There was a war. It happened years ago, maybe even thousands of years. Characters reference it, especially if they took a part in it: the Shell-Shocked Veteran never managed to get over what he experienced back then, while the Phony Veteran, on the other hand, will never shut up about how many brave things he did in it.
Sometimes people will use the war as a reference point for placing events on a timeline - something happened a few years before the war, or somebody did something after the war.
Maybe people still have to deal with its consequences. The war happened, and it left its ugly mark on the world. But it's never shown to the audience - we never see a single flashback from the war, are never shown more than just a glimpse of what happened. The war will be referenced, but otherwise left mysterious, unexplained. Why it happened, how it ended, and what all the things that took place there (which people talk about like it should be obvious) actually were, are never explained. The war is only a mysterious event of the past, included mostly to add a bit of mystery and give people excuses for insane ideas. Needless to say, this trope can easily be processed into Fanfic FuelWorld War Three is often used as this, as are the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and so on. Stories set After the End have the tendency to do this with the war that caused the apocalypse. If the war never stopped, may be a Forever War.
If said war is going on presently but the characters themselves aren't involved, then it is Behind the Black.
Often used as a sub-trope of Cryptic Background Reference. Compare also Cataclysm Backstory.
Please, avoid shows referencing Real Life conflicts. We already have plenty amount of information on them.
Code Geass has the Britannian invasion and conquest of Japan, which we see only in flashbacks concerning young Lelouch, Suzaku and Nunally and the one from first episode opening sequence. There also was an alternate version of the Napolean wars, where Napoleon conquered Great Britain, making all the British aristocracy run to America, creating the Britannia Empire.
The many wars of the Ancient Belka in Lyrical Nanoha. We have been told some general info about it, such as how it destroyed Old Belka and led to the current age where physical-based weapons were banned, but otherwise, it's a big question mark. As Nanoha ViVid revolves around the Reincarnation of two prominent figures from that war, many readers hope that it will eventually give more insight to that period.
Cowboy Bebop has the War on Titan, which shaped the lives of Spike, Vincent, and Grencia years before any action related to the main story took place. We get a few glimpses of it in flashbacks however.
Last Exile also has the war between its two major powers, which is mediated by The Guild. Much of the action of this war takes place BEFORE the actual story, as a few episodes in we discover that one of the planets these factions live on is dying, essentially taking them out of the conflict for good. They're pretty much refugees after this point.
In Blue Gender, we don't actually see humanity get overtaken by the Blues.
The War with "Them" in Sora No Woto is a complete mystery that has become filled with myths.
Mysterious conflict with Mazinkaiser SKL, whose conseqences are related to events of the series.
Naruto has the first three Shinobi World Wars; though they play a major role in the backstories of a good chunk of the main cast, we still know very little about these conflicts outside of a few offhand mentions and short flashbacks, plus a single gaiden story starring Kakashi.
Pumpkin Scissors begins with the graduation ceremony of a class of army cadets being interrupted by an announcement that the war everyone thought they were going to be sent to fight in had just ended. The series itself is about a team working to help repair all the damage that was inflicted on their country during the war.
The war between the Spiral Warriors and the Anti-Spirals in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Parallel Works #8 details this a little focusing on Lordgenome's involvement.
Bleach: Shinigami and Quincies have been opposed for over a millenium with two periods of warfare being very important for the main storyline. The first is the original war between Yhwach and Yamamoto that occurred a thousand years ago and led to the creation of the Quincy Clan and the Gotei 13. The second is the Shinigami's attempted purge of the Quincies 200 years ago. Both wars significantly impact the present-day Quincies and Shinigami, including anyone they associate with, be they human or hollow.
In Super Dimension Fortress Macross, the backstory tells of a massive war between the Zentradi and a group known as the Supervision Army. The war ended long ago, and Britai's force is conducting mopping-up operations when they come across the Macross. The storyline is carried into Macross7, where we get some understanding of what the Supervision Army was, but the war itself is still an offscreen event.
Heavens War in Darker than Black serves as the backstory for most of the main characters, and is the driving force behind Hei's actions his sister Pai disappeared at the end when Heavens gate exploded, and Hei is trying desperatly to find her.
Something like this was suggested in the dub version (but not the original version) of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds. When Bommer summons his Flying Fortress SKY FIRE to use against Crow, Crow is naturally freaked out (as most of Bommer's opponents are when he summons it) and exclaims "That's not a monster, that's World War IV!" The implication, of course, is that World War III has occurred in the time period between the present day and this future time.
In the second arc of The Authority, Jenny Sparks mentions how Earth cut down all connection with the alternate Universe, The Sliding Albion, after the First World War erupted there. Characters from Albion mention briefly that between that event and Albion's invasion on Earth, that world has seen eight other world wars.
Also, the fourth story arc (and first written by Mark Millar) showed us a glimpse of another alternate Earth, which had thirteen continents. A world war that erupted there ended with armies of AdolfX exterminating all non-black people on all of them. The Engineer finds the idea of sending a group of superpowered white supremacists there quite interesting.
Star Wars: Legacy has the conflict between Galactic Republic and Empire, won by the latter, who then got into the war with the Sith.
The IDW Transformers continuity has a few that happened either before or sometime during the onscreen war between the Autobots and Decepticons, which has recently ended:
The First Great War, which happened several million years before the comics. We don't know much about it, but Nova Prime and his allies managed to bring it to a peaceful conclusion leading the Cybertronion Golden Age.
The Software Wars, we know next to nothing about this one, except that Guzzle was in them and it was centered in the city of Polyhex.
The Lava Wars, again, we know next-to-nothing about this one. Apparently it was caused by a guy called Magma.
The war amongst the Stentarians between the Ammonites and Terradores. It's apparently ongoing, is older than all the other known galactic wars, and caused The Shattering, which eventually led to the formation of the Galactic Council.
Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog has the aptly named Great War between the Mobians and Overlanders (aka. the descendants of humanity). It was started when the Knight Templar Kodos killed two scouts from both sides and sent them too their respective sides, causing some seriously long-standing racial tensions to explode. It lasted for five years and ended when Dr. Robotnik (back when he was still called Kintobor) supposedly switched sides and gave the Mobians what they needed to drive back the Overlanders. Unfortunately, after the Mobians won, Robotnik promptly betrayed them too and overthrew the king with his badnik army. Many of the comic's older characters were in the war and there's still plenty of resentment and bigotry left over from the war.
