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Cataclysm Backstory

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"First there was the collapse of civilization... anarchy, genocide, starvation... then we got The Plague."

Long ago in the kingdom of Troperia, a great disaster swept through the land. Many lives were lost and, to this day, no one knows what caused the event that has come to be known only as the Cataclysm. Some say that the members of an ancient society with mysterious, unknown goals were behind it. Others say that the powers that govern the people are hiding something. No one is completely sure how or why the Cataclysm came to pass, but (almost) all can agree: the world would be better off if the Cataclysm never came to repeat itself...

... A typical use of the Cataclysm Backstory trope.

Often used in Fantasy works, a Cataclysm Backstory is a trope that can easily set up the events of a story, or possibly the entire setting itself. It's very common in dystopia works and often used in stories that take place After the End. Cataclysm Backstory can be used in many different ways. It can sometimes provide a touch of mystery to any work, only being mentioned every now and then and possibly kept unexplained until much later in the story (if it's ever explained at all). If done well, the Cataclysm Backstory in question will be deeply tied in with the events of the plot and explained in detail. If done poorly, it will be used as an easy way of filling any given Plot Hole (i.e. Where did that Humongous Mecha come from? It was revealed during the Cataclysm). It can also explain bits of technology more advanced than the general cultural level of the society depicted; whatever it was, it was something the survived the Cataclysm.

Contrast First-Episode Twist. Compare Great Offscreen War.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In AKIRA, the Fall of Tokyo, triggered by the awakening of the title character's incredible psionic abilities.
  • The Heaven's Fall disaster as a result of the Great Offscreen War 15 years prior in Aldnoah.Zero sets up for the current state of the world.
  • The Big O. Forty years earlier an unknown disaster wiped out human civilization. Only those within the main city and its surrounding landscape remain, but none can remember what happened on that day. It's heavily implied that nothing existed before that point; that everyone is either a robot or a clone, what few "memories" remain are simulated, and the city itself is an artificial construct.
  • Cowboy Bebop has the Gate Disaster, which left Earth a ruin that is constantly bombarded by asteroids. Several one-off characters are connected to it, as well as Faye.
  • Deadman Wonderland has the Great Tokyo Earthquake, also known as the Red Hole, a massive 11.4 quake that occurred on April 4th, 2014. It caused most of Tokyo to sink, with 148,000 people dead or missing, and a few were granted Branches of Sin. In 2017, the titular prison/amusement park was built to bring in tourists as part of the Tokyo Recovery Project. In reality, the earthquake was Shiro/the Wretched Egg's failed attempt to kill herself.
  • Demon City Shinjuku. Levih Rah kills his opponent Genichirou and causes an earthquake, devastating the Shinjuku area of Tokyo and leaving it a demon-haunted ruin. Ten years later Genichirou's son, Kyouya Izayoi, must enter Shinjuku and stop Levih Rah from performing a ritual that will allow the demons to conquer the rest of Tokyo and the Earth.
  • Guilty Crown has Lost Christmas, a well-done case where the Apocalypse Virus was released. The first two minutes after the opening of episode one are used to explain how Lost Christmas caused Japan to clamor for help from outside governments in order to keep the virus under control, sacrificing their independence in exchange for stability and setting up the events of the main series ten years later. It goes a lot deeper than that, though. Episode 11 reveals that a small group of people intentionally released the virus.
  • In Kubera, all the sura clans suddenly went to war with the gods around the time Leez was born. Entire planets were destroyed and Halfs got caught up in emotional resonance and went berserk as a result. Bonus points for the event actually being referred to as the Cataclysm.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion gives us Second Impact, a disaster which destroyed Antarctica, caused worldwide flooding and wars, and ended up killing off half of mankind. It's attributed to a meteorite hitting Antarctica, but it was actually caused by Seele experimenting with and waking Adam, who lay dormant there. By the time the story starts, humanity is just starting to return to normal.
  • PandoraHearts has the Tragedy of Sablier: a hundred years ago, the former capital was thrown into the Abyss by the Baskervilles. In present time, the Baskervilles return and send the main character, Oz, into the Abyss for a crime he knows nothing of, prompting him to investigate their true identity. As it turns out, most of the cast is closely related to the Tragedy. It has a lot to do with Time Travel. The whole truth is eventually revealed via several chapters of flashbacks.
  • The Hydrus Beta supernova shockwave that very nearly wiped out humanity 200 years ago in Stellvia of the Universe.
