Gaming's Best Prequels

You voted, and now we have a list of the 10 greatest prequels in gaming history. This epic list features titles from different genres, systems, and generations. They offered insight on the histories and backstories of their respective series.

GamesBeat defines a prequel as any game that takes place earlier in the series’ chronology than titles released before it in a series. God of War: Chains of Olympus takes place before the first God of War but hit stores almost three years later, so it counts as a prequel. But God of War 2 doesn’t count, because it’s a sequel to the original God of War and was released before God of War 3.

Now then, let’s get to the list.

God of War: Ghost of Sparta -- Number 10

Percentage of the vote: 3
Release date: 2010
Place in the series’ timeline: Ghost of Sparta takes place after the original God of War and before God of War II.

Staff Writer Mike Minotti: The upcoming PlayStation 3 action game God of War: Ascension won’t be the first prequel in the series. Heck, it won’t even be the second. That honor falls to God of War: Ghost of Sparta, the second PSP entry in the deity-killing franchise.

Now the god of war after killing Ares, Kratos is searching for his lost brother, Deimos. This gives the pale Spartan ample opportunity to once again brutally kill an impressive cast of mythical creatures, but the plot offers insight into a Kratos driven not by rage but by personal motivations.

Most important, the sad tale in Ghost of Sparta helps us understand the source of Kratos’s anger and justifies his actions (you know, basically killing every god ever) in God of War II and God of War III. Sure, the PSP couldn’t compete with the epic scope and high-definition graphics of the PlayStation 3’s God of War III, but Ghost of Sparta feature the better story.

Neat prequel fact: The plot of Ghost of Sparta was originally set up with a secret video that players could unlock in the original God of War (released in 2005, more than five years earlier), which showed Kratos and Deimos as children being trained for the Spartan army. Deimos is left to die for being too weak, and his spirit in Hades wants revenge against his brother.

Crisis Core -- Number 9

Percentage of the vote: 3
Release date: 2007
Place in the series’ timeline: Crisis Core chronicles the seven years before the events of Final Fantasy VII, the groundbreaking role-playing game for the original PlayStation.

Staff Writer Rob LeFebvre: This action role-playing game on the PSP had many fans excited about the prospect of more Final Fantasy VII content, and it showed many of us the potential of the PSP handheld system. The game’s story takes the player from the war with the Wutai to the events at Nibelheim and right up to the time just before the beginning of Final Fantasy VII, one of the most popular installments of the venerable Japanese RPG series.

Originally, director Hajime Tabata and character designer Tetsuya Nomura planned on porting the mobile phone game Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII, but they decided to start from scratch, utilizing the new PSP handheld’s capabilities. They also wanted to enrich the stories of the beloved characters from VII, including fan favorites Aerith, Cloud, and the evil Sephiroth, who ended up showing a much more human side.

Fans responded with their money. Crisis Core sold 350,000 copies in Japan on its release date, eventually becoming the third best-selling game for the PSP in that region, according to Square Enix. It also became the sixth best-selling PSP game in the States when released here in March 2008. Critics gave the game positive reviews, showing that you can please both groups on occasion.

Neat prequel fact: Final Fantasy VII spawned a large number of other titles, including Crisis Core, Before Crisis (the aforementioned mobile phone game), the feature length Advent Children, and an original video animation titled Last Order: Final Fantasy VII. Crisis Core is the fourth entry in this metaseries of media created around the Final Fantasy VII story, titled Compilation of Final Fantasy.

Yoshi's Island -- Number 8

Percentage of the vote: 3
Release date: 1995
Place in the series’ timeline: Before the events of any other Mario game, back when Mario, Luigi, and Bowser were babies.

Staff Writer Mike Minotti: Imagine it’s 1995. Unbeknownst to you, Nintendo has released a sequel to the Super Nintendo’s Super Mario World, the 2D platformer that came with the system at launch. Filled with glee, you put the cartridge in, power up the system, and discover that you’re not actually playing as Mario. Oh, the red hat-wearing plumber is there, but he’s just a baby riding on the back of a Yoshi, a member of a race of cute dinosaurs introduced in Super Mario World. You may have freaked out. You may have even been angry. Of course, it’s actually 2012, and history has come to know Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island as one the greatest 2D platformers ever made.

Sure, Baby Mario may get a bad rap for his annoying cry, but Yoshi’s Island won over gamers with its beautiful, moving-painting-style graphics and clever gameplay. The title would inspire sequels, Yoshi’s Story for the Nintendo 64 and Yoshi’s Island DS for the Nintendo DS, but players never revered any of them more than the original.

Neat prequel fact: After the credits, we actually catch our only glimpse of Mario’s and Luigi’s parents…well, at least their legs and hands. The very last shot of the game shows the proud couple holding their babies in the air, proclaiming, “Heroes are born!!” while a version of the song you hear whenever you beat a level in the original Super Mario Bros. plays.

