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The War Just Before

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"15 years ago, there was a war."
Albert Genette, Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War

If a writer needs an easy way to designate heroes and villains, he can place a war in his world's recent backstory, usually within a generation or two. Those on the main characters' side of the recent conflict are the heroes, with old adversaries becoming villains. The peace that the characters enjoy at the beginning of the story is oftentimes tentative at best, as both sides of the old conflict begin straining at their bits, itching to start fighting again, and when war breaks out again, the main characters are swept in a continuation of a conflict their parents were likely a part of.

The War Just Before can also serve as a Meta Origin for any number of things. The main character's fighting skills, the medic's healing powers, new inventions and infrastructure, abandoned military projects, various rivalries and friendships, and even the villain's motivations could all potentially be traced back to a recent war.

To qualify for this trope, the War Just Before must be a significant driving force for at least some of the characters in the present. If it is merely a Great Offscreen War, which is treated as a matter of fact without significance to the present plot, it is not this trope.

Virtually any story set between WWI and WWII will qualify for this trope.

Compare to During the War


Anime & Manga

  • Rurouni Kenshin : In this historical fiction series, the changes of the Meiji Restoration following the Boshin War is the backdrop for the series storyline. Himura Kenshin was a veteran of that war who served on the side of the House of Meiji against the Tokugawa Shogunate, while his Love Interest Kamiya Kaoru's father, the founder of the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu kenjutsu school, died fighting for the government in the subsequent Satsuma Rebellion. The events of the Boshin War also become relevant during the Kyoto (on an ideological scale) and Jinchū Arcs (on a more personal level). The main antagonist of the former story arc, Makoto Shishio, was a fellow Meiji partisan who now seeks to overthrow the current government based on it not living up to his own standards while Enishi Yukishiro seeks retribution on Kenshin for one of his unintended casualties being his sister Tomoe Yukishiro. In addition, two characters who were soldiers for the Tokugawas, Hajime Saito and Uonuma Usui, joined Kenshin and Shishio's groups respectively.
  • The Joi War in Gintama serves as the connection point for Gintoki, Sakamoto, Katsura, and Takasugi, and the results of that war fuel the culture change in Edo and how each of the boys ended up in life. The end of the war happened merly a few years before the series starts, so a lot of the effects are still felt in society and also serve as the fuel for Takasugi's arcs and the Grand Finale.
  • The Ishbalan Civil War in Fullmetal Alchemist, which occurred a several years ago and looms over much of the story, especially after it’s revealed that the Big Bad and his minions orchestrated the whole thing to get a bunch of human sacrifices. Many of the cast members are veterans of the war, lost family in it, or were displaced from their homes by it.
  • Spy X Family: The war between the countries of Westalis and Ostania from occurred ten years before the story starts, but resentment and rage still exists between the two countries. Leading to a tense Cold War between the two, to the point that one major diplomatic failure can result in war starting up again. Serves as a Meta Origin for many of the characters and current conflicts in the story.

Comic Books

Fan Fic

  • I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What?: About forty years before the story starts, Magnyl the Wise, Last True Emperor, died with no heir. As a result, his empire was wracked by an apocalyptic civil war, with the Khannite districts of the north and the Velthian districts of the south clashing over the Central District. After twenty years (during which the invading armies looted all but one of Central's dungeons to death), the war eventually ended with the debilitated ruins of Central left as a kind of buffer zone between the two empires. Much of the actual story is driven by King Peotyr of Central's attempts to restore some portion of his nation's strength without either empire realizing what he's up to and invading again.
  • Sudden Contact has the Citadel races collide with the Koprulu Sector in a violent way. When the sequel Sudden Supremacy rolls around, various grudges and resentments are on the verge of boiling over into another war. The Salarians and Turians are locked in a cold war, the Asari have been disenfranchised from the Council, the Dominion has managed to alienate everyone, and there's general resentment toward the Protoss, though everyone's too terrified of them to try anything. Into all this comes the UED invasion, and the Zerg are still out there somewhere. Truly, it's a mess.