  • The Tekkaman Blade II OVA has the Prague Black September, a revolt of "Primary Tekkamen" (humans partially transformed by the alien Radam to gain armored bodies but not offensive powers; they were fighting discrimination from "normal" humans) that was put down with the use of nuclear weapons. Only one major character lacks ties to the event, and one character has frequent flashbacks to the burning city. Also, it happened in the wake of an alien invasion that nearly wiped out humanity.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds takes place after a reactor malfunction caused a disaster called "Zero Reverse", which destroyed half of Domino City and awoke the Earthbound Gods.

    Comic Books 
  • Reyn has the aptly titled Great Cataclysm, a devastating event that nearly destroyed all of humanity. Issue 9 fully explains how the Cataclysm started, and that Brother M'Thall caused it.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Code Geass Megiddo has Operation Nero, also known as the Devastation of Japan. Realizing they're losing the war and to ensure the territory won't fall into enemy hands, Prince Schneizel orders all the reserves of Sakuradite running underneath Area 11 to be detonated. This results in a series of explosions, giant earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions before one last explosion engulfs the entire archipelago. 130 million people from both sides are killed, Japan is rendered an uninhabitable wasteland, and most of the Japanese race is wiped out. And all of this happens in the first chapter. The story itself takes place eight years later.
  • This is the basis of Chains of Reality's backstory: Something was corrupting the original reality where the prototypes lived in, and it got so bad, Proto-Lincoln had no choice but to destroy said reality and create a whole new one from scratch.

  • Peter Greenaway's Mockumentary The Falls is about how people were changed by the "Violent Unknown Event".

  • The third book of the Divergent series reveals that there were two of these. The first was an unknown cataclysm that decimated parts of the world (the Western Coast might have became a wasteland, as the terrain is said to be too rough to cross over). The second was the Purity War, the result of a disastrous attempt to correct human genes. The US government selected several cities in the Midwest as testing grounds to return back people the way they were. These cities include Chicago, which was walled off and had its society broken down into the five virtue-based factions.
  • In N. R. Eccles-Smith's High Fantasy series, Dragon Calling, the very first Manna Eruption wiped out half the continent of Koventh. The southern half, Valadae, was spared due to the Beacon Thrones being built in order to thwart the disruption of manna and re-stabilise its flow. One of the main driving plots of the series is the threat of the Manna Eruption re-igniting.
  • In the Dragonlance universe, the Cataclysm was caused by the gods sending a "burning mountain" to destroy the kingdom of Istar in retribution for its Kingpriest trying to become a God-Emperor. There isn't even land where Istar once was, just the "Blood Sea" (though the red color is due to soil, not blood), and geographic changes were felt all over the continent of Ansalon. See the Tabletop Games folder for more detail.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: The magical Cataclysm that occurred 3,000 years in the past of the main story is alluded to in several places but not explored in detail until the "Mage Wars" trilogy, which establishes the necessary details to seed the plot for the "Mage Storms", which involves the return of said Cataclysm.
  • Characters in the early books of The History of the Galaxy series wonder how the "Sleeve of Emptiness"— a large stretch of space without any visible stars— formed. Later expeditions to the region discover that the area used to be the home of several starfaring races. Facing attack by the non-sapient "Forerunners," some of these cultures chose to flee. The Delphons, however, chose to fight because they knew that, unless they were stopped, the Forerunners would consume all planets in their path, including those with only primitive life. Their only weapon was the ability to trigger a nova-like explosion in their stars when a Forerunner swarm approached. By the time the swarm was finally stopped, the Delphons had detonated all of their stars and went extinct along with the Forerunners.
  • The Hunger Games: We never really find out what killed most of humanity and brought about the founding of Panem (though there seem to be lingering environmental consequences). We gradually learn a bit more about the more recent "Dark Days" when the Districts rose in (unsuccessful) rebellion against the Capitol, resulting in the institution of the Hunger Games.
  • The nuclear catastrophe in Tatyana Tolstaya's novel Kys, which had set the world into a weird state the inhabitants feel natural.
  • There are several Cataclysms in the background of The Lord of the Rings, most notably the sinkings of Beleriand and Númenor, which led to the decline of the Elves and the Dúnedain respectively.