There's also the first year of the Second Robotnik War, which saw Dr. Eggman regain his power base and promptly retake Mobius after Sonic had been thought killed in battle.
Sonic the Comic and the online continuation Sonic The Comic Online has the Great War between the Echidnas of Megopolis City and the Drakons of the invading Drakon Empire which took place eight thousand years ago over Mobius' Emerald mines which could contain the Chaos energy, a powerful but highly unstable energy source created by scientists on Drak the Drakons home planet, the Drakons were able to steal seven Emeralds before the war began. The gems, when combined with the Chaos energy, formed the legendary Chaos Emeralds. Two days before the war began, Pochacamac, leader of the Megopolis tribe, managed to steal the sacred Emeralds back from the Drakons, both to keep to return them to their true home and to prevent the Drakons from conquering the entire galaxy. Angered, the Drakons sent out a scout to examine the Echidna defenses before sending a full-scale invasion force to claim the Emeralds. A battle erupted inside Pochacmac's command room, with Drakon Prosecutors and Sentinels fighting against Sonic the Hedgehog and echidnas armed with Guardian Robots. The fight was briefly interrupted when a Prosecutor struck the Emeralds with his Dimensional Staff, causing a chain reaction that turned a fallen Drakon warrior into the mighty Chaos. The ensuing explosion weakened the gathered Drakon soldiers enough for Knuckles and the other tribesmen to fight back while Sonic and Pochacmac took care of Chaos. After a final push, the echidnas drove the Drakon invaders out of the city, but the war was far from over. Although no victor was ever declared, the failure of the Drakons to claim their intended prize suggests the Mobian defence held out, albeit at a great cost.
In With Strings Attached, Grunnel talks about how the Tayhil and their monsters conquered most of Baravada some 200 years ago, and how the skahs rose up to take back the place.
The Powers Of Harmony has the War of the Sun and Moon, the conflict between Celestia and Nightmare Moon, which in this story is presented as having lasted several years. There are a few flashbacks to it, but for the most part it's offscreen.
There's also the Blood War between the Metallic and Chromatic dragons, triggered by Discord making each side think the other killed their leader/progenitor Io. This war lasted for the entire Era of Discord (centuries, if not longer), and it was only after his defeat that Celestia and Luna were able to reveal the truth and end the war.
Discord also started a war between the Crystal Ponies and the other races inhabiting Tarandus, which led to the formation of the Crystal Empire (which originally lived up to the name and trope.
Utopia Unmade has the Bad End War that took place in the past, where Pierrot took control of Märchenland, renamed it the Bad End Kingdom, and attacked Majorland. The Precure Kingdom aided Majorland and eventually exterminated all the residents of the Bad End Kingdom. This was when Love realized the Precure Kingdom was heading towards something bad.
Fallout: Equestria has the war between the zebra and Equestria, which ended much like in the original Fallout (again, it's almost confirmed that the zebra fired first). We actually hear a great deal about what happened in the background of the war, but still never see a battle fought.
When watching Airplane!, they never make clear which war "The War" was for Ted Stryker, though judging by when the movie was made, one might assume Vietnam. As farcical as the entire movie is, it could very well have been some other war entirely though. Hell it could be a war they (or Ted) completely made up as well.
"The War" in Zero Hour!, the film on which Airplane! is based, and which came out a quarter of a century earlier, was obviously World War II. This timeframe informs a lot of the gags and references in the latter film.
The Lord of the Rings begins with Galadriel recounting the story of the last war with Sauron, several thousand years prior. We only see the end of the final battle.
The Clone Wars were this for the Star Wars trilogy until the prequels came, then two cartoons and a lot of other things that explored it, so it ultimately avoids this trope.
The Time Machine (1960): In-Universe. The protagonist from 1899 traveled a couple of decades into the future. One of his friends' sons mention "the front" of "the war". It's obvious its the First World War, but being a time-traveler, he was unaware.
The Discworld series has two examples - the wizard wars which serve as an example of why wizards shouldn't actually cast spells, and the wars of the Evil Empire, which serve as the origin story of the Orcs. The latter may or may not be the same as the "big old wars" mentioned in "Troll Bridge", in which Cohen the Barbarian fought for a bright new future and the return of the king, and Mica the troll fought because a big troll with a whip told him to.
The war against Gellert Grindelwald is even more obscure. All we know for sure is that it apparently took place around the same time as World War II. Fanon consensus is that Grindelwald and Those Wacky Nazis had some sort of alliance.
In Sergey Lukyanenko's Watches books, the Treaty is signed between the Light and the Dark Others after a magical war that nearly destroyed everything. Hardly any details are revealed about the war. The beginning of The Film of the BookNight Watch shows a battle between two groups of barbaric-looking people without using any magic (the director hates magic), with each group consisting of two dozen men at most. This is likely meant to be symbolic, though.
Later novels flesh out more details. In The Last Watch, Anton sees a vision of a battle that took place long ago that ended when Gesar and Rustam used a spell devised by Merlin to collapse the layers of the Twilight in a certain area, turning both the Dark Others and their human armies into living statues.
Larry Niven's Future History (leading to Known Space) series deals heavily with relations between humans and the Kzin, but the early Man-Kzin Wars never showed up in the books just because Niven didn't like writing war stories. He did let other writers go back and fill that in later, though.
The aptly-named Vague War in Sergey Lukyanenko's Line of Delirium, which takes place decades prior to the novel. Many references are made to the war, but few details are revealed. Apparently, it was a big free-for-all with all known races but no alliances. The war led to the formation of the Human Empire. The author even throws in a funny story about humans spreading misinformation about their dietary needs (i.e. that we need spinach to survive). The aliens spend resources developing a spinach-killing virus and lose countless ships spreading it throughout the human worlds. When humans don't die, they surrender out of shock. On a less funny note, good luck finding spinach after the war.