Film - Live-Action

  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Robin Hood (2010), and Robin Hood (2018) all feature the Third Crusade as an explanation for Robin Hood's skill, how he gained some of his Merry Men, and as part of the villains' Evil Plan.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Thor: In the beginning of the film, Odin tells his sons a story about the war Asgard waged against the Frost Giants under his command.note  Peace with the former enemies is broken shortly after, then Thor ventures to Jotunnheim.
    • Thor: The Dark World: Odin describes the war with the Dark Elves under his father's rule. The Asgardians believe that all the elves died, but they reemerge in the present to attack Asgard.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): The war between the Nova Empire and the Kree Empire has just ended before the beginning of the film. However, Ronan has other ideas, being a racial extremist.


  • Pride Wars: The war between the Singas and Maguar.
  • The Mako Saga: An alien race known only as the Beyonders (the Aurans' name for them) invaded Aura about eighty years before the series. The Aurans eventually drove them off with armed resistance and by firing a Weapon of Mass Destruction at what they believed was the enemy homeworld, but the aftereffects of the war led to a political schism between the Traditionalists who wanted to return to the status quo antebellum, and the Imperialists who sought to create a Starship Troopers-like military government to prevent any further Alien Invasions. When they didn't get their way in a plebiscite on the matter, the Imperialists seceded and became the Alystierians, the books' enemy nation.
  • Harry Potter: The saga begins with the fall of Lord Voldemort, the most notorious dark wizard of the day, effectively putting an end to a reign of terror for the wizarding world. By the time Harry goes to Hogwarts the magical community has largely relaxed, but the underlying prejudices and social issues that fueled said war are still unresolved and a lot of people who were high up in Voldemort's organisation talked their way out of any major consequences. There was going to be trouble sooner or later even if Voldemort himself hadn't turned out to be Only Mostly Dead.
  • The Cassandra Kresnov series takes place in the aftermath of a war between the League and the Federation, which is implied to have ended inconclusively. The protagonist is an Artificial Human Super-Soldier built by the League as a commando who then fled to the Federation planet Callay after the war to avoid retirement, and joins the Callayan police after being targeted by the Federation Intelligence Agency.

Live-Action TV

  • Firefly has the Unification War, which ended in an Alliance victory only six years before the series begins. The two cast members who fought for the Independent Faction, Mal and Zoe, are still bitter about it, and the movie Serenity and Expanded Universe material such as Serenity: Leaves on the Wind indicate that things may be building up to a revolution.
  • Babylon 5:
    • About a hundred years before Earth became an interstellar power, The Centauri conquered the Narn homeworld and occupied it as a colony. Eventually, the Narns were able to mount a guerilla war that eventually drove the Centauri off the planet by making it too costly to maintain a continued presence there. In the years since, the animosity between the two have lead to border disputes, Narns attempting to reclaim some of their own territories the Centauri still occupy and generally locking horns at every opportunity. This eventually blows up into another all out war which ends with the Centauri once again conquering the Narns.
    • The Dilgar War took place about thirty years before the series and established the Earth Alliance as a major power in the galaxy for the first time, through their joining the fight on the side of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds against the genocidal Dilgar. Garibaldi and Franklin's fathers both fought in that conflict, and an escaped war criminal from that war, the Dilgar Warmaster Jha'dur, appears in the episode "Deathwalker".
    • The Earth-Minbari War ten years before the series was caused by a Poor Communication Kills mishap at First Contact between the Earth Alliance and the Minbari Federation. The war devastated the Alliance, and the Minbari Grey Council's order to surrender on Earth's doorstep deeply angered their warrior caste; there's still bad blood between the two races. However, the war also led to the creation of the Babylon stations to serve as the United Nations IN SPACE! and prevent another such conflict.
    • Crusade has the Telepath War, which an arc in the middle of B5's fifth season was building up to. This was a rebellion by telepaths against the Psi Corps which was supposed to protect normals' civil rights from telepaths, but had become a Nebulous Evil Organization in its own right. The result was the end of the Psi Corps and telepaths such as Gideon's Number Two John Matheson being allowed to serve openly in Earthforce (though still bound by personal privacy restrictions).
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Two wars, both involving the Cardassians.
    • For the Bajoran characters, the Occupation of Bajor, which had ended in a Cardassian withdrawal literally weeks before the series begins. The Occupation was in many ways meant to parallel the Nazi occupation of Europe during World War II and left Bajor in ruins. Main cast member Kira Nerys fought as a Child Soldier in the Bajoran Resistance, and much of the early part of the series deals with the Federation trying to help Bajor while simultaneously keeping Bajoran extremist groups left over from the Occupation from wrecking everything.
    • For the Starfleet characters, the Federation-Cardassian War of the early 2360s, first mentioned in The Next Generation episode "The Wounded". A poorly drafted peace treaty and redrawn border between the two sides, coupled with the Cardassians trying to start a proxy war in the Demilitarized Zone between their colonists and the Federation's, led directly to the Maquis insurgency (Star Trek: Voyager's jumping-off point).
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) is set forty years after the first Cylon War. The Cylons and colonials ended it with an armistice and built a space station as a meeting point between the two sides, but the Cylons never showed up. This made a number of the Colonial brass suspicious enough to send the Battlestar Valkyrie on a covert operation to penetrate Cylon space with a stealth ship. Admiral Adama, who was Valkyrie's CO at the time, comes to believe this may have reignited the conflict.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons, Basic D&D module CM4 Earthshaker. In recent years the country of Stamtral has raided the PC's country Vyolstagrad several times, but the two nations are currently in an uneasy peace. If the PCs don't play their cards right another war could break out as a result of their actions.
  • Eberron has the Last War, a civil war that tore the Kingdom of Galifar, which had dominated the continent of Khorvaire, apart (the peace treaty recognized twelve separate nations, with most of the fighting having involved the five original constituent nations of Galifar) and officially ended two years before the present day of the setting. Given that Khorvaire is the main focus, almost any campaign will touch on the Last War in some sense, at minimum by what they were doing towards the end being part of character's backstory.

