Within the high flying, dynamically transforming and musically inclined Macross franchise, there are games of various genres. Of the games released since the 1980s, 3D flight shooters released in the late 2000s and throughout the 2010s have included an optional Real Flight Control setting for the Fighter mode of their Variable Fighters. For the sake of clarity, terms primarily used in the Macross series will be used throughout this article.
Whether you know of Variable Fighters from Macross or Robotech, these high performance mecha are most recognizable for their ability to transform into three different modes. This was made possible when in the TV shows humans obtained and developed Over Technology after a Protoculture alien star ship crash landed on Earth. Of the many fantastical technologies developed, Variable Fighters became the primary front line war machine against the enemies of humanity in Space War I (Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, 1982) up to the most recent conflict in the Brisingr Globular Cluster (Macross Delta, 2016).
The three modes Variable Fighters can transform into are: Fighter, Battroid and GERWALK (Ground Effective Reinforcement of Winged Armament with Locomotive Knee-joint). Each mode has an ability it specializes in with certain weapons that are more effective depending on which mode they are being utilized in. Fighter Mode is the form most commonly used for long distance travel, high speed attacks and aerial combat. This form gives Variable Fighters an appearance similar to human developed fixed wing combat aircraft. Primarily fourth and fifth generation aircraft.
Real Flight Controls
Though the franchise's first 3D action game - Macross: Digital Mission VF-X (February 28th, 1997) - also featured somewhat realistic controls, Real Flight Controls (RFC) have become the official name for realistic flight controls in 3D Macross games starting in 2008. This remains true as RFC is available in the most recent 3D action game, Macross Delta Scramble (October 20th, 2016) on the PS Vita. Unless RFC is switched on, Variable Fighters in Flight Mode operate with what is referred to as Normal flight controls. This is a simplified control setting which limits the ability to roll and arguably decreases potential maneuverability to a certain extent. However, it also negates the need to properly manage speed and aircraft attitude while in combat on planets or moons with atmosphere and gravity. Real Flight Controls were first introduced by name with the release of Macross Ultimate Frontier (October 1st, 2009) on the PlayStation Portable (PSP). By activating Real Flight in the options of the game, flying in Fighter Mode becomes more of a flight shooter experience. A full Heads Up Display (HUD), controls that allow for full input of pitch, roll and yaw and the camera either showing HUD only or being positioned behind the Variable Fighter in a third person view. For those that are used to flight simulators and flight shooters that use flight controls closer to real-life aircraft controls, activating Real Flight Controls is a benefit. The Normal, more arcade like controls Macross uses as a standard flow better with the high speed, transforming robot combat the series is known for, but RFC brings more clarity and control to the action.
PlayStation Portable Titles
Macross Triangle Frontier (February 3rd, 2011) is being used as the title for information on Real Flight type controls in Macross games on the PlayStation Portable. The reason for this is because it is the final PSP release for the franchise, but it is the most advanced version of the Ace Frontier series developed by Studio Artdink.
There are three games within the series, each of which use the same game engine but expand on their content with each consecutive release.
Real Flight controls in Macross Triangle Frontier benefits from having a large amount of vertical freedom. In missions where land based combat is an option, the altitude ceiling is 4000 (measurement undefined) with maximum speeds capable going beyond 1000 (measurement undefined) depending on the stats of the Variable Fighter used. This altitude is technically doubled to a maximum altitude ceiling of 8000 in high altitude levels, but the lowest altitude attainable is 4000. While using Real Flight controls, an effective use of slashing style attacks allows for volleys of missiles and gun fire to be focused onto targets; the iconic Macross Missile Massacre. This can be done all while maintaining a reasonable distance to evade counterattack or gain distance in the event a humanoid shaped or Variable Fighter enemy attempts to move in for close range combat. An immediate, problematic change in game play using RFC is the exaggerated effect of gravity. When reducing speed using the designated button altitude loss begins immediately. No matter the speed or attitude, the loss of altitude begins immediately. Rolling inverted also incurs rapid altitude loss. Each of these can negated for the most part by temporarily going to maximum speed or performing an evasive roll. Fortunately Macross games are fairly forgiving starting in the sense that ramming into the ground or bouncing off of large enemies does not cause damage or immediately destroy the aircraft. The default button layout of the PSP is somewhat of a handicap, especially with a second pair of shoulder buttons being unavailable for a more flight sim friendly setting. However, by reassigning multiple buttons the awkwardness can be minimized.
Though there have been a handful of Macross games on the PlayStation 3 (PS3), they are essentially re-skinned versions of missions found on the PSP. These PS3 games were bundled with the Blu-Ray movies the missions correspond with. That's not exactly a complaint, but for the sake of exploring Real Flight controls further, a different title will be selected. Macross 30: Singing Voices Connecting the Galaxy (February 28th, 2013) was released on the PlayStation 3 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Macross franchise. It features characters, mecha and music from five of the major TV shows and OVAs alongside an original cast and original story. It is widely considered to be one of the top, if not the best Macross game in the franchise thus far. This semi-open world flight action role playing game allows players to enjoy the freedom to explore large areas. Throughout these areas are cities, bandits, aliens, dungeons, side quests, hunting quests, delivery orders, air racing, high speed pursuit missions, boss battles and more.
Real Flight Controls benefit from the semi-open world by making travel easier and more scenic, while making air combat maneuvers easier to perform. At the beginning of the first play through, the limited missile range and radar lock on range make RFC harder to utilize. However, by leveling up these stats and equipping specific skills to your character this can be corrected. The largest hindrance for RFC in Macross 30 is the altitude restriction. Even when accounting for the game scale difference between PSP and PS3 releases, you simply cannot reach the same altitudes that could be reached in PSP titles. Though the Macross 30 HUD gives no exact numbers, the altitude restriction is visibly evident. The effect of gravity has been toned down to more realistic levels with ground collisions still not causing any damage. In Macross 30, Fighter Mode with RFC can be a powerful opening strike as it focuses all firepower forward with long engagement ranges (depending on pilot skills and mechanical upgrades). After launching an initial strike, the player has the ability to fly past their targets to set up for a second long-range strike or close distance to transform to GERWALK or Battroid for close-range combat. Attacking specific areas of medium and large warships with high speed missile barrages is great way to weaken them over time while avoiding prolonged engagements at ranges where they can deploy all of their weapons and their escort fighters can encircle the player.
Being able to buff up the Fighter Mode of a variable fighter is a conscious choice that won't be easy to pull off without extensive button remapping at times. The reward of being able to use more realistic flight controls in the high speed action universe of Macross is an uncommon but welcome one. Give it a try!
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.