Ace Combat 4’s most ferocious enemy is actually the friendliest guy around, which makes the story of Yellow 13 and his squad much more tragic.
Ace Combat is one of the most celebrated military games and certainly one of the best combat flight simulators ever made. Taking place in the near-futuristic setting of Strangereal, this allows for a wide variety of military conflicts and situations involving sci-fi WMDs and a more complex story to be told as the player’s actions affect the wider world around them. Starting with Ace Combat 4, Bandai Namco begins the trend of anime-styled cutscenes and adds a personal edge to the conflict through the story of Yellow Squadron and their battles against the player character, Mobius One.
Besides mission briefings explaining Mobius’ objectives and targets, the story is primarily told via cutscenes by an unnamed narrator, who recounts his life in the backdrop of the war and his relationship with Yellow Squadron. As a young boy, the narrator watches from a distance as Yellow 13 shoots down an enemy plane. The downed fighter then inadvertently crashes onto his house and kills his family. Working for small change at a local bar by playing his harmonica, the narrator finds Erusean pilots as regular visitors, harassing the locals except for one pilot in the back of the bar: Yellow 13.
While Yellow 13 is the protagonist’s rival and a significant figure in the enemy faction, he is in no way villainous whatsoever. Despite having a reputation as one of Erusea’s fiercest ace pilots with a high kill count, 13 instead prides himself on never having lost a wingman. Indeed, he is so good-natured that the boy narrator, who has every right to hate him for accidentally killing his parents, willingly plays music with him. They share common ground in a favorite song, making a very important note that enemies in war aren’t so different from each other. In another world, they may genuinely be the best of friends.
Yellow 13’s friendship with the boy is not his only humanizing element. His closest wingman, Yellow Four, has been a student of his since her early childhood. While exact details are unknown, it’s heavily implied that their relationship is more than just mentor and student. 13 also despises cowardice and commends bravery, having much greater respect for Mobius One over the underhanded tactics of the Resistance and the overwhelming advantages of his own Erusean military. His hatred of the war itself and genuinely heroic nature culminates in allowing the boy and the barkeep’s daughter to escape despite the latter’s betrayal. These elements not only make Yellow 13 a highly effective leader in battle but one of the most complex and multi-layered antagonists of the PS2 era.
The tragedy of Yellow Four’s death marks a punch to the player, as they have gotten to know her and her relationship with Yellow 13 right before confronting her in battle. This loss marks a dichotomy in Yellow 13: the grief of losing his former student and the excitement of facing off against a worthy opponent. Regardless of which path is true, it is the catalyst for Yellow 13’s final assault as he finally becomes vulnerable to the player’s attacks–an element of storytelling through gameplay that is equal parts impressive as it is heartbreaking. The loss of Yellow Squadron’s best fighters is highly demoralizing to the enemy forces, as the final battle against its remnants is anti-climactic and depressingly easy. It’s unabashedly pitiful after how much they put up a fight against the player before.
The story of Yellow Squadron is unique in that it is the only major narration available in the game despite it revolving around the antagonist. Ace Combat 4‘s anti-war themes and the tragedies of both sides are a rare early example of military games telling such complex topics, predating even Metal Gear Solid 3‘s “enemies in relative terms” speech. The combination of the squad’s diminishing effectiveness in battle and its toll on them in cutscenes marks a fascinating example of gameplay and story integration.
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About The Author
Vladimir Olivares (151 Articles Published)
Vladimir Olivares is a writer, illustrator, and short film-maker based in the United States. Fond of comic books, manga, movies, video games, and TV shows of various different genres, he is knowledgable in classic comic book history and is well-versed in other forms of graphic novel media of varying genres, ranging from fantasy, noir, and science fiction, both from Western authors to that of Japanese manga. Vladimir is currently working as a freelance writer for Valnet, Inc., covering Comic Book Resources. Follow him on Twitter at @valolivares123. and check out his art page on Artstation.