Video Games

  • World of Warcraft: When the game first launched, the Horde and the Alliance were at peace, having just fought a deadly war with each other. It wasn't long, however, before the two sides went back to war, with outside threats occasionally taking precedence.
  • Knights of the Old Republic has the Mandalorian Wars, in which the Mandalorian Proud Warrior Race, egged on by the Sith, invaded the Republic and were beaten by a force of renegade Jedi led by Revan. Unfortunately a number of the Jedi who fought with Revan, up to and including Revan himself and his apprentice Malak, fell to the Dark Side during the war and eventually attacked the weakened Republic themselves, leading into the game's plot.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: At the start of the game, the Empire and the Republic have been at peace for a decade, after signing the Treaty of Coruscant. However, as the players progress through the story, they become involved with efforts by both sides to reignite the war, as old grudges and hatreds still run deep. Neither side even bothered with a pretense that they weren't using the time to rebuild their forces for the rematch, and proxy conflicts continued through the entire Cold War.
  • Overwatch: The titular organization was formed during the Omnic Crisis, a worldwide uprising of intelligent machines. After the war ended, Overwatch stuck around as a global peacekeeping force, but one scandal after another led to the organization being shuttered. Now, a new conflict looms on the horizon, as the organization Talon wants to restart the war between humans and omnics. Virtually every playable character can trace their story and abilities back to Overwatch, Talon, or the Omnic Crisis.
  • In the original Mass Effect trilogy, humanity has two of these: the First Contact War of 2157 against turians and the Skyllian Blitz of 2176 (against batarians). The first game is set in 2183, so the memories of the First Contact War are still fresh: humans are viewed as aggressive, but surprisingly efficient upstarts, and tensions between humans and turians are still high, especially since the veterans of that war (such as David Anderson and Steven Hackett) now occupy many command positions. The Skyllian Blitz is even fresher in memory, as even Commander Shepard (the trilogy protagonist) is a veteran of that campaign (in two our of three possible backgrounds), and humans are still not on speaking terms with batarians.
  • Somewhat played with in Mega Man Zero. The big war that directly preceded the series, the Elf Wars, isn't a big part of the plot until the third game where Dr. Weil and his servant Omega, the ones responsible to start the wars, show up with a vengeance because of what humanity did to him before, after the war. Much knowledge about the war is also revealed there. Although the wars have been alluded to since the second game with Dark Elf, the MacGuffin of that game, being what Weil and Omega used in the war as a weapon.
  • BlazBlue: the Ikaruga Civil War, set 5-6 years ago from the present, becomes important in the third game as many characters deal with its aftermath, namely Bullet, Kagura, Azrael, Kokonoe, Tager and Bang. Jin in particular is the man he's now partially because he participated in the war and became its "hero".
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is set 21 years after the Great War between the Tamriellic Empire and the Aldmeri Dominion, which only ended as result of the White-Gold Concordat - a peace treaty with exceptionally favorable terms to the Dominion. These include the ceding of the province of Hammerfell to the Dominion (Hammerfell rejects the treaty, declares independence, and ultimately repulses the Dominion on their own), forcibly dissolving the Blades, outlawing Talos worship, and giving the Thalmor the right to patrol Imperial territory in order to enforce these terms. It's still fresh in many characters' minds, and everyone knows the current peace isn't going to last.
  • While it happened a long time before the events of Psychonauts, the war in Grulovia is responsible for the whole series. It forced Lucrecia Mux to leave the Psychic Seven to protect her homeland, which resulted in her becoming the Minister of War. After the war, the people rebelled against Gzar Theodore Malik who pushed Lucrezia to stop them, resulting in her accidentally killing her sister and going mad, taking on the name Maligula and terrorizing the people of Grulovia. This forced the Malik's to flee the country while the rest of the Psychic Seven arrived and defeated Maligula. Ford Cruller would then brainwash Lucrecia into thinking she was her sister in order to protect her and her family, while Theodore's son Gristol grew to hate Ford for his supposed role in his family's fall from power. All of this led to the creation of the Psychonauts and the events of the games.
  • Fifteen years prior to the events of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, the nation of Belka raged war against the world for resources. Eventually the war turned against them with the two superpowers of Osea and Yuktobania, as well as other nations, pushing against them. After losing ground and territory rather than allow enemy forces to invade the birthplace of Belka, the Belkans dropped seven nuclear bombs between the northern and southern parts of their nation. This brought an end to the war with the allied forces claiming victory. Fast-forward fifteen years to the events that would take place over the course of the game, feeling that they were humiliated, forces within Belka orchestrated events causing Osea and Yuktobania to go to war with one another hoping it would weaken them both.
