What sets this game apart from a lot of other games are the characters. The character interaction is great; it is about war between 2 nations. The characters have great personalities, and I find it funny how possessed John is over getting his kills; he gets mad when you steal one of his kills although both of you are on the same side. Equally hilarious is how Jamie Jones, an old pilot who actually uses an old propeller plane, gets into fights with Rick, who he calls a "speed freak" with Rick's love of fast jets. The contrast here can be great to read and I'm glad the game was so well-written; Ace Combat 5 bored me with its dialogue. It also shows that games don't have to be RPG's to have great dialogue. Another favorite of mine is Harry, who sells your planes, who has some witty dialogue too. I do think all the characters do have some charm to them. The character art is great and the planes look pretty cool. The music at the base is probably my favorite theme of all time. The voice acting is good too.
This is a fun dogfighter and I think it was great that they added the extra planes for unlocking. The planes do play differently which is nice (speed, turning ability, weapons, etc.). The only issues I have with the game are that some missions can be too hard sometimes, such as the one where you dodge shots in a giant cannon. Still though, it feels great when you pull it off and the difficulty is more of an intensity than a cheapness, but it can be frustrating to lose on the 2nd part of the last mission and have to redo the 1st part.
Fortunately, that last battle is the only 2 parter that you cannot return to base to save. Sometimes, you get ambushed as you go across the map before you do your mission but at least you can return to base to save and not redo both battles. The last complaint I do have about this game is that the guns are a little hard to use since they require extremely close range. The ground targets however aren't too hard too shoot if you're in range though. It is good to note that missions sometimes make you have to use the right weapon too, adding a bit of strategy to the game. For example, the rocket pods are great to use against fixed targets since they can hit from longer range than your default missiles and obviously those guns.
Unlocking planes and doing missions as other characters gives this game replay value. As a Konami title, you can unlock Vic Viper (the plane from Gradius) amongst other planes after beating it and doing other things. I like how Gradius has about 2-3 times the gun range as the other planes. This was a great idea to have so many cameos, like that, Axelay and even Twinbee. You can also do missions from pilots of the other Elements (Ken Thomas who is the lead is in the 3rd Element). It is nice that they let you use these planes with other pilots. This game definitely is fun to replay and watch characters interact.