The Aiel War in The Wheel of Time is mentioned in passing by numerous veteran Warders, Tam al'Thor, and others. Many other wars - the Breaking of the World, the War of a Hundred Years, Artur Hawkwings war of consolidation, all serve to create rich background for the series.
The ending at least of the Aiel War was covered in the Prequel novel, New Spring.
In The Sword of Truth series, many of the MacGuffins, events and plots of the entire series are a result of the direct influence of the events in the Great Wizard War that happened over 3000 years ago.
A Song of Ice and Fire has many of these. The most important is Robert's Rebellion, which is really the cause for all of the events in the series - giving the effect that the reader has plunged into the middle of the story rather than the beginning. More recently, there was Balon Greyjoy's Rebellion. Further back in time, we had the Targaryen Conquest, the Blackfyre Rebellion, and the War of the Ninepenny Kings. Going even further back then that, back to mythic times, there are the stories from various cultures about a great battle between good and evil, implied to be an ealier war with The Others.
What Tywin Lannister did the to inspire 'The Rains of Castamere'. "But there are no Reynes and Tarbecks"... "Exactly."
Admiral Theisman's purge of the State Sec forces which refused to fall in line with the new government after the overthrow of the Committee of Public Safety. The only part of it shown is from The Fanatic, which itself took place away from the meat of the action. Not a typical example, as that particular conflict took place between two of the later books of the series.
Earth's "Final War" many centuries before the current timeline, where the planet was nearly rendered completely uninhabitable until several colonies sent aid to repair the damage.
Stephen King's The Dark Tower series occasionally reference the last war of the Gunslingers against the Good Man, and it's the backdrop against which Wizard and Glass is set. There is also an even older event implied to be a nuclear war, which is why the series is After the End in the first place.
In the Star Trek: New Frontier series, Calhoun and Picard (and their crews) discover that a species that's apparently been friendly — the Selelvians — is actually capable of an insidious level of mind control which they've hidden successfully up until this point. In the next book in the series, there's been a Time Skip of several years and the Selelvians have been defeated after a fairly vicious war.
Triplanetary mentions the first and fourth Jovian Wars, which resulted in the formation of the Triplanetary League from Venus, Tellus, and Mars.
The 'Holy War' against the Ghouls in E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, in which all the civilized ("polite") nations of the world of Mercury fought alongside each other, and that ended just shortly before the book's storyline begins.
In 1984, there is supposedly a vast war raging between the three superstates, but it has no actual bearing on the novel's plot. Of course, it could just be made up to make the party's rule seem legitimate.
Some kind of great war is implied to be happening in Lord of the Flies. The reason the children are on the island is because the plane that was evacuating them from an imminently about to be nuked Britain was shot down.
One of the Barnaby Grimes books mentions a war that was fought (possibly still being fought) to the East, in "The Malabar Kush". It included events such as "the siege of Rostopov", "the fall of Dhaknow", and "the storming of the Great Redoubt".
Stewart Cowley's "Terran Trade Authority Handbooks" opening opus, Spacecraft: 2000-2100AD purports to be an identification guide of the spacecraft of that era (it's essentially one-page profiles based on spacecraft pictures by illustrators such as Chris Foss and Peter Elson). The smaller ships of the Proxima Wars - Earth and Alpha Centauri vs. Proxima Centauri - from all three races fill the military section, and there are hints of major fleet actions between capital ships early in the conflict. While a few specific battles are touched on in terms of detailing the service histories of the ships that fought them, and the civilian ships built in the wars' aftermath add a smattering of their own history, a full history of the entire war does not exist. There were to have been further TTA handbooks as part of an early 21st Century attempt to reboot the franchise, but these seem to have gone to Development Hell and this troper (a BIG fan as a child) has not been able to locate any of them.
Cowley played the game again in the follow-on Great Space Battles. One of the ships in the ancient fleet which is resurrected to save humanity when its enemies show a disturbing ability to hack the battle computers of the sophisticated frontline ships (and yes, this predates the reboot Battlestar Galactica by DECADES) is described as being a veteran of 'countless' Imperial policing actions - but we never get to find out what these are, even though they are serious enough that battleships were required.
A Dry, Quiet War by Tony Daniel. The protagonist returns to his home planet after fighting a war twelve billion years in the future at the end of time, apparently to hold back the spread of entropy so the universe has a chance to exist in the first place. Not only are few details provided on the war, but the actions of the protagonist make it all moot anyway, and he's forced to return to the future to fight all over again.
Live Action TV
The Last Great Time War from Doctor Who. It was never shown, we know only that it caused a lot of destruction and wiped out entire races, including the Time Lords, whose last survivor was the Doctor. We find out that the Doctor was the one who ended the war, killing every Dalek (apart from a few who got away, of course) at the cost of also killing every Time Lord, including his own children and grandchildren. The Doctor has to deal with the consequences of the Time War from time to time and sometimes he or somebody else makes a reference to some events of it, but it's still mostly a mystery.
Current showrunner Steven Moffat has gone on record saying that he will never show the Time War since there isn't enough money in the world to do it justice.
However, in the Day of the Doctor movie, footage was shown. It is not pretty.
Doctor: You weren’t there in the final days of the war. You never saw what was born. But if the Time Lock’s broken then everything’s coming through, not just the Daleks, but the Skaro Degradations, the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, the Could-Have-Been King with his Army of Meanwhiles and Never-Weres – the war turning to Hell.
Older episodes referred to similar such events, including the survivors of the destruction of Phaester Osiris defeating Sutekh and sealing him in a pyramid on Mars, or the ancient war between the Time Lords and the Great Vampires shortly after the beginning of time.
Ancient battles between the Fledgling Empires (including Gallifrey) and the Racnoss were mentioned in "The Runaway Bride".
The Sontarans have been at war with the Rutan host for at least 60,000 years of the Whoniverse's timeline (mentioned in both Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures), and yet we've never encountered a Rutan and Sontaran together on TV once.
Played With in "The Doctor's Daughter". A war, fuelled by cloning machines, has gone on for 700 generations. It turns out that those 700 generations were cloned, shoved into battle and killed in the space of one week.
The great Cyber-Wars fought between human forces and the Cybermen were mentioned frequently, but the Cybermen were hardly even seen at the height of their power - mostly after the fact as The Remnant.