  • City of Heroes: The Rikti War provided context for the game's initial release. Most of Paragon City's heroes had died in the war, and you played as a new hero in the city, just joining the good fight. The War Walls, which divided up the city into districts, were explained as megastructures built to keep the alien Rikti at bay. The prevalence of criminal gangs, organized crime, demonic cults, and supervillainy in the city was Justified as having risen up to fill the void the dead heroes had left behind.
    • And it wasn't long before the Rikti returned, intent on finishing what they started.
    • In Praetoria, humanity waged a war with the Hamidon and his Devouring Earth, which led to most of humanity being wiped out. Emperor Cole was able to save the last remnants of humanity and, with the help of his Praetors, was able to build a city where mankind could be safe. Almost every NPC hero, villain, and monster in the city of Praetoria can trace its roots back to the war, and had City of Heroes not been shut down, the war would have reignited as the players would have unwittingly broken the truce between Emperor Cole and the Hamidon.
  • The Witcher: The saga of novels follows a war between the Northern Realms and Empire of Nilfgaard. CD Projeckt Red's trilogy of Video Game adaptations take place after this war and lead into another. Protagonist Geralt was the personal friend turned enemy of the Emperor, Emhyr var Emereis, and is also the adoptive father figure of Emhyr's daughter Ciri. In The Witcher 3 Emhyr hires Geralt to find the missing Ciri while he is in the midst of invading the North.
  • Fire Emblem: Ironically, both instances of this trope in the franchise invert said trope by making the heroes' predecessors the aggressors.
    • Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance has Daein's Mad King Ashnard invade and take over the kingdom of Crimea, leading to a long campaign to liberate it. Three years later in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Daein is occupied by forces of the Begnion Empire, who rule with an iron fist. Resentment among the Daein people is high, and conditions are ripening for a full-fledged rebellion against Begnion.
    • Fire Emblem: Awakening: Fifteen years prior, the Exalt of Ylisse began a war with the Religion of Evil called the Grimleal in the neighboring kingdom Plegia, leaving his nation's army in ruins. The war ended when Emmeryn became the new Exalt after her father's death, and spent the time since then trying to make reparations. Despite this, Plegian King Gangrel uses Ylisse's former aggression to stir up trouble along their border, inciting raids and incidents hoping to spur an all-out war.
  • Star Trek Online: The Klingon-Gorn War, an off-and-on conflict that ran from the 2380s to 2403. Undine infiltrators provoked it, the Federation tried to mediate a diplomatic resolution several times, but Klingon hardliners led by J'mpok, who also wanted war with the Federation, nearly started a civil war. Chancellor Martok tried to talk J'mpok down in a closed-door meeting, but three hours later J'mpok emerged saying he had killed Martok in honorable combat. Soon after, the Klingons acquired evidence of the Undine presence in Gorn space and launched a full-scale invasion, and when the Federation didn't believe him J'mpok withdrew from the Khitomer Accords. After conquering the Gorn, he invaded the Federation in 2405, the state of war that exists for a disappointingly brief period at the start of the game.
  • Papers, Please: The story is set in a border checkpoint between the fictional countries of Arstotsla and Kolechia, which recently fought the Six Year War.
  • Final Fantasy XII opens with an elaborate Arranged Marriage intended to end the war between Dalmasca and Nabradia (and seal their alliance against Archadia). Unfortunately, Archadian soldiers kill the husband soon after, and his wife swears vengeance on the country. Cue plot.
  • Final Fantasy VII has a war against Wutai in its recent past, in which Big Bad Sephiroth was a war hero. It sets up such things as Aerith meeting her adoptive mother — said mother was waiting for her husband to come home from the war when she found Aerith. In prequel Crisis Core, your early missions as Zack are set in that war.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: A war waged by the Carja tribe against virtually every other tribe is continually referenced as you travel around. It lasted for the ten year reign of the Mad Sunking, who conducted raids on the neighboring villages and tribes to collect human sacrifices. It ended when his son managed to overthrow him and establish a more benevolent rule. Despite his efforts at outreach, there is still simmering resentment and anger among the various tribes man against the Carja.
  • Red Dead Redemption II: The game takes place 34 years after the end of the US Civil War. The effects of the war can still be felt, especially in areas directly impacted like Lemoyne where pro-Confederate raiders still operate. Some members who have witnessed the War first hand also comment on the still ongoing fallout from it.
  • XCOM 2 is set 20 years after humanity lost the Alien Invasion war that you fought in the prequel. Characters frequently reference that war and your Number Two in La Résistance is a veteran of it. In turn, XCOM: Chimera Squad is set 5 years after XCOM 2, with the Resistance having freed Earth and now helping governments rebuild. Several characters in the eponymous police squad are veterans from both sides, and many high-tier combat items are "old XCOM surplus" that nobody manufactures now in peacetime.

