The idea, especially in Fantasy settings, that older things generally are better. The swords left behind by an old civilization are better than those made by their modern descendants. Same goes for armor, magic, or whatever. Anything that can be described as "ancient" is better than its modern counterpart, as if people are regressing rather than inventing new technologies and improving on old ideas. In fact, this technology is so superior that it continues to outperform modern ones despite spending a dozen centuries half buried in dirt in a cave. This can be explained by a setting with Medieval Stasis: if technology is not advancing, then older items made by legendary craftsmen will be better than modern gear made by run-of-the-mill craftsmen. Sometimes this can also be explained by the source of the items being a Precursor race or Civilization, with the "modern" civilization having simply not caught up to them yet.
Subtropes of this include:
Partially Truth in Television: the idea that ancient knowledge is superior to modern knowledge exists in the real world, but it doesn't always work out that way. Bad Martial Arts has a page debunking this idea. It is also inferred in many pseudosciences like astrology and some alternative medicines: that these ancient knowledges and traditions have been around for so long, unchanged, must mean that they are better than modern science! It's the same logic as with the Old Master: if a tool has lasted for centuries and is still usable, then it must be damn good. Compare with Appeal To Tradition, to which this is related.
This trope follows a standard fantasy motif that everything has been grander and more perfect back in ancient times: gods roamed the Earth, heroes battled huge monsters with legendary weapons and armors that can survive centuries to be used again. If our modern heroes are doing the same thing, then it feels logical that in the older times, there were bigger heroes fighting bigger monsters with even more legendary weapons.
Do not confuse with the Real Life nostalgia due to They Don't Make Them Like They Used To. Compare Stronger with Age when this applies to creatures. Also compare with Rock Beats Laser and Archaic Weapon for an Advanced Age.
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Averted for fun in the Slayers tv series, where an ancient golem awakens to crush the heroes and promptly breaks down from centuries of disuse.
In Yu-Gi-Oh!, the older the magic, the better. This is especially seen in the Waking the Dragons arc. Got 5000 year old magic? Too bad, my magic is 10,000 years old.
The boost his opponents get from being more popular, as Rin explains, is actually pretty insignificant, whereas being 5000 years older than any other spirit in the war is a gigantic boost to his power.
This also applies to Noble Phantasms which are based on a common legend. The older Phantasm, and thus closest to the original, will defeat any Phantasm born from a newer iteration of the legend. Gilgamesh possesses "prototypes" of all later Noble Phantasms, each one significantly stronger than its more well-known derivatives.
This is actually a Nasuverse rule of magic in general. Creatures and magical artifacts also get stronger with age. A sufficiently aged sword can tear apart a modern mage's barrier simply by being drawn.
Subverted by Archer. He's technically the newest Heroic Spirit since he's from the future. While he's pretty weak stat-wise, he's also arguably the most powerful Servant summoned in the Grail War since he doesn't actually fight with Noble Phantasms. He's a Reality Warper. The nature of his powers also makes him the perfect counter to Gilgamesh.
Magic itself also follows this rule. Servant Caster, who lived in the Age of Gods (Ancient Greece), can use very powerful spells using few (and sometimes only one) word, while modern magic users need one minute to conjure magic of such power, it's no wonder that her "High-Speed Divine Words" skill is at A level.
Asura in Soul Eater is the first kishin to have ever formed, and is the strongest by far. Although there is some evidence he's also the only one who actually managed to evolve into a full kishin; the others are killed before they become too powerful.
Excalibur is the original demon weapon, and was used as the blueprint when the witch Arachne created all the others. He is by far the strongest, and anyone can wield him with ease. The only thing that prevents anyone from using him is his excruciatingly grating personality.
Fairy Tail: The Hero Natsu happens to be a first-generation Dragon Slayer, but still manages to be just as powerful, if not more so, than successive generations.
In the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, Lost Logia are ancient artefacts often capable of rending dimensions in two. Some of them are small enough to fit in the palm of a person's hand and require no outside power source or maintenance. So far nothing modern comes close to the destructive potential that the Lost Logia exhibit. Also Ancient Belkan fighting arts have an equipment advantage in the Unison Devices and Cartriage Loads that are not found in the modern Mid-Childan system.