The Third World War and Eugenic Wars, all taking place on Earth and concerning only humanity. It was actually one war in the Original Series, but was later divided.
There are EU novels dealing with both, with The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh being the most prominent. Also, in the interest of reconciling the Eugenics Wars with the real life passage of the era in which they are said to have taken place (1990s), the Eugenics Wars were retconned into a far less grand scale war that happened mostly in the shadows of real life events.
The war between the Federation and Romulan Empire, which forms the backstory for the episode "Balance of Terror".
The ongoing war between the Federation and the Klingons at the time of the Original Series is mostly not shown.
Note that the Federation and the Klingons have gone to war many, many times: A few of these conflicts have been depicted on-screen, including in the Original Series: The brief Federation-Klingon War of 2267 (which was ended by the Organian Peace Treaty, imposed upon the belligerents against their will) took place entirely within the episode "Errand of Mercy". Another Federation-Klingon War took place during the first half of the fifth season of Deep Space Nine, which was effectively ended (and the terminated alliance suddenly restored) when the Cardassians joined the Dominion. The video game Star Trek Online gives us another Federation/Klingon war, which peters out (but doesn't actually end) after the Borg decide to stop acting stupid and return to their threatening roots.
The Next Generation has the war between the Federation and the Cardassians, which was responsible for creating the Anti-Cardassian Maquis. Strangely, it wasn't mentioned in the first seasons, only later.
The implication is that the Federation was pulling its punches more than a little. Their defensive action shook the Cardassian Union nearly to the point of collapse.
As well as "brutal border wars" against the Talarians and the Tzenkethi, which happened at some point between the Original Series and the next Generation. There was also at least one conflict with the Tholians in the same time-frame.
The Earth-Romulan war ended as this, because Enterprise was cancelled before it could cover it. The continuation novels have since stepped in to flesh it out.
When first mentioned in the original series, this war was fought entirely at extreme ranges with nuclear weapons (and with neither race ever actually seeing a member of the other).
However, the new BSG's First Cylon War will be getting screentime in the upcoming Blood and Chrome series. A licensed video game also purports to cover that period, even being played from the perspective of Commander Adama as a rookie pilot, but it mixes and matches so many elements of the original series and remake that it probably belongs in its own separate continuity.
The conflict between Dharma Initiative and the Others was only hinted at in the first four seasons of LOST, though the Season 5 gives us a pretty clear picture of it. The conflict between the Others and the US Army is even more obscure.
The war with the Magogs from Andromeda, the end of which caused the Nietzschean revolution, may count too, as it started at the beginning of the first episode. The episode then jumps 300 years in the future, to the main plot, not only skipping the downfall of the revolution, but also the civil war among the ones who caused it, the High Guard.
Played with in That Mitchell and Webb Look where a group of people are holed up in a nuclear bunker playing a game show and broadcasting in the vain hope somebody is actually watching. It all focuses around "The Event"; the only interesting thing any of the characters can think about but are sworn not to talk about for various reasons. The most probable event would be a nuclear war.
Or alternatively whatever caused the majority of the human population to become zombies ('Them').
Babylon 5 has the Dilgar War, the first major interstellar war that the humans got involved in, as well as the previous Shadow War, which took place around a thousand years previously. We do see a glimpse of that era, mostly just some less advanced looking Minbari ships, but nothing of the war itself.
Also the Telepath War. We are shown only before and after.
And the first Narn war for independence from the Centauri, about 100 years prior to the beginning of the series.
Along with the numerous wars the Centauri Republic was waging with its neighbors in the third season, none of which are seen, or indeed the numerous smaller wars between the members of the League of Nonaligned Worlds in the same season.
There are also allusions to various minor conflicts that the Earth Alliance took part in. Not to mention the Earth Minbari War, which we heard much about, but saw little of, until the prequel movie In The Beginning.
Also, the Drakh War, of which we see practically nothing due the spin-off telling it getting Screwed by the Network.
Other important conflicts are the other Shadow Wars, the war against the Thirdspace Aliens, the one against whoever created The Hand (purpoted to be the Thirdspace Aliens in the Expanded Universe), the genocidal war between the Centauri and their co-worlder race the Xon, the Shroggen invasion of Centauri Prime the Centauri-Orieni War and the Orieni-Minbari War.
Power Rangers falls back on this one a lot, to the point where Epileptic Trees have grown due to some wars sharing the same rough dates. Some of these conflicts are original while others are carried over from the original Super Sentai counterparts:
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers had a great battle between Good and Evil 10,000 years ago. Zordon was with the good guys, Rita with the bad guys under the command of Zedd. The only other clue we have about it is the ending: they were both so evenly matched, they resorted to a coin toss to end the war. Zordon won, but Rita, being a sore loser, trapped Zordon in his Time Warp and stole the Dragon Coin before she and her minions were sealed away in the trashcan.
Power Rangers Lost Galaxy is so vague that we don't even know if there was one big event or just a bunch of isolated incidents. Either way, a lot of backstory happened 3,000 years ago.
Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue had Bansheera and company put in the can 5,000 years ago. Her entire motivation for attacking in the present is to destroy the city and reestablish her palace upon the demons' sacred ground, granting 'ultimate power.' The fact that she had it then meant she had to have been a lot worse than anything witnessed during the Lightspeed series.
In The Walking Dead, the military is mentioned to have been overtaken by the Walkers and their abandoned equipment and corpses are seen lying about in the streets of Atlanta and outside of CDC, but it's never shown how the military were defeated.
The Firefly pilot (and one other episode) contain a flashback to the "Independence War", but other than that it's just talked about, although its aftermath is the prime motivation for many of the characters.
Kamen Rider Agito is a non-direct sequel to Kamen Rider Kuuga, most explicitly referenced by the police-made G3 Powered Armor being based on data from Kuuga himself. According to the backstory, Kuuga's old enemies the Grongi fought a war against another monster group, the Lords, who eventually won and became the villains of Agito. Kamen Rider Decade directly references this when the heroes go to an Alternate Universe version of Agito and land right near the end of the Grongi-Lord War.
In Merlin there are increasingly frequent mentions of a war waged at some nebulous time before/around King Uther's time in which ancient/recent kings were pitted against the sorcerous High Priestesses.