Web Comics

  • Girl Genius: The war between Baron Wulfenbach and the Other provides a backdrop for much of the story and influences most of the main characters' actions. Just the idea that the Other might use Agatha to resurface and that his son Gil might be under her control is enough for the Baron to mobilize armies from across Europa and to make use of technology even the Heterodyne family thought was too dangerous to meddle with, just to stop her.

Western Animation

  • Steven Universe: Despite taking place nearly 6000 years in the past, the Crystal Gem Rebellion definitely fits this trope. Virtually everything that happens in the show can be traced back to Rose Quartz a.k.a. Pink Diamond and her decision to fight to protect the Earth from being colonized by the Gems of Homeworld. To name a few:
    • Steven inherited Rose's gem, along with her powers, and spends most of the series dealing with numerous problems that Rose's rebellion created.
    • Pearl was liberated by Rose and subsequently went from a mere servant to a powerful warrior.
    • Garnet came into being when Sapphire and Ruby arrived on Earth to help end the rebellion.
    • Bismuth joined the rebellion, but was bubbled before she could see how it ended.
    • Lapis was caught on Earth during the rebellion and mistaken for a rebel, resulting in her millenia-long imprisonment.
    • Every single gem monster that the Crystal Gems fight over the course of the series is actually a Crystal Gem rebel that was corrupted by the Diamonds.
    • Jasper and several other villains were created on Earth to fight against the rebellion.
  • For Transformers Earthspark, rather than the Autobot-Decepticon War being the man focus of the plot, it is instead relegated to the backstory. It has left the Cybertronians without a home to go back to, and without the ability to reproduce, resulting in them becoming a Dying Race. Many humans also resent the war coming to Earth, blaming both sides, while GHOST is determined to capture every last Decepticon, regardless of any trouble they have caused since then (and most of their crimes are out of desperation anyway). The children, both human and Terran, are still dealing with the fallout of a war that started before they were born.