  • The Maze Runner has the Flare, a combination of two distinct events that happened in close succession, as explained in The Kill Order prequel. The first was a natural disaster: unpredictable solar radiation melted the polar icecaps, sinking parts of the world (including New York) and turning the tropics into deserts. The second was a man-made disaster: some scientists suggested killing off half of the world's population using a virus, so there would be less people to deal with. Unfortunately, the virus mutated into a Hate Plague that decimated what was left of humanity, with only a couple hundreds of people being immune to them.
  • The Sixty Minute War in Mortal Engines.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko's Outpost Shared Universe is focused on the world of Centrum, formerly the center of an advanced interstellar civilization with portals linking many worlds, including Earth. Then a genetically-engineered bacterium was unleashed on Centrum that consumed all petroleum and petroleum-based products (including plastics), collapsing their civilization and throwing it back to the level of the early-to-mid 20th century. And the bacterium is still around, preventing oil and plastics from being imported from other worlds. Fortunately, the bacterium doesn't appear to be able to survive portal travel, so the "plague" is limited to Centrum.
  • In The Precipice, a hail of meteors created a number of large craters fifty years before the story proper; it is speculated that this was the source of superpowers, and it is mentioned that millions died, but in the decades since, the world has settled into a kind of normalcy.
  • The Seven Realms Series gives us The Breaking. At first kept very ambiguous, it's eventually explained (in much detail) that many millennia ago, the Demon King kidnapped Queen Hanalea and subsequently performed an act of dark magic that caused a series of natural disasters to sweep the whole of the Seven Realms. Unluckily for him, Hanalea eventually brought him down. Or so the people come to believe... Anyway, fast forward a thousand years, and street rat Han Alister gets a hold of the Demon King's amulet.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The Doom of Valyria. The greatest civilization in the Known World was destroyed in a single day when the ground shook, the hills exploded, and the lakes turned to acid, turning the Valyrian peninsula into an archipelago. Except for the Targaryens — who left Valyria a dozen years before upon receiving a vision of the cataclysm — the dragonlords were killed, and the knowledge of the vast majority of Valyrian technology was lost. Perhaps the greatest impact, however, was the fall of the Valyrian Freehold, plunging Essos into a century of war that it has not gotten over completely. Valyria is still uninhabitable; it is rumored to be a hotbed of demons and other things men were not meant to know.
    • Before the Doom of Valyria, there was the Long Night. Legends in Westeros told that, during a period of neverending night lasting a generation, the Others invaded Westeros, forcing the First Men and the Children of the Forest to band together and repel them. The Wall was originally built to prevent another invasion, with the institution of the Night's Watch being created to monitor them, but it has been thousands of years since then that most people have dismissed the Long Night as a folktale. The World of Ice & Fire reveals that some cultures in Essos have variations of the same story, suggesting that the cataclysm was worldwide and not limited to Westeros.
  • Vladimir Vasilyev's The Treasure of the Kapitana takes place eight centuries after something called the Catastrophe. Despite the fact that the people of the world know exactly when it took place (they restarted the calendar to mark the event), they have no idea what wiped out the Ancients and threw civilization back. By the time of the events of the book, the new Middle Ages have arisen. The ending makes vague references that it was the lack of magic that resulted in the Catastrophe but fails to reveal anything of consequence. For some strange reason, the new civilization refers to places and nations using their ancient names, usually dating back to Greco-Roman times. This can confuse some readers wondering what the hell the Euxine Sea is (it's what the Greeks called the Black Sea, and the Brits continued to use the Greek name until the 18th century).
  • The Wheel of Time has the Breaking of the World about 3,000 years before the bulk of the series begins, which finally pushed civilisation from advanced to pseudo-medieval.
  • The Witcher series had the Conjunction of the Spheres, which occurred several centuries prior to the saga and brought hordes of chtonic monsters into the world, where they thrived on a healthy human diet. The eponymous witchers (superhuman monster hunters) were invented to protect the local humanity from these monsters, though they've been so efficient over the centuries that their existence is almost obsolete by the time the books takes place, as there are very few monsters for them left to hunt.
  • In Wings of Fire, documents are dated by how many years it's been since the Scorching, before which "scavengers [humans] swarmed all over the continent". Given that dragons are now the dominant species, whatever the Scorching was must have been pretty devastating.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Defiance is defined by two back-to-back cataclysms. First was the Pale Wars, a global conflict between the humans and the Votans-alien colonists who came here after their home system was destroyed (and were just as surprised to find humans here as we were of their arrival)-followed by the Arkfall: the total destruction of the Votan fleet orbiting Earth, which caused the Votan Terraforming technology to go out of control, transforming the entire planet into a hostile blend of Earth and the various Votan planets, and the creation of mutant species like the Hellbugs, forcing both sides to call a ceasefire.