Scrubs has the Janitor mention overthrowing Kyle, the former leader the Brain Trust ("A dictatorship masquerading as a democracy") during The Revolution of '02, specifically The Battle of the Basement Supply Closet. This probably never happened.
The Insect Wars from Lexx. Despite only being mentioned once or twice in a couple episodes, the Wars are very important to the plot since they never really ended. The last surviving Insect passed his essence onto humans to create the Divine Order which helped him revive his original body and wipe out most of the Light Universe's human population in one fell swoop. His Divine Shadow takes great pleasure in telling Kai all of this.
His Divine Shadow: The victory of your ancestors was not complete.
Kai: You are a survivor of the Insect Civilization!
His Divine Shadow: Yes, last of the Brunnen-G.
The Core War in BIONICLE, although we do see a very brief account of its more important moments in one of the Flashback comics.
Dungeons & Dragons adventure I12 Egg of the Phoenix. The War of Ending between the forces of Evil and Old Empyrea. Doc and the silver dragon Falx fought in the war, during the adventure the PCs find a message that dates back to it, and one mission involves scouting one of the Castles of Ruling that played a major part in the war.
An attempt was made to rework the World Of Greyhawk setting with The Greyhawk Wars (the war Iuz was preparing for in the time period of the original boxed set). The war itself was represented as a stand-alone board game only. It produced some interesting novels set in the aftermath of the War where characters often have to deal with the consequences, but the canon version of the war itself is relatively obscure.
Exalted has a few examples: the Primordial War, the Aftershock War, the Usurpation and the Balorian Crusade. All of these are provided some level of detail (specifically who was fighting and why), but the exact events of the wars are generally shrouded in mystery (typically because they all involved reality being damaged to some degree).
And those are just wars involving the Exalted. The occasional hint is dropped regarding wars waged by gods in the era before humanity, and even occasionally to conflicts involving the Primordials prior to the existence of Creation.
Autochthonia has its own version in the Elemental War (so named because it so devastated the mechanical ecology that it drove thousands of elementals violently mad), which was noteworthy for being an extremely violent, ethnically driven total war in a world where most fighting is skirmishes to steal resources and supply lines.
Somewhere between Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero series timeline, there occured a great war called the Elf Wars, caused by Dr. Weil corrupting the Mother Elfnote An Energy Being made by reverse engineering Zero's viral data and used by X to purge the Maverick Virus off the earth and combining it with his other creation, the reploid Omega, to make reploids wreck havoc in the entire world, causing death to 60% of humans and 90% of reploids until Zero and X stopped them in the fourth year. This event has shaped most of Zero series' world and its characters, and yet the infos of the war are scarce. It is intentional - it was such a horrific war that the Neo Arcadian government, built after the war, decided to bury all historical texts and infos about the war deep in the ground, and declare anybody who knows it a Maverick, out of fear that "Weil's Sin" will repeat.
RuneScape has the God Wars which had raged on for 4000 years, making up the entirety of the Third Age. Despite ending 2169 years ago, the repercussions are still felt today: many races are driven to extinction, down to Last of His Kind or is a Dying Race; the gods are forced to depart from Gielinor. Many quests focus on this time: the Cave goblin-dwarf railway is postponed due to the discovery of related artifacts, the player rediscovers the myriad, a Dying Race of Energy Beings, human-vampyre tension runs high but if another war breaks out, Guthix would be reawakened to destroy the world and remake it. Except now he's dead.
Castlevania has "The Demon Castle War" in 1999 where modern-day soldiers attacked (and died; given the zombies) Dracula's Castle. This war also heralded Dracula's true and final death. There is no game that covers this.
Freelancer has the Coalition / Alliance war, the beginning of which was shown in Starlancer but which lasted for another century afterward and the winner is not the one the first game would indicate, as well as the 80 Years War between Rheinland and the GMG.
Star WarsKnights of the Old Republic has the Mandalorian Wars. Much of the information about it is from allusions and As You Know statements in the games, and lots of characters you run into in both games are war heroes or veterans from one side or the other.
Its successor, The Old Republic, has a recent war between the Galactic Republic and the reborn Sith Empire. The war ended when the Empire sacked Coruscant, held it hostage, and demanded a peace treaty (for reasons that vary wildly depending on who you ask). The two powers have spent the intervening years in a very intense just-this-close-to-hot Cold War.
For the longest time, StarCraft had the Guild Wars, which were referenced only in vague snippets as a civil war whose consequences still loomed over the Terran worlds. Fast forward many years, it's been more-or-less explained away with tie-in literature. Still nothing in the games, but this series has always assumed you did the reading first.
In The Elder Scrolls series there have been many wars in its backstory, but only four act as direct backdrops for main quests. The first was the War of the First Council (culminating in the Battle of Red Mountain), taking place thousands of years ago, which saw the disappearance of the Dwarves and the Tribunal's (plus Dagoth Ur's) rise to divinity, setting the stage for Morrowind. The second was Tiber Septim's conquest of Tamriel, aided by Daggerfall's giant mecha MacGuffin, Numidium, the third was the War of Betony between Daggerfall and Sentinel, which led to King Lysandus' death (and therefore his haunting of Daggerfall, which led to the main character being sent to the region to investigate...) and the fourth was the Great War (Empire versus Aldmeri Dominion), which took place between Oblivion and Skyrim, the aftermath of which sets up the entire civil war plotline.
The backstory for Morrowind provides another example from the Elder Scrolls universe. The "War of the First Council" and "Battle of Red Mountain" thousands of years ago set the stage for the plot of the game. The devout, Daedra-worshipping Chimer and atheistic, scientific Dwemer came into conflict in the land now known as Morrowind. After years of fighting, they were forced to team up to drive out the invading Nords. Their alliance remained under the leadership of Chimeri Lord Indoril Nerevar and Dwemer Dumac Dwarfking, known as the "first council." It was a time of great peace and prosperity for both races. However, the Dwemer Dug Too Deep beneath Red Mountain and unearthed the Heart of Lorkhan, the creator god. Chief Tonal Architect, Lord Kagrenec, crafted tools to tap into the power of the heart, hoping to allow the Dwemer to transcend mortality. The Chimer, seeing this as a blasphemy against the real gods in the Daedra, attempted to stop the Dwemer, reigniting their war. Forces led by Nerevar and Lord Voryn Dagoth infiltrated the Dwemer Red Mountain stronghold. Exactly what happened next is up for intense debate, but the Dwemer disappeared from existence, Nerevar was slain, Dagoth Ur and the Tribunal used the tools on the heart to achieve godhood, and Azura cursed the Chimer with dark skin and red eyes, transforming them into the modern Dunmer.