Gurren Lagann zigzags this when the ancient Ganmen and new Grapearl. In a one-on-one battle, Grapearls are indeed faster, more agile, and better-equipped, to the point that even highly-advanced Ganmen like Enkidudu get wrecked by them. However, the main enemies in Grapearl times are the Mugann, the machines that Ganmen were originally designed to battle... meaning that Grapearls tend to die en masse even with the proper gear, whereas when the main characters restore and retool their old Ganmen, they find that wiping out whole hordes of Mugann is surprisingly easy.
Played with in Game Theory. While Alhazredian magic was incredibly complex and could work wonders, it was also very inefficient and slow to cast. The magic systems that followed it, while not capable of the miraculous achievements of Alhazred, were far more practical, especially in combat.
Beowulf has many of the weapons, helmets, armours, standards and cups mentioned as prized heirlooms and passed around and down generations for a long time. It is suggested they were forged by Giants.
Lord of the Rings: Ancient Elven and Númenórean weapons are better than modern day Gondorian and Elven ones. The Silmarils were made by one of the most ancient elves, Fëanor, and nothing created since rivals their beauty. Likewise, the modern-day dwarves of the Lonely Mountain haven't managed to match the weapons and armour that were made by their ancestors, whose techniques were lost when Smaug killed them.
The Sword of Elendil was reforged by Elvish smiths. Not only did they put the two pieces together, which requires great skill if the joint is to be as strong as if the blade were newly-forged, but with the improvements in metallurgy which had been make during the millennia, they shaved a pound and a half off its weight, yet leaving the blade far stronger and less brittle than it had been before.
Harry Potter: The Elder Wandnote Elder being the wood it is made from, not a reference to its age. is the best wand, and despite wandcraft having ostensibly advanced since it's creation, several centuries ago, no wand made since can match it. Same for Harry's invisibility cloak which is both older and superior to all of it's kind, even those made more recently. So superior are they that this gave birth to legends of these items being made by Death itself, and not by wizards like they were truly made.
Interesting, because Harry Potter seems to generally avert the trope: Magic evolves like science does. New discoveries are made. This is evident with Broomsticks: newer broomsticks are better for example: The Nimbus 2001 is better than the Nimbus 2000, who are both outdone by the more modern Firebolt.
The Wolfsbane potion is also a new invention, which is damn useful compared to other, older (and apparently non-existent) treatments for werewolves.
In The Night Angel Trilogy there's a whole list of these, including an ancient technique for forging swords and jewelry and everything ever made by Ezra the Mad.
Justified in that the tomes that recorded Ezra's techniques were destroyed in the lead up to a dark age.
The Dresden Files explicitly applies this to necromancy. The older the corpse being re-animated, the more powerful the result. Harry uses this rule to get around the fact that non-human zombies are less powerful than ones made from humans by re-animating a corpse several orders of magnitude older than any possible human corpse. ZombieT-rex.
Justified in The Lost Fleet, where Captain John "Black Jack" Geary finds out that, after the 100-year war with the Syndics, The Alliance ships aren't up to par with the ships in his time, even though their weapons are more powerful and defenses better. Thanks to the horrendous attrition rate of the war, ships are no longer built to last. In Geary's time, ships would be built with the expected life of 50-100 years. Now, any ship that manages to survive 3 years is barely going to hold together, as quality control is virtually nonexistent. Additionally, everyone is sick and tired of the war, and wartime economy cannot be sustained indefinitely. Thus, cost-cutting is rampant, as evidenced by the new Adroit-class battlecrusers that are worse than the previous battlecruiser design in every way.
Live Action Tv
In Doctor Who, hiding in a really old building can keep the Reapers away from you. For a while.
In Deadliest Warrior, the pre-Biblical Spartans were shown to outmatch enemies who wielded technology more than a thousands years more advanced than their own because of their incredibly deadly bronze-age shields.