  • Doctor Who: The new series has the Last Great Time War. The Doctor's emotional scars are behind much of their character development, and many episodes revolve around the after effects of the War (displaced civilizations, occasional surviving Daleks, etc.).
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The sinking of Beleriand is briefly shown in the Opening Monologue. Arondir and Adar both talk about being from the long-lost Beleriand.
  • Revolution: The premise of the story is that a worldwide blackout occurred and stays in effect for 15 years. As the first season goes on, more on the backstory is revealed. The power was shut down by electricity absorbing nanites that were created by Rachel Matheson and Ben Matheson. Randall Flynn, representative of the Department of Defense, was happy to fund their project. From a secret location in Colorado known as the Tower, Randall activated the nanites in Afghanistan in response to his son's death. Unfortunately, the nanites got out of control and spread throughout the world. Aaron Pittman is able to find out that the nanites did not go out of control by accident. It seems that someone deliberately programmed them to spread out of Afghanistan, but there is no way of knowing who could have done that and why.
  • In season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery, the titular starship arrives in the year 3189 (having traveled forward from 2258) and our heroes learn that galactic civilization (including The Federation) largely collapsed after a cataclysm called The Burn destroyed millions of warp-capable starships throughout the galaxy.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look had a series of game-show skits set in the post-cataclysmic Crapsack World that remains after "the event". The details are left sketchy for added humor (and horror), but the contestant and viewers are continually advised to "remain indoors" and to do their best not to think about "the event".

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Fall of Man in Abrahamic faith. Also The Great Flood.
  • In Aztec Mythology, the world has ended four times since the dawn of creation. In each one, a different God served as the sun and they had a hand in wrecking things. There's also some variation depending on which version you follow.
    • The first sun (Tezcatlipoca). This world was populated by giants and the sun was either black or only half-formed, giving off half as much light as the others. A sibling rivalry erupted between Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, culminating in the latter knocking the sun from the sky with a club. Tezcatlipoca, enraged, either became a giant jaguar or called down a rain of them to eat everyone and everything.
    • The second sun (Quetzalcoatl). This is where normal humans first appeared, but since Tezcatlipoca was still pissed at Quetzalcoatl, he knocked him out of the sky, causing a huge hurricane that destroyed the world. Humans had to turn into monkeys to survive. In another version, Tezcatlipoca turned humanity into monkeys after they became less and less respectful toward the gods, and Quetzalcoatl, who still loved his flawed humans, blew them all away with a hurricane.
    • The third sun (Tlaloc). Things went well until Tezcatlipoca seduced Tlaloc's first wife, the flower goddess Xochiquetzal. Furious, he refused to let it rain. Then, either because of the desperate prayers of mankind or Quetzalcoatl overthrowing him, he spitefully brought down a rain of fire, burning the world to ash.
    • The fourth sun (Chalchiuhtlicue). While she was very loving toward humanity, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl were jealous of her. They either knocked her out of the sky, or Tezcatlipoca accused her of only pretending to love humanity so they would worship her and she was so hurt that she cried blood for the next 52 years. Either way, the world ended in a Great Flood.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In Blades in the Dark, about 850 years ago, the old world was shattered by an unspecified cataclysm that made it impossible for spirits of the deceased to pass on to the afterlife, creating a staggering number of ghosts. It had also caused continent-shattering earthquakes across Akoros, turned the ocean water into black ink, released colossal leviathans into the seas, and, most importantly, almost extinguished the sun, plunging the world into a permanent darkness.
  • Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: The continent of Tal'Dorei is defined by three devastating wars that ended countless civilizations:
    • The first is called "the Calamity," a war referenced all throughout Critical Role proper that occurred eight hundred years before the setting's present. Basically, an arms race between evil gods and wizards let to a third of humanity being destroyed, so the good gods stopped the war by creating a huge gate that kept any gods from traveling into the world of mortals. Now no god, evil or good, can directly interfere in the affairs of mortals anywhere in the world due to this "Divergence," thus explaining why gods don't solve problems with a Deus ex Machina in games in the setting.