Mass Effect has several of them: the Rachni War that ravaged the galaxy some thousands of years ago, the Krogan Rebellions a thousand or so years before the current date, the Morning War between the quarians and the geth, the Skylian Blitz, and the First Contact War/Relay 314 Incident that was humanity's introduction to galactic society. Most of the wars happened very long ago, but occasionally you'll find a veteran of the Krogan Rebellions (either an asari or a krogan, due to their immense lifespans), and many older humans and turians still remember First Contact. Come Mass Effect 3, Javik, a revived Prothean, will talk about a series of wars that both his people fought (i.e. the Metacon Wars) and other conflicts in his timeframe.
There's also the war on Garvug mentioned by the Cerberus News Network, in which corporate mercenaries attempted to take over a krogan-controlled world, and the Second American Civil War, the details of which can be found during the "Stolen Memories" mission.
Cave Story: References are made several times to a war for control of the Demon Crown. It's implied that the protagonist and Curly Brace were combatants in this war, two of the few surviving soldiers from the army that massacred the Mimigas. But that's ultimately revealed to be false when Curly regains her memories—she remembers fighting to destroy the Demon Crown, separate from any army, with the protagonist as her only ally.
Guild Wars: Prophecies has the actual Guild Wars, Factions has the Tengu Wars, Nightfall has the war against Palawa Joko.
BlazBlue: The First War of Magic, in which humans (including Hakumen, Jubei, Valkenhayn, and Terumi) fought against The Black Beast. Later, the Ikaruga Civil War, in which Jin became "The Hero of Ikaruga" by murdering Bang's lord.
Guilty Gear has the Crusades, an apocalyptic conflict between humans and Gears, led by Justice. In some games you can play duels that happened back then.
In the Ground Control games: World War 3, the Independence Wars, the First Stellar War, the Terran-Viron conflict, most of the Second Stellar War. There are mentioned in a few brief lines in the manual.
The Great Keyblade War in Kingdom Hearts. It took place long before any other point in the game's timeline and was fought between hundreds, if not thousands of different Keyblade bearers, all for the right to form the ultimate weapon and take control of the Cosmic Keystone. The result: the weapon was shattered, the great power hid itself, and barriers rose between the worlds to prevent easy travel. All that remains is an absolutely massiveField of Blades on an otherwise abandoned world.
To be averted/subverted by Kingdom Hearts χ [chi] (which has not yet received a page on this wiki), which takes place during the Keyblade War.
Even then, though, the game only deals with the war itself in the vaguest and most indirect ways. The big battles and things are still entirely off-screen.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has a vague recounting of a war which occurred before Link was born and led to the death of his mother, who left him in the care of the Great Deku Tree. It's implied that this was the war that led to the unification of Hyrule.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past talks about a warnote set shortly after Ocarina of Time in a timeline where Link died before beating Ganon, according to the timeline known as the Imprisoning War in which the Knights of Hyrule fought to give the Seven Sages the opportunity to seal Ganon in the Sacred Realm. It also talks about an even earlier warnote sometime after Skyward Sword but before Ocarina of Time which led to the Triforce being sealed in the Sacred Realm in the first place.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess mentions a similar conflict, describing how an evil tribe of powerful sorcerers (known in Fanon as the Dark Interlopers) came so close to getting the Triforce that the Spirits of Light had to entrap them in the Twilight Realm, where they evolved into the Twili.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword mentions an earlier conflict in which Hylia and her armies fought against armies of invading demons to keep the Triforce safe. In this case, the offscreen nature of the war is actually justified: in the early days of the war, the group from whose perspective we see were sent up into the sky on a Floating Continent with the Triforce to keep both safe and out of reach of the war.
At the start of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, a Federation technician mentions that he hasn't seen "that many fighters scrambled since the HorusRebellion".
Fallout has the Great War, a two-hour war during which every nuclear-capable country in the world launched. No one knows who launched first.
Two sources - the leader of the Enclave (the remnants of the US government) and the log of a Chinese submarine commander during the Great War - point to the Chinese. Still, they might be mistaken, and part of the lead-up to the Great War is still undetailed - the war between China and the USA have been given a fair bit of attention, but the other Resource Wars - especially the one between Europe and the Middle East, and the ones that happened in Europe after that - are still mostly names, if even that.
Also the theory that a bored AI started it.
Kinda adverted with Fallout 3 with the "Operation Anchorage" simulation, where you (virtually) fight a small part of the war to reclaim Alaska from the Chinese before the bombs dropped, though notes around the facility record that the simulation has been repeatedly rewritten at the orders of a general, and bears less and less relation to the reality.
Loghain of Dragon Age: Origins often mentions the Ferelden rebellion against Orlais. Vague references to the war between the Qunari and the Tevinter Imperium are also present.
The First Blight lasted 192 years, the Second lasted 90 years: the Third and Fourth blight were comparatively smaller and lasted only 15 and 12 years. At the beginning of Origins, Duncan is desperatly trying to increase the ranks of the Fereldan Grey Wardens in order to avoid another Blight lasting years or even generations. Dragon Age II confirms that the Fifth Blight, which is the setting of Origins, lasted a full year, which is comparatively amazing.
The plot of Dragon Age II is about what started the Mage-Templar War that has engulfed all of Thedas by 9:40 Dragon. Vague hints are all we actually know about the present in which the framing-device is set in, whereas the game itself focuses on the life of Hawke from 9:30 - 9:37 Dragon and how the Champion came to unintentionally participate in the opening shots of the conflict.
Thedas history is built on one enormous war after another. The titular Dragon Age was predicted to be a time of upheaval, but it's still got some catching up to do in terms of body count. The oldest known conflict, predating the First Blight and the Age system, is the elf empire vs the nascent Tevinter Imperium. The sheer loss of elf culture is still being felt centuries later.