A standard trope in Dungeons & Dragons. If something is described as "Ancient", there is a 90% chance its better than its modern equivalent.
Played with in Forgotten Realms: After the Fall of Netheril the world's magic circuitry is broken. Alas, it's impossible to cast spells as powerful as Mavin's Worldweave or Proctiv's Seal Crystal Sphere (11 level). On the other hand? There's constant development — Netheril in his prime had nothing as efficient as Virus Charm or Sammaster's Spellcaster. Even magic items of relatively recent era of Myth Drannor are sometimes fabled and sometimes plain inferior (like protections exploding on overload).
Of course, Myth Drannor itself is "fabled" because humans ran in, got some of the old elven magical knowledge and began to rapidly develop on it, dragging elves along. Just as Planned, since the Coronal made this unpopular decision after observing a few Mage Fairs and coming to the conclusion that though he and a handful of others are more powerful, he wants the best human wizards to work with his folk, if and while possible.
Eberron breathes this trope: With many subsequent collapsing civilization, you can tell how powerful something is by how old the civilization that invented it is, going from modern to ancient: Modern Day < Dhakaani Empire < Giant Empire < Dragon / Demon War < Progenitor Dragons.
A major element in the BattleTech and MechWarrior universe. Most of the galaxy's technological and industrial base ended up getting smashed in a lengthy series of civil war, losing them the ability to produce their highly advanced technology. Thus, newer mechs tend to be less capable in combat when paired up against similar mechs that were built hundreds of years earlier. Of course, if you HAVE such an old (but powerful) mech, you try to make sure it gets the best of maintenance so it will continue to be the best.
This was only true up to around 3040. Modern designs like the Hauptmann and Uriel are at least as good as their Star League counterparts, and the Clans, who were unaffected by the Succession Wars, field mechs that are vastly superior to equipment from any era in the Inner Sphere.
Obviously very prominent in Warhammer 40,000 - not only They Don't Make Them Like They Used To - ancient magic weapons and eldar artifacts benefit from 'ancientness' as much as human technology.
Human technology is locked in stasis due to technology becoming a religion and 'discovery' effectively becoming archaeology - the only way an innovation will ever be approved by the high priests of the tech-cult is if it can be shown to have been an original part, or intended optional extra, of the base design.
Eldar technology is similarly unable to improve a lot because they are, as a species, essentially all refugees and mostly unable to sustain their population, never mind their technological infrastructure. They do innovate though, but not often and only in terms of re-applying existing knowledge and not making new discoveries.
The Necrons...basically are an Ancient Precursor race, only made into immortal, self-repairing robots and locked in stasis for 65Myr. They haven't improved their technology because it's already vastly superior to everyone else's and they are now unthinking automatons, for the most part.
Chaos avert this in that they are constantly coming up with new stuff or, rather, are prepared to let their gods change their old stuff in unpredictable ways (that usually involve lots of spikes as well) for them.
Dark Eldar avert this as well. Originally they used psychic technology and sorcery as much as their more mainstream cousins. But after the Fall, the Dark Eldar had to almost completely abandon all their ancient tech and re-invent much of it from the ground up using more mundane methods. But because they have a stable population and sufficient resources and infrastructure, they're able to support a researcher caste who've actually been creating new technology and not just updating old ones. In fact, some of their newer tech is so advanced as to be almost magical and the Dark Eldar actively go out to experiment and invent when they're not too busy going around torturing and enslaving.
The Tau, on the other hand, avert this entirely; as the naive upstart race they are constantly updating and upgrading their technology, seeking alliances with other species and generally acting entirely counter to the tone of the setting...unless you are foolish enough to get in their way.
This is a major element and theme throughout World of Darkness roleplaying games. Magic, monsters, heroes and spirits used to be greater in the old glory days. The game which relies on this trope most might be the Vampire games. Vampires being pretty much immortal have a lot of elders still alive and they benefit both from growing more powerful with age and from being just inherently more awesome because they were made in the olden days by vampires related closer to the first vampire. The supposed end of the world that may not be far off is predicted to be caused by the rise of all the most ancient and powerful vampires who are believed to be asleep.
