Makes many fans of this Namco flight game series wonder, "What happened?". (Review of the NTSC version)
I have played the PAL version (Japanese region) version of this game prior to the NTSC version, and it is a perfect example of what happens when a good game gets into the hands of a company's U.S. division. The PAL version of Ace Combat 3 was a very unique, intrigue game for its time. It featured anime-style cutscenes, and have a very engaging "storyline", often told through its mission briefing and mission endings cutscenes. Unfortunately all of this was scrapped when the game was exported to the American shores (Most likely to reduce costs), and that alone greatly derived players of the Ace Combat experience that we enjoy.
The NTSC version, in my opinion, is easily the worst installation of the Ace Combat series if one was to compare it among its NTSC brethrens. If the NTSC version would have survived its journey across the sea unscathed and unmolested, it would have easily been one of the best and memorable game in the series. Devoid of its cutscenes, the game becomes a very dull experience. Sure, the cool high tech "Operating System" or GUI survives, and the techno music is still there, but the cutscenes are now gone, and mission briefings are now text messages and the game, as a whole, feels empty. Players are now moving from mission to mission like security guards escorting prisoners to their respective cells after their meals; without the cutscenes and some sort of incentive to keep the player engaged to the game, it is quite easy to become bored and distracted from the game.
But enough about the gameplay, now to the mechanics. Ace Combat 3's graphics are very similiar to Ace Combat 2 for the most part, with the exception of a few enhancements such as sunlights and reflections. Soundwise, all jets in the game sounds the same. They all have that similiar generic turbine sound, lacking any sound distinction. The trance/techno music is good, and it's really one of the few elements that keeps the game lively. The controls are considerably different from the first and second game; those who had played the fourth and fifth game will feel right at home. Too bad Ace Combat 3's control is not as responsive or smooth as its Playstation 2 progenies.
One of the biggest complaints about the third Ace Combat are revolved around the planes in the game. Many prefer the real-world jets such as the SU-27 Flanker, F-14 Tomcats and the F-22 Raptors. Ace Combat 3 breaks the mold by introducing a whole fleet of futuristic fantasy jets, may of which do indeed resemble their world counterparts such as the F-16 Gyrofalcon or MIG-33 Fulcrum, but this particular feature can't really be considered to be a positive or negative aspect of the game, since it is really a player's preference.
In all honesty, Ace Combat 3 SHOULD have been a game that shines out from the other bread-butter combat flight games, but unfortunately it did not survive its oversea transition. For die-hard Ace Combat fans, it is strongly recommended to play the PAL version if possible. It would be very interesting to see the PAL version of Ace Combat 3's storyline/cutscene/music to mingle with the excellent graphics and control system that resides in the current Ace Combat 5 and Zero game. Ace Combat 6, anyone?
(For those who are wondering, I would have given the PAL version an overall score of 8/10.)