplay itself will become new.” There were some staff members that were skeptical of this, and we were even firmly told “NO” by the in-house product evaluation team. Even then, we believed in the concept, completed it, and actually received support from users and fans for the novelty this “revolution in the skies” brought. That [support we received] is proof that the development team carefully examined the vision that lay before them. Without visionaries, there won’t be a good development [period].

Implementing virtual reality is undoubtedly a landmark achievement for the Ace Combat series. When the team tested the final build of the VR component, what were your feelings and thoughts?

We realized that this really elevated the fun of Ace Combat, “the experience of a pilot flying and fighting freely in the skies.” We really felt that revolutionizing entertainment shouldn’t be done solely on the software side of things, and that revolution will come from innovation in hardware. We are hoping that many more people get to experience VR.

After seeing VR in its completion do you feel as though future Ace Combat titles could utilize VR on a larger scale?

It is possible. Despite problems from a business point-of-view. We gained experience in the methods and know-how of how to create an Ace Combat specialized for VR. We’ve said this many times before, but if we were to create an Ace Combat game solely for VR, the storytelling and presentation will be completely different from previous installments. If it’s a product that requires that much effort, there needs to be a correspondingly high demand for it.

In the past, you've said you're a fan of the Sukhoi Flanker series of aircraft. That being said, are you living your dream of flying a Su-30 Flanker with AC7 and PSVR?