The standard setting of Exalted is assumed to be the Second Age of Creation. Most of the best technology comes from the First Age. This is because the Solars, the most powerful of the Exalted, ruled Creation during the first age, and used their superhuman skills to create advanced Magitech wonders. After the weaker Dragon-Blooded killed the Solars and took control of Creation, they simply weren't able to keep up the kind of standards the Solars could. Because of the way reincarnation works in Exalted, a surprising number of young Solars get their best gear by raiding their own tombs, and many Second Age states, most notably the powerful city-state of Lookshy, have risen to power in whole or in part on how much First Age technology they've managed to scavenge and/or preserve.
Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood both feature this. Altair's centuries old armor is better than all modern armor. Justified by it being made from a Precursor alloy. Ditto for Brutus' (as in Caesar's killer) armor, which is better than modern armor too, despite being even older. Similarly, Altair's sword and Brutus' dagger are better than their modern counterparts. And even in the Modern Era, the Pieces of Eden are the most powerful artifacts ever created - another example of ancient Precursor technology.
The Elder Scrolls roll on this. Ancient Dwemer and Elven armors are better than modern day armors, despite being made (ostensibly) from the same kind of materials. Only armors made of specifically rarer material, such as Glass, Ebony or Daedric Ebony, are better.
Somewhat averted in Skyrim: Dwemer armor and weapons are made from Dwemer metal, which can only be found in Dwemer ruins (in the form of Dwemer-made metal objects). Once you obtain the material and the skills needed to craft the armour and weapons, you'll not only be able to make your own, but also improve their attributes even further. Moreover, the Ancient Nord weapons that you find lying around in Nord burial mounds are weaker and heavier than modern steel weapons.
It is implied that weakness of the ancient Nord weapons and armor is because of decay from old age. If you complete the Companions' Guild, you gain access to techniques for reforging the ancient Nord weapons into brand spanking new (but otherwise identical) "Nord Hero" weapons and upgrading the ancient Nord armor, which makes them a viable choice for equipment.
Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening has the Sentinel Armor Set, easily the best Massive Armor in the expansion. According to the lore, however, it belonged to the Grey Warden who killed the very first Archdemon over one thousand years ago.
In Diablo II (and clones) all of the items with more obscure ancient names are for some reason better.
Runescape has a lot of equipment originating from thousands of years prior to the current year of the game and these are some of the best equipment available...usually.
In Kingdom of Loathing, the pieces of the Antique Arms & Armory are the first pieces of equipment to hit the power ceiling, with each of them having 200 power. However, they also have drawback effects (most notably being Breakable Weapons) that make them Awesome, but Impractical. But then again, the stuff you can dig up at the bottom of the sea are all Infinity Plus One Swords, as are the pieces of the Legendary Regalia (old, powerful artifacts that have a connection to your class). So there are at least three examples here.
Parodied in the Slime Tube with 1950s clothing and toys that are nonetheless extremely powerful.
In Star Control II, the massive galaxy-dominating battleship was a repurposed artifact from The Precursors; most of the ultra-powerful devices are Precursor in origin.
Chrono Trigger gear from 65,000,000 BC is better than most gear from the present, the middle ages, or even from the future. Though the game is not linear about this, following the storyline rather than specific timelines. That said, the trope Zig-Zags. For the most part, a lot of great gear can be found in the Atlantis equivalent era, which is in the future of 65,000,000 BC but the past relative to you, and some of the best gear can be made in the present once you acquire the appropriate materials, suggesting it's less that Older Is Better and more the past had better resources available.
In Shores of Hazeron, a 4X indie MMO, the galaxy was effectively ruled by the Toucans, a vast player-owned and populated empire, whose ships were beautifully designed and ridiculously powerful - they were one of the few empires with the resources to field Tech level 32 ships. When the Toucans collectively left, their ships became very valuable - players would plunder their abandoned planets and spacedocks to try and claim the ships and recover their design discs.