Skyward Sword -- Number 7

Percentage of the vote: 4
Release date: 2011
Place in the series’ timeline: Skyward Sword takes place before any other game in the series.

Staff Writer Mike Minotti: A lot of games in The Legend of Zelda series are prequels, but it’s hard to know exactly which ones are thanks to a confusing timeline that branches off into multiple universes after the events of the Nintendo 64’s Ocarina of Time. Still, it’s easy to place the Nintendo Wii’s The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword in the timeline. It’s first.

Skyward Sword’s story deals with the founding of Hyrule and the forging of the Master Sword, the epic weapon that Link uses in many of the Zelda games. While the motion controls were Nintendo’s biggest selling point for this action role-playing game, fans were excited to see the origins of a world they loved.

Many considered Skyward Sword to be the Wii’s swansong, since sales of the once mighty console have cratered in recent years. With Nintendo’s next system, the Wii U, coming out soon, fans are anxious to see how Nintendo will top the beauty and innovation of Skyward Sword.

Neat prequel fact: The game’s final boss, Demise, bears a striking resemblance to Ganondorf, the series’ archvillian. After Link defeats him, Demise proclaims that he will be reborn and battle Link’s and Zelda’s descendants in an endless cycle, setting the stage for the struggles seen between Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf (and his other form, Ganon) in other Legend of Zelda games.

A Link to the Past -- Number 6

Percent of the vote: 5
Release date: 1991
Place in the series’ timeline: After Ocarina of Time in a universe where that game’s Link failed to defeat Ganondorf.

Staff Writer Mike Minotti: The third Legend of Zelda game Nintendo released was set before the events of two Nintendo Entertainment System installments, making it one of the earliest gaming prequels. That’s why it was called A Link to the Past, which is really just another way of saying “prequel.”

A Link to the Past sees the green-clad hero once again on a quest to save Princess Zelda and the kingdom of Hyrule from the evil Ganon. While the plot may not have been the most unique, the Super Nintendo game dazzled players with its Light World/Dark World mechanic, which allows gamers to jump between alternative versions of the same setting.

While the Master Sword’s first chronological appearance is in Skyward Sword, this was the first time fans were introduced to the famous weapon. At the end of the game, Link places the Master Sword back on its pedestal as the words “And the Master Sword sleeps again…forever!” appear on the screen. This explains why the weapon doesn’t show up in the NES games.

Neat prequel fact: Link must save seven maidens during A Link to the Past. In the original SNES version, they were called descendants of the Seven Wise Men. But when Nintendo later released the game on the portable Game Boy Advance, the Seven Wise Men became the Seven Sages, the same name used for the group who helps Link defeat Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time.

But all of the maidens appear human, while the Seven Sages represent all of the races of Hyrule, leaving many Zelda fans confused as to exactly how they’re all related.

Metroid Prime -- Number 5

Percentage of the vote: 8
Release date: 2002
Place in the series’ timeline: Metroid Prime takes place before the events of Metroid II: Return of Samus.

Staff Writer Jeff Grubb: Metroid Prime ended the eight-year wait for a new game in the series after the amazing Super Metroid. It also put to bed the concerns that the series couldn’t work as a 3D, first-person game. Texas-based Retro Studios not only succeeded in updating Samus into the first-person perspective, it also redefined a genre that had been based on the stagnant Doom mold for nearly a decade.

Following the events of the original Metroid, Samus was out tracking yet another distress beacon. After the traditional escape from an exploding space station, the bounty hunter chased Meta Ridley down to the surface of Tallon IV. On the planet, the franchise’s traditional exploration was combined with a beautiful art style to create an immersive experience. Clever jumping controls, a lock-on system, and the smooth transition to the Samus’s morph-ball mode made exploring the lush world frictionless.

As a prequel, Metroid Prime is filled with a wealth of information about Samus’s past. For those willing to scan the game’s many lore panels, it providea the origin of Samus’s power suit and her childhood with the Chozo race of bird-like aliens. The score of remixed tunes from previous games didn’t hurt either.

Neat prequel fact: While Metroid Prime is supposed to take place between Metroid and Metroid II: Return of Samus, early in the game a terminal in the Space Pirate ship Orpheon reveals that the frigate escaped the destruction on Zebes caused by the “hunter clad in metal.” Zebes is the setting of Super Metroid. Apparently, the meteor impact that created all of the phazon (a radioactive substance in the Metroid universe) on Tallon IV was originally supposed to have come from a chunk of the destroyed Zebes. That piece of the plot was scrapped when the game was changed to a prequel later in development, but this terminal must have slipped through.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution -- Number 4

Percentage of the vote: 8
Release date: 2011
Place in the series’ timeline: Human Revolution is set in 2027, 25 years before the first Deus Ex.

