Sometimes, a video game leaves you wanting just that bit more. You’ve explored every nook and cranny, and soaked up all the lore you could possibly find. If only you could go back in time and explore the stories that the NPCs told you about their yesteryears! If only there was a prequel…
Well, sometimes there is. The best video game prequels can open our eyes to new experiences in a world we thought we already new everything about. They can show us new sides to the protagonists we’ve known for years.
We’ve picked out ten of the best video game prequels, each making it onto this list for different reasons. Some are here simply because they’re enjoyable in their own right; others because they do an excellent job of expanding a universe we’ve longed to revisit.
There are going to be a lot of spoilers in this list; you have been warned!
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1. Final Fantasy 7 Crisis Core
Final Fantasy VII is easily the most popular Final Fantasy game of all time. Heck, it’s probably the most popular RPG of all time. Nearly everyone and their granddad knows about Cloud’s journey; how he lost his mind and took on the mantle of SOLDIER from his departed friend Zack.
We don’t learn much about Zack in the main game; we only know he had a past with Aerith (she loves a man with a big sword!) and that he worked with Sephiroth in SOLDIER. We’re given some information about the Nibelheim incident and how Cloud was saved by his friend… but there was so much more we wanted to know.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, which released on PSP in 2008, gave us that opportunity. We got to revisit the world we fell in love with in 1997, this time through the eyes of Zack. This is truly what a prequel is for: learning about the histories and background of universes we have become so engaged in. The combat is a bit odd and a bit jarring if you are expecting a traditional JRPG; but it’s the story that makes this one of the best video game prequels ever made.
2. Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Command & Conquer was innovative beyond its years. Coming from legendary developer Westwood, Command & Conquer cemented real-time strategy as a genre. Without Command & Conquer, games like StarCraft, Age of Empires and Halo Wars would be very different. Although rather dated now, its gameplay was marvellous for its time and the tactical missions made the most of its mechanics.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert took the best bits of its predecessor and expanded on it, adding more content, more missions and more hilarious cutscenes. The cutscenes in particular showed the brilliant imagination of Westwood and how it created an alternate timeline that predates the original Command & Conquer. Any game that starts off with Hitler going back in time to obliterate Einstein has to be silly enough to play.
3. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Depending on where you place Assassin’s Creed’s story, Black Flag could be a prequel or a sequel. But we like to consider each game’s main narrative, which is firmly planted in the past. Assassin’s Creed III was all about Connor Kenway and his story during the American Revolution. Black Flag focused on his grandfather, Edward. For that reason, we consider this one of the best video game prequels of all time.
Assassin’s Creed IV built on the intriguing story of the Kenways. That was arguably the most compelling part of Assassin’s Creed III, and it showed us how Haytham Kenway ended up being a Templar thorn between two roses.
What Black Flag did well was that it limited the amount of land exploration, instead filling the gap with exciting and improved naval warfare. At the time of the release, people were weary of Assassin’s Creed and its somewhat static formula; but Black Flag broke the mould while still feeling familiar. It kept the excitement of delving into world history and gave it a (literal) ship-shape shakeup.
4. Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater
No timeline is as confusing as Metal Gear Solid‘s, but we’re fairly confident in calling Metal Gear Solid III a prequel – and one of the best video game prequels ever made at that.
In a nutshell (if you can do such a thing to a Hideo Kojima game), Metal Gear Solid III focuses on special agent Naked Snake some 31 years before the original game. He is on a mission to retrieve a scientist deep in USSR territory. Being based in the 60s gives an interesting Cold War-esque tone that sets apart from its futuristic counterparts. It breaks stealth down into its basics, removing all the funky equipment yet retaining that signature Metal Gear tone.
In terms of story, Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater is classic Kojima. It overloads you with twists and turns and we learn lots about our favourite protagonists and antagonists and how the world came to be as it was in the original titles. This game is often thought of as the best of the series and clearly is deserving of this list.
5. Batman: Arkham Origins
One of the best interpretations of Batman has to be the Arkham series. The first game in the series, Arkham Asylum, developed by Rocksteady Studios, quickly gained a huge following. A sequel, Arkham City, soon followed – and unsurprisingly, people couldn’t get enough of Batman and his video game adaption. Many people loved the fluid combat and the engaging voice performances that include Mark Hamill.
Such was the demand for a new game, Warner Brothers Montreal decided to develop a prequel to Rocksteady’s trilogy with Batman: Arkham Origins. It explored the second year of Batman’s existence, a time where he is simply a myth to most in a corrupt city. He hasn’t earned the trust of James Gordon or even Alfred yet.