    • The second is the Scattered War, a continental war between elves and men that doesn't have as large of an influence on the web-show. It mainly involves an incredibly brutal line of tyrant kings that explain why Tal'Dorei is in the process of becoming a republic, rather than your typical fantasy monarchy.
    • The third is actually an event depicted in Critical Role in from Episode 39 onwards. Basically, a group of powerful villains begin to ravage the cities and towns of Tal'Dorei, creating a lot of fresh ruins and abandoned dungeons for players to explore in a Tal'Dorei campaign.
  • Dragonlance has the Cataclysm, which went down when the Kingpriest of Istar demanded to be given godlike powers to eradicate evil from the world (more specifically, to genocide the ogre races and relocate the dwarves and kender). The gods were not pleased, and punished him by wiping the city of Istar off the face of Krynn, creating what has since been called the Blood Sea of Istar due to the thick red soil churned up by the sea creating a blood-like appearance; as well as splitting apart the Kingdom of Ergoth, messing life up for several cities (one inland city found itself becoming a coastal city because of a new inland sea, and a port city found itself becoming an inland city surrounded by plains), and outright destroying several more cities including Xak Tsarosk.
  • The Day of Mourning that played a big part in ending the Last War in Eberron. No one knows what caused it or which of the Five Nations was responsible, but we know it wiped Cyre off the map and rendered it an inhospitable wasteland known as the Mournland.
  • Exalted has two consecutive ones in the form of the Great Contagion (wiped out the majority of all life) and Balorian Crusade (dissolved a significant portion of the world.
    • Autochthonia has a relatively small scale version in the destruction of the patropolis Ixut, which kickstarted the Elemental War.
  • Greyhawk has the Twin Cataclysms: the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire.
  • Ironsworn: Starforged: While the nature varies by game, the Forge's people are descended from refugees that escaped a "cataclysm." Despite occurring two centuries ago, pre-cataclysm times loom over the Forge.
  • Stars Without Number has the Scream, a massive pulse of metadimensional energy from the Perseus Veil that destroyed the jump gates, killed most psychics, and left the few remaining homicidally insane.

    • The "Great Cataclysm" that caused Mata Nui to fall into a coma was the result of Makuta Teridax infecting Mata Nui with a virus, and then putting all the Matoran in Metru Nui (the "brain" of Mata Nui) into memory-wiping stasis spheres. This caused the Great Spirit Robot to partially shut down (basically suffering a stroke) and crash into Aqua Magna. The islands of Mata Nui and Voya Nui were formed on its surface.
    • The Great Spirit Robot itself was built as a response to the Shattering, in which a war over energized protodermis caused Spherus Magna to split into three planetoids. Mata Nui's mission was to travel the universe and learn knowledge that would help repair the planet and prevent it from happening again. 100,000 years later, Bara Magna is a desert wasteland (though people who still remember the Shattering are still around, and there's hardly any mention of younger generations).

    Video Games 
  • Many of the plotlines in the Ace Combat series can be traced back to the Ulysses 1994XF04 asteroid impact in 1999. Most of the gigantic superweapons involved in later Strangereal wars (Usean Stonehenge, Erusian Megalith, Estovakian Chandelier) were originally built to protect their respective nations from Ulysses' fragments, and at least two conflicts (Usean and Anean Continental Wars) were immediate consequences of the devastation caused by the debris that did get through. Additionally, the Osean-Yuktobanian space station Arkbird from Ace Combat 5 was originally commissioned to clean up the Ulysses debris still floating in orbit.
  • Battle for Wesnoth: The campaign of Under the Burning Suns takes place long after a cataclysmic event has turned a good portion of the world to a desert. The previously forest-dwelling elves now live amongst the sands, eking out a meager existence. It's later revealed that the cause of the cataclysm starts during an age of prosperity, a powerful magic ritual was used to create a second sun so the days would be longer to diminish the power of evil creatures in the world. The world fell into decadence and when an attempt was made to raise a third sun it backfired horribly, crashing into Wesnoth.
  • The Black Beast rampaging all over the world in BlazBlue.
  • Children of a Dead Earth has The Cataclysm, a conflict marked by weaponized geoengineering which rendered Earth uninhabitable and reduced the human population so much that, over 200 years later, there are still fewer than two billion humans across the entire solar system.