In Mass Effect 3, the Prothean Particle Rifle will continuously fire until it overheats, at which point one has to wait until it cools down to fire, just like the guns in the first game. It seems the Protheans never thought of, (or disliked), using disposable heat-sinks as ammo. It was explicitely stated to be a design chosen due to logistic problems.
In Zork, one of the items you can find is an elvish sword "of great antiquity." Why does it glow when enemies are near, and still cut like the best blade you can find today? Because it's of great antiquity, that's why!
The Fallout series comes pretty close to realism on this issue. After the nuclear war that almost wiped out civilization, pre-War technology (plasma rifles, power armor, and so forth) is highly sought-after and usually much better than what you'll find in the hands of raiders and psychos. But it's not the technology that's been lost so much as the means to produce it—hard to make power armor when you don't have access to anything more sophisticated than a hammer. When factions get large enough and powerful enough to build new technology, it's usually on par with the pre-War stuff.
Kathrena: "Flintlocke, I don't know if this quest you found for the ultimate goblin engineered weapon is legitimate. It's written in crayon."
Flintlocke: "ANCIENT crayon!"
Yehuda Moon is a very traditional cyclists, to the point where he almost worships the luddite-centric Lauderblumenthal Leaflet.
In one episode of Thundercats, Mumm-Ra is poking around in disguise by a (you guessed it) ancient pyramid. He's trying to open the lock on the door, and muses, "Ah, a very ancient lock design, unknown on Third Earth for a thousand years. Unknown, that is, except to one who has lived for a thousand years!"
Mumm-Ra's transformation sequence implies that, despite being a thousand years old, he gets his powers from statues called the "Ancient Spirits of Evil" who are even older.
Both averted in Real Life or Truth in Television depending on the technology involved. As technology has marched on one of the most significant differences has been the change from human labor being cheap and materials being expensive to materials being cheap and human labor being expensive. When metal, fabrics and polymers were just this side of Unobtainium the consumer would not only want something that could last, but also something that could be easily repaired. When labourers were literally a dime a dozen and worked 18 hour shifts it was simple to provide all those little things that would ensure good quality. Today technology has allowed materials like aluminum and plastics to replace more durable wood and steel and also replaced hand craftsmanship with cheap mass fabrication.
This has resulted in what is popularly termed a "throw away culture" where it is in fact more efficient to mass produce something and then throw it away after a short period of time than to spend the effort to produce something that lasts.
Is most often averted where new materials have allowed for massive increases in reliability or strength like solid state electronics or anything that goes into an automotive drivetrain.
Wine and spirits improve with age, at least according to the connoisseurs who drink them. However, after enough time they become undrinkable. Wine will decay into vinegar (literally "sour wine").
According to many musicians, the sound produced by cord instruments takes on a noticeably different timbre if they were constructed a very long time ago. The aging of the wood changes the dampening profile of the resonating chamber. This is one reason Stradivarius violins are so sought-after: Not only was Antonio Stradivari a highly skilled craftsman, but his violins are now over three centuries old. Additionally, it is thought that Stradivari's primary source of material for his more famous violins may have been cold-preserved wood from ruins that were already at least hundreds of years old, making this a real-life Exaggerated Trope.
Analysis of Stradivarius violins' output has shown that the modern violins that most closely match the wave form and envelope of those ancient instruments are mass-produced student models. Modern artisan violins, held to be the finest currently produced, have very different outputs.
Newer technology often depends on certain assumptions and can be ineffective or even useless outside of that context. This can result in having "obsolete" technology used in places where new technology fares poorly or kept around as a backup. See Rock Beats Laser.
The US military phased out pack animals in the 1950s, only to be reminded that wheels are poorly suited to the rugged terrain found in areas of Afghanistan. In 2004, the US Army printed Special Forces Use of Pack Animals, which "captures some of the expertise and techniques that have been lost...over the last 50 years."
The same happened back in WWII. Cavalry was among the Soviet troops who caused most troubles to Germans on the early stage after control and logistics were lost. Because in short term they needed only machinegun/rifle ammo and food for men, and horses are good for bad terrain. In comparison, Soviet heavy tanks were by far the most powerful of their time, but without directions and supply got reduced to light fortifications lonely holding a tiny spot until out of shells — at best.
