Ace Combat: The Importance of Starter Aircraft
A couple of days ago, I was reminiscing about some of my childhood memories. Many of them are me with my cousins playing in the yard, or going to the beach, but there is one that stands out from the rest. I can vividly recall it, it was me with my PS2 in front of an old CRT staring at an F-4E Phantom taking off from a carrier deck, a scene that belongs to the opening moments of Ace Combat 4. This scene is so burned in my memory that I can recall the small breeze I felt coming from the window and the smell of the food my grandma was cooking at the time. Aside from the oddness of seeing an Air Force model Phantom taking off from a carrier, the profile of the Phantom and its silhouette got engrained in my brain.
This wouldn't have happened if the Phantom wasn't the starter aircraft of that game. To me, this memory has shaped a life-long appreciation for the F-4 line and, to a certain degree, other childhood memories shaped the way I perceive other aircraft, such as the F-5E from Ace Combat 5 or even the starter trio (J35J Draken, F-5E and F-1) from Ace Combat Zero, with preference towards the Draken's absolutely gorgeous silhouette. None of these aircraft are the most powerful, quite the opposite. They are some of the weakest, if not the weakest planes in the games. Despite that, it's them whom I look forward to flying every time I start a new playthrough for nostalgia's sake. They all left such a good first impression and impact on me that I just think about them whenever I think of the games, and not the rest of their expansive rosters of aircraft. All of these starter planes have, surprisingly, altered my perception of different aircraft in real life as I have grown up, and that's when I wondered: Am I alone in this? How has this phenomenon affected others that grew up with the newer games? The starter aircraft has changed quite a bit ever since the days of the PS2, with the new mainstay being the F-16C ever since Ace Combat 6. That's for mainline games, that is. Back in the PS2 days, the Viper used to be an early to mid-game unlock, an upgrade from your starter. Now that it serves the role of a starter aircraft, many of the older aircraft that used to be on that spot have been sort of relegated to secondary roles, sometimes in the form of DLC like the F-4E was to AC7, or even omitted completely from the games like the F-5E has been for the past two mainline entries. This brings me to a very weird question: do the kids that are growing with Ace Combat 7 as their childhood game now see the F-16C like I see the F-4E? This, surprisingly, mirrors some aspects of real life aviation and the inevitability of aircraft being retired, which leads to them being somewhat removed from the public eye and public culture. They get relegated to museums where people see them as pieces of history, even though for most "modern" aircraft in the museums there are still those out there that remember them flying over their houses during parades or even those that worked with them and flew them, which is the case for many Phantom pilots out there that served with the aircraft. Nowadays, kids out there imagine F-16s when they think of the USAF or even other air forces that primarily operate the type. But if you ask people from other generations, they might say that they remember the USAF Phantoms, be it because they lived near a base or even because they remember them back from the Vietnam-war footage they saw on their TVs as kids or teens. These generational changes in perception are natural, but I still find it interesting how well they parallel my feelings on the Ace Combat starter aircraft and their impact on my aviation journey. Always remember those starters and trainers fondly, because sometimes those early wings are the ones that lift you up the most into brighter skies. About the writer: Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000s, 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 2010s. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as the co-founder and writer ever since. Twitter | Discord : Cubeboy