  • This is the case in Dark Souls. The First Flame, the source of all fire and light and disparity in the world is on the verge of dying. This is actually the second time this has happened. The first time happened about 1,000 years before the main events of the game, and caused the loss of the two most proactive Lords, Gwyn and Izalith, the complete downfall of the city of Izalith, unleashed demons onto the world and set in motion the events that caused the gods to abandon Anor Londo.
  • Dragon Age:
    • The defilement of the Golden City by Tevinter Magisters, which gave rise to the First Blight and placed the future generations into constant danger of a Darkspawn invasion. At least, so the Chantry would have us believe. Some calamity instigated the Darkspawn, but the truth has been lost to time.
    • According to the sequels, the Chantry's version is actually partly true, but the Tevinter Magisters who were supposedly the ones who corrupted the Golden City (giving rise to the Darkspawn) claim that they found the city already corrupted.
    • There's also the fall of Arlathan, the ancient civilisation of the elves before the humans enslaved them. This is thought to be the result of Fen'Harel, a trickster god known as the Dread Wolf, sealing away the other elven gods. The third game drops several hints as to what really happened before spelling it out in Trespasser. Solas, who IS Fen'Harel, created the Veil itself to imprison the other gods (bar the almost-dead Mythal) because they were a threat to the world.
  • Endless Space and its sequel take place long after the titular Abusive Precursors engaged in the Dust Wars, a series of conflicts which rendered the Endless largely extinct. Many of the younger races such as the Crawlers and Vaulters were nearly wiped out as collateral damage and many still bear scars, mental and physical, to remind them.
  • Fallout takes place in the aftermath of the Great War, a nuclear apocalypse that created the game's Scavenger World.
  • The Fall of Cocoon that took place in the end of Final Fantasy XIII shapes the world to a great extent in Final Fantasy XIII-2.
  • The Shadowbringers expansion to Final Fantasy XIV reveals several factors that caused the original world to be split into multiple shards. Ages ago, the world was suffering from a cataclysmic event caused by a sound from an unknown source. Said sound caused monsters to appear and the world itself suffered from a doomsday scenario where the skies were filled with falling meteors, the land tearing itself apart, and the seas were washed in blood. The ancients sacrificed half of their number to summon Zodiark and have him fix everything. Other ancients didn't like the idea of a god being the will of the planet, so they summoned Hydaelyn to counter him. Hydaelyn won and split the world into fourteen alternate worlds in order to bind Zodiark. The Endwalker expansion reveals where the world ending sound came from and is threatening the current world with it once more.
  • Traveling through Teyvat in Genshin Impact will give hints about a war that occurred 500 years ago that destroyed a kingdom that was somehow different from the ones in Teyvat. Chapter 1, Act IV eventually reveals that this kingdom was known as Khaenri'ah, a nation so technologically advanced despite not being protected by any gods that its people were on equal footing with the gods who ruled Teyvat from Celestia. By the time Khaenri'ah was obliterated, its people were turned into monsters who would become the Abyss Order, several gods were killed in battle (with many others traumatized), and the Traveler, who came to that world with his/her sibling, was sealed away until the beginning of the game.
  • The world of Girls' Frontline is recovering from a double-whammy of a toxic environmental disaster, and World War III. Sometime in the 2030s, a military skirmish resulted in the release of the the physics-defying Collapse Fluid from a Precursor facility near the equator, which circulated into the upper atmosphere, contaminating and rendering uninhabitable most of the world around the equator. In the massive humanitarian crisis and rush to evacuate the affected areas, old political and military borders dissolved, and a new world with new superpowers and a drastically reduced population emerged. The loss of habitable land around the equator lead to hostilities over control of uncontaminated land, and this lead to a third World War. In the wake of these events, the reduced human population required a solution for labor if society was to continue, and so advanced robotics were developed, and over time improvements made so that these new "Dolls" could serve not just in labor, but in the military and eventually work civilian "jobs", leading to the game's main premise of Cute Robot Girls.