The novel The Stolen Throne describes the rebellion against the Orlesian occupation, although the final battle in which Loghain really proved himself as a general is not described (the future King Maric wasn't even present there, choosing instead to settle a personal score).
The First Eptinan Wars exist has only a blurb in the manual for Vanguard Bandits. The Second, also has this effect, having been going on since before the game starts, and despite still going on most of the backstory for it exists in a single flashback.
Final Fantasy XI: The stage is set by the great Crystal War of twenty years earlier; the opening cinematic shows a climactic battle from the War. The three great cities now deputize adventurers because of how the war depleted their armies. Becomes an onscreen war in the Wings of the Goddess expansion, where characters can travel back in time and participate in the war.
Final Fantasy Tactics: The war fought between Murond and the Zodiac Braves. The truth is very different from what scholars accepted as historical facts. And recently, the 50 Year War in which many of the game's older famous generals made a name for themselves.
Touhou: The Great Suwa War, in which Kanako subjugated Suwako; and Yukari's (first) invasion of the Moon. Silent Sinner in Blue is essentially Yukari making revenge upon the Lunarians over her defeat 1,000 years ago.
The Belkan War was this in Ace Combat 5: the only events mentioned in the game were that Bartlett and Pops were shot down together, and that it ended when Belka dropped seven nukes on its own soil. It was later expanded on in Ace Combat Zero.
Since Grand Theft Auto 3 radio conversations and ads have hinted at a war between America and Australia which happened sometime in the mid 1980s. It's played for laughs.
Septerra Core. The Resource Wars, the most recent of the wars between Ankara and Jinam. Also the war between Chosen factions that devastated Maya's hometown.
The Ura-Caelondia war in Bastion. It's been over for a while, but a lot of the Ura and the only living Caelondian old enough to remember it (Rucks) are still a bit sore over it.
Tales of Vesperia references The Great War between humans and Entelexeia. One of the party members is a veteran.
The Fire Emblem Elibe games (being the 6th and 7th titles) had a great war between humans and dragons, referred to as 'The Scouring' that occurred roughly 1000 years before the events of the games. It ended with the humans supposedly killing off the dragons, when, in actuality, the dragons, on the verge of defeat, exiled themselves to the land of Arcadia, closing the gate portal behind them.
Most Fire Emblem games have this as a part of the backstory. The Archaneia games have the first war against Medeus and the dragon-realm of Doluna, where Marth's distant ancestor won fame for sealing the dragon away. Fire Emblem 8 details an ancient war against the Demon King, where the Five Heroes and the Manaketes defeated the demons, then went on to found the current kingdoms of the realm (sans Carcino). The Tellius games give us several offscreen wars of the past, the biggest being the ancient Order Versus Chaos war between Ashera and Yune, with various factions siding with either goddess. There was also a great revolt of Laguz to liberate themselves from Begnion slavery.
Fire Emblem Awakening has one occuring just one generation before the game, instigated by the previous exalt of Ylisse and causing tension with neighboring countries, as well as one In the future, specifically the war between Plegia and Ylisse having been elongated in the previous timeline and extending well into the childhoods of the second generation characters and eventually leading up to a Zombie Apocalypse that destroys the world, forcing them to travel back in time.
In Ultima VI, there's supposedly a huge war with the gargoyles going on. The soldiers talk about it. You see the wounded being cared for in Cove... however due to the Wide Open Sandbox gameplay you travel all over the fairly pristine world and never find a single battleground.
Dungeons of Dredmor contains many references to a war between elves and dwarves that's taken place back on the surface; the dungeons are full of discarded weaponry and such.
Ar tonelico series: the thousand-year war between Sol Ciel and Sol Cluster that peaked with the Grathnode Inferia. Only a few people actually remember the events of it by virtue of being over 700 years old.
Ar tonelico 1 has the war between Mir-led Reyvateil and humans, which ended with Mir sealed and the Reyvateil treated as second- or even third-class citizens.
Ar Tonelico 2 has the previous period of conflict between the Grand Bell and the Sacred Army. The current period of conflict takes the majority of the gameplay, so it doesn't feel very offscreen-y.
Hexx mentions the Chaos wars, which apparently involved one of the four deities in the setting.
The X-Universe backstory includes the Terraformer War in the 2140s AD, during which insane terraforming robots wiped out all of Earth's extrasolar colonies and nearly destroyed Earth, too. A Terran warfleet managed to lure them through a jumpgate, which was then destroyed behind them; this fleet became the Argon race. About 200 years later, we had the First Xenon Conflict, where the terraformers reappeared, followed by the Boron Campaign, a more conventional interstellar war between the various superpowers.
Lt. Surge in Pokémon Red and Blue refers to a war in which his electric Pokémon "zapped [his] enemies into paralysis." None of the subsequent games (except the remakes, which repeated the line exactly) mentioned anything about this war.
One fan theory holds that the war was World War II, and Surge is a naturalized American soldier.
A war three-thousand years before Pokémon X and Y serves as the backstory for the game's plot.
The three Operation Rainfall games all have a great war in their backstories:
Xenoblade Chronicles's Action Prologue is the Battle of Sword Valley, which was the last battle of the Mechon invasion of Bionis and where Dunban became a legend throughout the land for singlehandedly turning back the enemy advance.
The Last Story had a war that occurred hundreds of years ago that was ended by House Arganan. More recently, another large war engulfed the Empire that killed the families of Zael and Dagran, which led to them becoming mercenaries. In addition to that, it is also stated that the Empire has fought many campaigns against the Gurak people in the past. The game's plot is well and truly kicked off when the Gurak invade Lazulis Island, sparking off another war.
More recently, the kingdoms of Elyria and Athos had been fighting a war that ended only two years before the game begins, and tensions between the two countries are still high despite the peace.
Gears of War has the Pendulum Wars, which is where Marcus Fenix made himself a war hero. And the majority of the Locust war that happens before the first game opens.