This is why spacecraft always use laughably outdated computer hardware and software for mission-critical systems. Familiarity and reliability become far more important than raw power when a computer is thousands or millions of miles away from the nearest technical support.
Guitarists still prefer tube amplifiers over transistor amplifiers because of the warmer and more organic output of the tube amp.
The vinyl LP record is still preferred over compact disks and other binary musical formats by connoisseurs (although the Loudness War carries equal blame).
Many photographers never use the full automatic mode when transitioning from film camera to digital. They achieve better results on manual mode - they are used to it and can use it to obtain best results. They also favor their extant old lenses, which usually are metal and glass, over more modern all-plastic lenses, which are lighter but less robust.
Full automatics usually are set to "discernible in most possible cases" which by definition is suboptimal for specific cases, so even an operator with small experience can do better. People who worked with a film camera tend to at least understand what aperture, shutter and focal depth do, even if the sensor is not the same. While people who come from cellphone cams / webcams and other "soapboxes" with pinprick aperture didn't see the differences obvious with any halfway good lenses and usually need a lot of experiments to "feel" the optics.
A lot of times, people will hold on to antiques for this very reason. Some feel that antiques are better made (older cars or refrigerators will all metal parts are more durable than modern plastic,) look better (houses are built with brick or wooden logs to give it a more "rustic" feel) or more versatile (an old wind-up alarm clock or typewriter won't cause as much of a headache during a power outage.)
This trope actually held perfectly true for any number of things for a period directly after the fall of the Roman Empire. A quick study of Medieval architecture will show that Medieval builders had a preference for building on the foundations of or simply modifying old Roman buildings because Roman engineering was simply better. Part of this was a single Lost Technology: concrete.
Modernist architecture is universally considered to be inferior to that of the past centuries because of practical problems the Modernist buildings tend to have: Modernist buildings often suffer from sick building syndrome, excessive molding, poor ventilation, mildew issues, water seeping in, heating issues, and also Moderist buildings tend to weather easily; that because of "revolutionary" construction techniques and features like flat roofs with no eaves combined with cost-cutting. Especially Le Corbusier buildings tend to be Awesome, but Impractical. In Germany, Altbauten (pre-WWII buildings) are favoured over Neubauten (post-WWII buildings). Bilingual Bonus applies to the band name Einstürzende Neubauten.
Although taste is subjective, many think modern architecture and decor are cosmetically inferior to more traditional forms. A common critique is that modern decor does not blend well with non-modern elements or messes, so you will have to buy all modern furniture and always keep a tidy home.
Wood quality often works this way for many reasons. Primarily it is because the older a tree is the harder its wood usually is, Olive trees for example can grow rather quickly under the right conditions but the wood takes quite a bit longer to become usable. The second part of this is that in modern times tree farming has become a popular alternative to conventional logging. Trees grown this way are of species that grow quickly in nature which is accelerated even more at a farm this growth rate makes the wood fairly soft. Lastly a lot of the best quality trees for wood have gone extinct or become prohibitively rare, or are protected. For example it used to be common to use the chestnut wood of everything in the US because it was plentiful, strong, and cosmetically appealing, however invasive beetles have now nearly obliterated american chestnut forests.
Frequently encountered in software. There can be numerous reasons behind this - featuritis could render a more recent version impractical compared to an earlier one that was deft and focused in its design, or perhaps the developers behind the original software moved on and the quality of future versions suffered as a result of their design philosophies clashing with that of new staff in charge of a project, or a drastic change in design direction makes transferring to a new version more of a hassle than it's worth, sometimes newest versions actually cut useful features because of perceived unpopularity... For a well-known example, remember how many people stuck with XP when Vista was released, due to the latter's notoriously slow technical performance and Useful Uselessnote until they were improved in W7, at least. Aero features.
Subverted in Retrofuturists and followers of the Raygun Gothic Styles. They prefer older depictions of the future.