  • The Crusades in Guilty Gear, a bloody altercation wherein the Gears, led by the Commander Gear Justice, Turned Against Their Masters and set forth to Kill All Humans. Beginning in the year 2074 with Justice's revolt, the war lasted over a century, only finally ending in 2175 when the Holy Order sealed away Justice in an extradimensional prison. It's unknown how widespread the damage was, but America—the country responsible for starting the Gear Project—has fallen into ruin and is now simply known as A Country (Sol's stage in the original game is that of a ruined New York City, complete with the severed head of the Statue of Liberty), London was once at risk of being razed by a Megadeth-class Gear called Hydra, and, in one of the very first acts of war, the entire country of Japan was obliterated, with the surviving Japanese being relegated to colonies and classified as "national treasures." What's worse, there exists a timeline where I-No goes back in time and manipulates events at a whim, leading to the death of Ky Kiske at the Battle of Rome in 2173. This is treated as a worldwide Despair Event Horizon and causes the Crusades to extend at least into 2183, with Justice's daughter Dizzy taking charge of the Gears in her fallen mother's place. It's implied the fallout here is much, much worse.
  • The Silence serves as this in Heroes of Might and Magic I-III and Might and Magic VI-VIII. In the Heroes series, it is a Cryptic Background Reference to the point that it isn't even explicitly indicated to be this trope, while the Might & Magic games goes into more detail, revealing early on what the Silence was (the colonial masters of the planet, the Ancients, withdrew for unknown reasons, and the loss of inter-planetary travel lead to a collapse of high-technological civilization), and in the end-games why it happened (the Kreegan attack on the Ancient civilization damaged Ancient infrastructure across the local galactic arm, leading to a loss of contact with many of their colonies. The Ancients would have rebuilt the links, except they're still busy fighting the Kreegan).
  • The Keyblade War from Kingdom Hearts. Apart from anything else, the numerous tiny and largely cut off from one another worlds the series takes place on used to all be one planet prior to the War.
  • In the Trails Series, an event known as the "Great Collapse" took place 1,200 years ago, wiping out the ancient Zemurian Civilization and leaving a lot of highly advanced technology behind. This Lost Technology is the main reason why the "Orbal Revolution" happened, advancing the technology from a Medieval to Steampunk level.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • Hinted at in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and, by extension, the rest of the Zelda series to which it is a prequel. The cataclysm in question was invasion by demons, and before it, there was a civilization of sapient robots with technology to put modern Earth to shame. After it, the setting Medieval European Fantasy with a bit of Lost Technology scattered here and there, which then becomes the status quo for thousands of years.
    • Played with in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The game's opening tells of a "Legendary Kingdom" that fell to a great evil - but what fate eventually befell it, no one knows. It turns out that the island cities of the Great Sea are the descendants of that doomed kingdom - but no one even remembers the cataclysm as a historical event, only as a legend.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild takes place 100 years after Calamity Ganon ravaged the land. The Hylians knew it was coming and tried their best to prepare for it, but the Calamity took over the mechanical army they'd unearthed and turned it against them. The Kingdom of Hyrule is all but a non-entity, with only a few scattered villages remaining. The only thing that stopped Ganon from wiping out everything was Princess Zelda sealing him in Hyrule Castle, which she continues to do until the game starts, but she can't keep it up forever...
  • The Collapse, a oft-mentioned but never-explained cataclysm that separates The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.
  • Mars: War Logs and its sequel The Technomancer both take place on Mars 70 years after its colonies were cut off from Earth in an event known as "The Turmoil." The Turmoil also made the Martian Atmosphere incapable of filtering out solar radiation.
  • Whatever destroyed the Prothean civilization in Mass Effect. Actually, an invasion by the extragalactic genocidal race of giant sentient machines known as the Reapers. And this is far from the first time they've done this.
  • The Elf Wars, set between the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero series. The conflict lasts only four years, but the casualties that are tallied reach up to approximately 60% humans and 90% Reploids.
  • In the expansion of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, it's revealed that the planet called Alpha Centauri/Chiron is actually an ancient experiment on planetary-scale artificial sentience using genetically-engineered ecosystems called "Manifold Six", created by a race of Precursors. 100 million years ago, another Manifold, Tau Ceti, gained planet-wide sentience (called "Flowering") resulting in a massive psionic disruption which annihilated three systems and broke the back of the Progenitor civilization. The surviving aliens have split into two factions, the Manifold Caretakers who are determined to locate and protect the remaining Manifolds so they remain in their dormant state, and the Manifold Usurpers who apparently didn't learn their lesson and are trying to find another Manifold and activate it so they can achieve godhood. Their views are summed up in these quotes:
    "Risks of Flowering: considerable. But rewards of godhood: who can measure?" — Usurper Judaa Marr, Courage : To Question
    "Tau Ceti Flowering: Horrors visited upon neighboring systems must never be repeated. Therefore: if it means the end of our evolution as a species, so be it." — Caretaker Lular H'minee, Sacrifice : Life
  • Permeates Skies of Arcadia. About a thousand years ago, the world's six Moons suddenly dropped a bunch of meteors on the planet below, pummeling the ancient civilizations into the stone age in an event called the Rains of Destruction. By the start of the game, humanity has only just about recovered to the equivalent of Age of Discovery technology. And there are factions who are trying to make the Rains fall again...
