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Before The Dark Times

"The present may stink, but at least now we can look forward to a better yesterday."

Before the world fell into a dystopia, or worse, an apocalyptic ruin, it lived in a time of power and wealth. Depending on the cynicism of the series, either this happier time was just that, a happier time, or on the other end, a Crap Saccharine World.

In some works, restoring the world to this once grand state may be the goal by the characters. Conflict may arise when there are different factions each with their own ideas on how to recreate this utopia. In cynical works, older characters who lived in this time, or educated characters about this time may also comment on how it really wasn't that grand of a time, and that in reality, it was just as bad, but in its own ways. In other works, there may be no way to restore the world to its once-grand state, and the details of it only exist to highlight how far the work's society has fallen, and to add drama to the story.

If there were any characters that were Human Popsicles, from this old time that wake up in the time of the work, or find themselves there due to some sort of time travel, expect to see a Fish Out of Temporal Water story from them, along with plenty of angst.

What separates this trope from And Man Grew Proud is that this "better" time is still well remembered, and not relegated to myths and legends.

Related to End of an Age. The Dark Times may be related to this trope, but not always.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Films 

  • Soylent Green: After Thorn and Sol enjoy a meal of real food, Sol mentions on how the old world was just as Crapsack as the present in terms of people, but it was at least beautiful compared to the environmental disaster that is the world of 2022. When Sol is committing suicide at the clinic, they both watch videos of the old times, seeing how far the world really has gone.
  • Star Wars: Trope Namer from Obi-Wan's speech in Episode IV regarding the Jedi/the Old Republic compared to the Empire. Freedoms still existed, the Jedi were respected and the rights of non-human species were still there, although corruption was beginning to tear the Republic apart...
    Obi-Wan Kenobi: For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire.
  • The Matrix
    • The Matrix movie series: Between the Matrix itself and the huge library of records on their own computer system, the Zionites have a pretty good idea (they think) of what the world used to be like. But since they're relying on the machines, their mortal enemies, to preserve this information, it's uncertain how accurate any of their details are.
    • The Animatrix shows this to be a very decadent world, with a bunch of lazy humans and their abuse of the machines.

    Literature 

  • The pre-nuclear apocalypse Saraksh in Strugatsky Brothers' Prisoners of Power is remembered very fondly by some (yet not so fondly by others).
  • "Before the World Moved On" in The Dark Tower. One interesting facet to this is that there are a variety of stages to civilization's decline, with each previous stage seeming like the Good Old Days compared to the next age. There was an age of sci-fi technology, with android robots, intelligent trains, and such, which is from the distant past. Then there was the New Old West / Medieval hybrid age before the fall of Gilead, where society was still organized (albeit on feudal lines), but technologies more advanced than revolvers were generally treasured relics, and there is the age after the fall of Gilead, when society had no organization beyond the town level, and the forces of darkness have free rein (as seen in The Wastelands, Wolves of the Calla, etc).
  • Since Galaxy of Fear is set shortly after A New Hope, of course this applies. At one point the heroes discover an abandoned Jedi-run space station that used to act as a neutral place for scientists to work, Nepis 8. It was abandoned not because of The Empire, this time, but because of Dark Jedi.
  • Before the Problem, the sudden epidemic of ghost manifestations, fifty years before the start of the book, the world of Lockwood & Co. was quite similar to our own.

     Live Action TV  
  • The image for this trope is of Starfleet Headquarters from Star Trek. During the early run of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Federation, Starfleet, and Earth were viewed as ultimate achievements of humanity growing up, the embodiment of perfect people, and paradise, respectively. As the show ran on and its spinoff Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ran on, the Federation met and was attacked twice by the Borg, involved in a war with their closest allies, the Klingons, had several citizens break away to form a splinter group called the Maquis who waged a Guerrilla War against the Cardassians, made first contact with an empire called the Dominion and went to war with, leading to millions, if not billions of casualties, an Admiral who tried to lead a coup against the Federation, and the Breen bombing San Francisco. By the end of it all, with Starfleet on a war footing, several moral compasses gone from black and white to gray, Picard's offhand comment seems especially poignant.
    Picard: "Can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?"