Its Christmas setting is appropriate as this prequel is a bit of a one-off special. Not only was it developed by a different company, the company had opted to use totally new voice actors to make the characters seem younger. This all works very well – and it provides some necessary backstory for Rocksteady’s final game in the series, Arkham Knight, to really work.
6. Resident Evil 0
The original Resident Evil began with Raccoon City’s foremost special unit S.T.A.R.S investigating a string of homicides around the Arklay mountains. Bravo team were sent first, but all contact was lost around the mysterious Spencer mansion. Enter Alpha team and the heroes Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield. They soon discover a zombie horde, a mysterious laboratory and the remains of the deceased Bravo team.
One of the most horrifying parts of the original Resident Evil is finding the half-eaten Bravo Team members. Straight off the bat you see Kenneth J. Sullivan being devoured in the pivotal FMV sequence; and while your main objective is escape, you certainly want to explore the fate of your fellow colleagues.
This is where Resident Evil 0 comes into play. Playing as survivor Rebecca Chambers, it allows you explore the hours before Alpha team arrives. We learn that Rebecca’s journey wasn’t a clear cut one and that she relied on outlaw Billy Coen as a companion to survive. Resident Evil 0 is an engaging and classic Resident Evil adventure set at a time we all wanted to explore; who could ask for more from a video game prequel?
7. Red Dead Redemption II
It is arguable whether Red Dead Redemption or its sequel is the superior game. But whichever you prefer, we can certainly agree that both are fantastic. The first game showed us the declining days of the Wild West and the story of John Marston and his attempt to shake off his outlaw past.
All of this was shown with Rockstar’s signature AAA style, with an explorable open world filled with memorable characters, engaging minigames and fantastic side-quests. The sequel managed to do this and more – but it decided, like Back to the Future 3, to go back to the heyday of the Wild West.
Red Dead Redemption II had to go back in time; the short era of the Wild West was closing in by the end of Marston’s story. What is marvellous about Red Dead Redemption II is that it shows us the gangs and shootouts at their peak: the angry sheriffs, heists and horseback getaways. It also shows us Marston’s want to get away from it all and his attempt to settle down in this crazy, lawless place. You don’t get prequels much better than this.
8. Yakuza 0
The mixture of role-playing progression and a Grand Theft Auto-inspired open world made Yakuza a unique series that forged its own path. It centres on Kazuma Kiryu who had been wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Yes, it may sound cheesy, but it works. However, many players had wondered about Kiryu’s life before this imprisonment – that’s where Yakuza 0 comes in.
The late 80s aesthetic is a wonderful touch of class that makes travelling around Tokyo an amazing ride in itself. The game also has much more developed combat, while still retaining the lovable side missions, side-businesses and silly antics the series is known for. Yakuza 0 is without a doubt one of the best video game prequels there is.
9. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening
The first two Devil May Cry games were revolutionary in the hack-and-slash genre. The complexities of the moves, combos and enemies had garnered a decent following but after two games it felt like the formula could have been getting stale. Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening blew any cobwebs off with its stylish look, its greater moveset and its trip to the past.
In the first Devil May Cry, Dante’s brother Vergil is said to be deceased. This alone was enough to want to visit the familial past of Dante. Needless to say, Devil May Cry 3‘s plot didn’t disappoint. Though there is a lot of retconning events of the previous games, the story and relationships (especially of these two brothers) is thoroughly interesting in a game that may just be the pinnacle of the series. It’s enough to make it one of the best video game prequels we’ve played so far, that’s for sure.
10. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Okay, the timeline for Zelda games could be a whole philosophical dissertation in and of itself. But since an official timeline was released in 2011 we know that Ocarina of Time is set before the original Legend of Zelda. In fact, the events of the first game technically only occur if Link fails in Ocarina of Time. Therefore, we can safely say that Ocarina of Time is a prequel. And my, what an excellent video game prequel it is.
It’s impossible to understate how brilliant this game is. Ocarina of Time is the pinnacle of classic adventure games; quite the feat considering it was Link’s first foray into 3D. It has widely been considered the best game of all time, and so we couldn’t resist putting it on this list.
A Link to the Past may be the more traditional prequel; after all, it directly references the fact that it takes place before the original games. However, Ocarina of Time pips it to the post; if you play Ocarina of Time now while keeping the timeline in mind, it adds an extra dimension to a classic Nintendo title.
It’s certainly interesting to think that every time you accidentally died in the water temple, you actually set up the events for the original Zelda titles.