Might and Magic and Heroes of Might and Magic (old verse) have the Timber Wars between Erathia and AvLee over the Contested Lands. Some hero descriptions mentions them, they're a key part of the backstory for VII and one campaign in Heroes III... and the only one we get any real detail is canonically not a proper war (VII involves a renewed conflict over part of the Contested Lands, but the only things that are assured to happen in the conflict are skirmishes and manouevering for position, followed by peace negotiations. It can escalate into a full-scale war, but hints in later games implies that the path in which that occurs isn't the one that happened).
In Halo, meanwhile, there's the small offscreen war. There was a civil war in between two factions of Humanity, which is what the Spartans were made for. A little of this is shown in the novelizations. It was replaced by the great ONSCREEN war with the Covenant.
Buried in the backstory to Hatoful Boyfriend is the war between humans and just-uplifted birds, which started with the disorganized Hitchcock Winter, became formal when birds drew up their own Declaration of Independence, and continued for thirty years until humans surrendered. Of course things aren't entirely peaceful now...
The Solar Alliance-New Empire war in Sunrider, which led to the rise of PACT.
The war with the Other in Girl Genius occurred about twenty years before the events of the comic, and was basically a Steampunk zombie apocalypse. Then, after the Other's unexplained disappearance, the surviving Sparks and nobles immediately started fighting over what was left. Klaus put a stop to all that.
Ronin Galaxy: Taylor speaks to Cecil about the current war-like state of Earth and her difficulty getting to the Moon on this page. Cecil retorts that Earth is an "antique collecting space dust."
The Teraport Wars from Schlock Mercenary count. Although its pretty easy to imagine the effects the Teraport would have on a galaxy used to wormgate travel for war and trading, we never actually see much of the chaos the invention actually inflicts on galactic civilization apart from a single battle.
There are several of these in Drowtales, including several wars of the Surface between the Dark and Light Elves and the conflict that eventually led to the Surface becoming uninhabitable, forcing the remaining elves to flee underground. Then there's the war between the Dark Elves and their children, the Drow, which led to the near extinction of the Dark Elves. The city of Chel'el'sussoloth also has a few of these such as the Sharen vs. the Sullisin'rune and various other times the Imperial forces have come into conflict with rogue clans.
Red vs. Blue (especially the Recollection Trilogy) makes repeated references to some kind of great war against an alien race. The only details are that it took place during The Blood Gulch Chronicles and was resolved offscreen sometime between Blood Gulch and Reconstruction (or possibly sometime before the end of Blood Gulch), that Project Freelancer was one of many desperate initiatives towards the end of the war, and that humanity became allied with the aliens afterwards. The war occasionally seems to intrude on the Reds and Blues in Blood Gulch but it's unclear if those events were genuine, or just training scenarios for Tex.
Another possibility is that the war they mentioned is an attempt by Rooster Teeth to put the series into the Halo continuity. One example is the mention that the Freelancer-project was just one of the magic bullets created to win the war since the war was going really bad for the humans possibly referencing the different projects (for example Spartan II and III) during the covenant war. More can be read on the Red vs Blue WMG page
Salad Fingers from Salad Fingers often references an event called the Great War in a few episodes. However, it's so far unknown if the war was nuclear or even existed at all as it could be all in Salad Finger's mind.
Transformers: Has this to varying degrees, the Cartoon itself is a straight example, as the war has restarted on earth and the million year war on Cybertron is only alluded to.
The war between the Autobots and the Decepticons in Transformers Animated. By the time the series starts, the war is over, with the Autobots having won and the Decepticons scattered to the far reaches of space.
The first flashback material was repurposed clips from The Transformers Generation One. We later see some flashbacks from Ratchet's perspective.
Speaking of Transformers Generation 1, it contains references to the Third and Fourth Great (or "Cybertronian") Wars, the assumption being that there were a first and second. (They're probably in the fourth one. Or the fifth, if you consider the ending of Transformers: The Movie to be the end of that particular war.)
And speaking of Transformers: The Movie, the movie was never seen in Japan until four years after its American release, and even then Japanese fans have already seen Season 3 (there called Transformers 2010). As such, events from the movie were referred to but never seen. So this would count, as it had gained a mysterious and legendary quality beforehand. Japanese coined the term the "Unicron War".
Not exactly a war, but Avatar: The Last Airbender has the Fire Nation's destruction of the Air Nomads 100 years prior to the start of the series.
The War itself is an an interesting variation in the show. We know why it started (the Fire Nation got all expansionist), when it started (100 years previous), who is fighting it (Fire Nation vs Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribes), and the characters are fighting its final year. However, we only get, at most, a couple flashbacks over 61 episodes. We don't see many battles even during the present (three, maybe four if you count the drill), so no Alternate Universe Counterparts to Stalingrad for the Earth Kingdom (unless you want to count the, again mostly unseen, 600 Day Siege of Ba Sing Se by Iroh), or a Jutland for the Water Tribes, or even any D-Day recreations for the Fire Nation's first invasion of the Earth Kingdom at the start of the war. In fact, the entire century of conflict between Aang's freezing to when Katara frees him is mostly untouched even in fan fiction. Which is sad, because it has a lot of potential.
Also notable is the war between rainicorns and dogs, which is never elaborated upon (beyond mention of Lady Rainicorn's father being saved by a dog at some point during it) but shown as a cause for great strife between the species.
The Mushroom War has since been elaborated upon, very slightly, in the episodes "Finn the Human" and "Jake the Dog." They seem to have begun with a fleet of bombers, one of which dropped a bomb that unleashed massive mutagenic, likely magical, energies, and these energies either gave birth to the Lich or revived him in the then-modern world. What happens after that is entirely up to speculation, although shots of the current "Earth" from space in a few episodes show that about a third of the planet was simply blown away.
Futurama occasionally makes reference to some war or another, usually for a quick gag. The one time one is relevant to the main plot is in "Three Hundred Big Boys", where the spoils from a recently-won Bug War are spread among the populace.
The SpongeBob SquarePants episode of the Krusty Krabs employment video stated that Mr. Krabs created the restaurant some time "after the war".
The NeosapienRebellion a.k.a. the First Neosapien War fifty years ago in Exo Squad. It is particularly oft mentioned in the early episodes, before the Second Neosapien War breaks out and easily surpasses the original one in scope and impact.