The whole "Clouds as gameplay" element is something I've seen a lot of AC Fans roll eyes at, especially on Ace Combat Skies. And honestly it's hard to blame them given AC's record for 'gameplay innovation'. But I think lumping it in with CRA as an obviously awful idea is a mistake. I believe clouds actually might actually end up enhancing AC's gameplay strengths.
Before getting into why I believe 'Cloud Gameplay' will succeed, we need to dig into why Close-Range Assault failed. And more fundamental than being too heavily scripted. CRA ripped out any notion of maneuvering from the gameplay loop. It boils down the process of dogfighting to initiating an (often-scripted) minigame where your actions are often trivial or irrelevant, and attempting to engage with the game outside of CRA--when it is even possible-- reveals how half-cooked everything else is, as if the game is pushing you at every step to constantly engage in CRA.
As I said before, I understand Kono's reasons for wanting a major gameplay revision, wanting to enhance the 'immediacy' a player has in controlling the game. The problem was he reduced what makes Ace Combat 'fun' to the act of firing a weapon, ignoring that half (if not more) of dogfighting is the cat and mouse chase, and that can NOT be simply replicated with a minigame. AC7's development team seems to understand this, promising that one of the core pillars of AC7 is 'Freedom of Movement in 3D'.
How do Clouds factor into this then? It's hard to say for certain, as the actual mechanics haven't fully been revealed yet, but the biggest take away is that it adds an element of level design to aerial combat that previously hasn't existed. They have the potentiality to break up the luftbury circles that have, for example, plagued AC Multiplayer since 6. It could allow for tactics in what enemies to pursue and how to pursue them. This is potentially risky of course, as if the benefits of clouds are too important it will make combat overly formulaic, while too small a benefit will make them superfluous. Kono's challenge is to implement Cloud Gameplay in a way that complements a maneuver-oriented gameplay loop.
Kono's a bit of a punching bag in certain parts of the community, and I'll admit I disagree with many of the creative choices he's made. But I don't think he's as hapless as many people make him out to be, and I sympathize with his efforts to make the gameworld more immersive to the player, even if some of his solutions have been half-baked. I know it's premature to come to any definitive conclusions yet, but I'm in the corner of being excited for what gameplay changes 7 will bring to the series.