     Tabletop Games  

  • Warhammer 40,000: Codex books, manuals and tie-in novels—especially ones dealing with the Imperium of Man — often refer to the (poorly named) "Dark Age of Technology", which was a time of great technological stride and prosperity that preceded the "Horus Heresy" and rise of Chaos.
  • White Wolf loves this trope (and not always doing it in a believable way):
    • Exalted: The First Age, when the Exalts actually were building a world that catered to humankind's needs. Then the Usurpation happened. Then the Great Contagion happened.
    • Mage: The Awakening: There was Atlantis. Then the Exarchs stormed the heavens and made themselves gods, severing Magic from the world. Notably, Atlantis was great for the Mages who lived there, not so for everyone else.
    • Werewolf: The Forsaken: There was Pangaea and Father Wolf made sure that everything is in Balance. But Father Wolf grew old and weak, so some of his children (your player characters' ancestors) done him in and took his mantle of duty. But they are doing it very, very poorly. Pangaea was never a nice place for those who weren't werewolves.
    • Vampire: The Requiem: Ancient Rome was great for vampires, what with their Camarilla government. But then the barbarians, pissed off by Roman exploitations, burned the city to the ground. Bye bye republic, welcome feudalism.
    • Changeling The Dreaming: There was the time of Spring, when dreams were vivid and humankind believed in the supernaturals. Now it's the time of Autumn, when dreams are withered and humankind is caught in their dreary world. Thanks, Technocracy.

     Video Games  

  • Halo: Reach: To some degree this is the purpose behind the game, to show the UNSC at its greatest and the Spartan Program at its peak. Then the game takes you down the course where the Covenant overwhelms everything. While the UNSC is still somewhat strong in the original game trilogy, the defeat at Reach destroyed the Spartan ranks.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker we learn that the gods flooded Hyrule to keep it safe from Ganondorf.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past we learn that the Dark World used to be the the Golden Realm, a holy, more or less perfect realm where the Triforce resides, before Ganon got imprisoned there and took it over.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: In this later (but chronologically earlier) game, guess who ends up being responsible for sending him there?
    • An example involving a Dark World, but not the Dark World, is present in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Princess Hilda says that "Lorule was just like Hyrule. So very beautiful. So very...promising." This was before all the events that let Yuga make it a haven for monsters. Hilda even tells Zelda that she has to borrow Link to save her kingdom because all of Lorule's native heroes are long gone. It turns out the kingdom's decay started well before any of this: Lorule had its own upside-down Triforce that was just as much an object of greed as its Hyrulean counterpart. The key point where they diverged from Hyrule is that, in order to keep it out of the hands of evil people, they destroyed their Triforce rather than seal it away. They found out the hard way that this was pretty much the equivalent of tearing the glue out of a wooden model, and Lorule started crumbling apart as a result. The whole Evil Plan seen in A Link Between Worlds was actually formulated by Hilda as a way of taking Hyrule's Triforce to replace their own.
  • Fallout: Pre-war United States. While it was much better to live in compared to the Wasteland, as you learn about the society, you find out it was really a Crap Saccharine World, and an Eagleland type 2.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution: The world of 2027 compared to the original game and Invisible War. Political instability and economic woes are on their way, (and some are already there) but the world is in a golden age of technology and development.
  • Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War: Going back to the "golden times", or making a new "golden time" is a driving force for all of the factions involved. MJ12 wants to create a society controlled by a Helios-Bob Page merger, the Illuminati wish to have the same control over the world they once had before MJ12 overthrew them, Tracer Tong wishes to shut down global communications across the globe to prevent anyone from having total control and return humanity to more local societies, and Helios wishes to merge with JC to become the benevolent dictator of the world. Invisible War continues this with the Illuminati still trying to take total control of the world again, Helios-JC wanting to merge with all of humanity and create a "perfect" instant democracy, and the Templars want to end biomods and purify the human race. The Omar want to become the next stage of human evolution after the inevitable wars begin between the various factions of the world.
  • Metro2033: The pre-war world. In Artyom's home station, an older NPC can be heard reminiscing on how beautiful the world once was. In the D6 base, while passing by a room filled with military equipment, Miller will go on a speech on how humanity will take back the world and return it to its former glory, and that "everything will be everything."
  • Gears of War is set after humanity destroyed most of the world in an effort to prevent resources falling into enemy hands. 20 years earlier the countries of the world had just learned to coexist together in peace while the people were generally happy.

     Western Animation  

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara neatly sums it up in the opening credits:
    Long ago, the four Nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked...

     Real Life 
  • Renaissance historical literature, such as that of Petrarch, commonly portrays the ages of Ancient Greece and The Roman Empire as this. They were the ones who coined the term "Dark Age Europe" to refer to the post-Roman world in the first place.
    What else, then, is all history if not the praise of Rome?

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