  • The Datacide in Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, during which all of Earth's microprocessors were destroyed by a silicon eating microbe. Mankind managed to rebuild and is now on the technology level of the 1940s.
  • Warcraft's Sundering is this, although the more recent event that is actually called the Cataclysm is not.
  • White Knight Chronicles gives us, well, the Cataclysm. It happened about seventeen years before the start of the story and it's only mentioned a few times in the entire series, but it's the basic explanation for how the Yshrenian Knights and the heroes as babies were revealed. No real explanation is given, but it's heavily implied to be because it was simply time for Emperor Madoras to rear his ugly head again, and for him to be defeated.
  • Bastion takes place in the wake of the Calamity, the accidental detonation of a Fantastic Nuke, that destroyed the city of Caelondia and surrounding lands.
    • The Calamity was already a response to the incredibly destructive war between Caelondia and the Ura fifty years before the game started.
  • Most of the conflicts in Three the Hard Way are indirectly caused by the Great Kaibutsu War that happened 65 years prior to the main story. The Kaibutsu invasion had decimated most of humanity, and after they were defeated, the hero Carolus was crowned king of the new era. This causes a major power imbalance that causes problems in the King's advanced years, as he distributed his power to three vassal lords, who each have very different ideas on how the country should be ruled.

  • Phantomarine: The ocean was cursed - and many islands were flooded and destroyed - in an event called the Fracture, in which Cheth's body was cast down and broken apart.
  • The Wolfman Of Wulvershire takes place in a largely Steampunk, with some fantasy races thrown in. This is because 2000 years before the comic's events, a huge cataclysm involving an unexplained explosion on the moon's surface forced all of the world's Aether, previously freely avaiilable in the air, underground. Now it's mined to power the world's technology.

    Web Original 
  • Ascension Academy: The Dark War was a brutal conflict that only lasted for five years but cost the world over 80% of it's total population to end. The Darkness and it's followers swelled in numbers dramatically after the Darkness was freed, and led by the Generals this army took much of the world. They were a large enough threat that the rest of the world, which had previously been embroidered in a World War, all united against this new threat. And even still they were not enough. It took an act of great sacrifice to finally seal the Darkness away and end this war.
  • Open Blue has two: first was the fall of the Iormunean Imperium 1200 years ago, which is directly responsible for the existence of at least one major power in the setting, and indirectly responsible for another. The second was the more recent Disaster of Nations 3 months ago, which is responsible for the weakening of the world superpowers, and the return of the Pirate Lords to power.
  • Pokémon Legends Neo: Ghetsis takes place forty years after someone fired a rebuilt version of the Ultimate Weapon, unleashing a wave of destruction that caused most Pokémon to go berserk and devastated the majority of the world.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Western civilization had a handful of these, but none have been more prominent than the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D., widely considered the end of the Ancient World.
  • The Toba Catastrophe was one for early humanity. About 75,000 years ago, the Toba supervolcano in Sumatra erupted in one of the largest known eruptions in Earth's history. The Earth was plunged into six to ten years of volcanic winter, and corresponds to a "genetic bottleneck" in human history. It is estimated that only around 26,000 humans survived the event, with genetic evidence suggesting that all humans alive today can be traced to about 1000 breeding pairs who lived during this time. Genetic evidence shows that other species including chimps, orangutans, tigers, and cheetahs suffered similar bottlenecks around this time.
  • The Bronze Age Collapse around 1200 BC saw the near-total collapse of the Mediterranean's major civilizations over the course of a generation or two. The few civilizations that survived were severely diminished and the area didn't recover until the dawn of the Classical Age centuries later. No one knows for sure what caused the collapse but a variety of factors like famine, natural disasters, and raids from mysterious barbarians known as the Sea People are believed to have been among the major causes. Though not as well-known as the fall of the Roman Empire, this collapse was much more sudden and catastrophic for the region. Most myths and legends from the region about a "lost Golden Age" (including the legends of Atlantis) likely stemmed from this collapse.