Staff Writer Evan Killham: In 2002, after I fell off of a ladder to my death in the first Deus Ex and lost two hours’ worth of progress, I declared it to be bullshit and never picked it up again. When Human Revolution came out in August, it was my choice for Game of the Year.

Developer Eidos Montreal’s prequel keeps everything I loved about Ion Storm’s original (before my untimely tumble from that ladder, that is): level variety, a skill tree that allows you to calibrate your character to your own playstyle, and in-game choices that feel like they actually mean something. What’s more, Human Revolution builds upon these concepts and refines them to near perfection. If you’d asked me a year ago to make a list of mechanics I would like obliterated from gaming, first-person stealth would have been at the top. Human Revolution makes point-of-view sneaking work so well that I couldn’t imagine playing it in third person.

And while we’re talking about stealth: In this game, stealth is just one option. It’s not always the “best” option. How many games encourage you to play how you want and then punish you with a quick and painful death for going on the offensive? Not this one. Every situation has multiple approaches, and all of them are valid. Unless you’re in a boss fight…you have to go lethal in those.

The most fascinating aspect of Human Revolution isn’t related to gameplay; it’s the fully formed moral quandary surrounding human augmentation. While Deus Ex’s nano-infused protagonist J.C. Denton is certainly unique in gaming, society is used to the idea and takes it more or less in stride. But Human Revolution takes place 25 years earlier during a time in which society is still trying to figure out the ethics and greater meaning of slapping robot parts on people. Some people call it progress, some people are terrified, and players willing to dive into the game’s wealth of in-universe literature will see all sides of the argument. The story’s final moral choice brings it all together by forcing players to decide where they stand. It’s clever, subversive, and it puts the first game — which takes place in a world that has already made up its mind — in a new perspective.

Neat prequel fact: Digging through some computer files at the Detroit Police Department reveals e-mail ordering a cover-up of an incident that takes place at the beginning of the game. These e-mail come from Joseph Manderely, who is J.C. Denton’s duplicitous boss in the first Deus Ex.

Halo: Reach -- Number 3

Percentage of the vote: 10
Release date: 2010
Place in the series’ timeline: Halo: Reach takes place in the year 2552, right before the events in the first game in the series, Halo: Combat Evolved.

Editor-in-Chief Dan “Shoe” Hsu: Gamers have gotten a few years of series protagonist Master Chief camping under the Halo spotlight, but Reach finally gave everyone an excuse to don a new set of Spartan armor. Just in time, too, as players were probably getting a little weary of all the (alien) religious overtones sneaking their way into this first-person-shooter franchise. Even though Reach introduced a big new gameplay element (armor abilities that give you special powers), it really brought the action back to basics with a refocus on military themes (vs. lone-wolf superman action), clear-cut enemies, and a plot that more or less made sense (no more talking weeds!). Forget saving the galaxy. Reach’s reach never really extended beyond one planet (um, the planet Reach…sorry). This adventure was straightforward and simple — and we liked it.

Neat prequel fact: In a normal world, a game developer would craft an overarching story and then fit individual sequences and chapters into that tale. Bungie apparently didn’t operate in a normal world when it created Halo: Reach. “From a construction standpoint, we scrapped telling a story first and packing a campaign into it,” said Marcus Lehto, creative director for the game. “We wanted to develop a key set of campaign moments that we believe would be more interesting and superfun to play and give this really great progression of events that player can be witness to.

“We started off with at least a couple hundred old ideas we wanted to tackle in the older games and new ideas that we mixed and matched around to build what we thought was the quintessential campaign. Soon, the story started having a life of its own, and the ideas started solidifying. It paid off with Reach because we have this great idea and great moments that truly tie in with each other.”Ocarina of Time -- Number 2

Percentage of the vote: 16
Release date: 1998
Place in the series’ timeline: Ocarina of Time takes place “many years” (perhaps centuries) after Link vanquished the nefarious wind mage Vaati in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, a relatively early event in the franchise’s chronology.

Staff Writer Omri Petitte: Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto once likened Nintendo 64 classic The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to Star Wars: A New Hope. The comparison didn’t stem from a predilection toward wide-eyed, sandy-haired heroes favoring interjections over intelligence – rather, both works represent the first of its kind: a capstone of a long-lasting legacy in the making.

Ocarina of Time captured the adoration of gamers by presenting a fully explorable Hyrule in 3D for the first time. It solidified Nintendo’s reputation for first-party masterworks helmed by some of the most influential Japanese game designers known today.  The epic good-versus-evil plot involving stalwart hero Link taking up his Master Sword against recurring villian Ganondorf produced unforgettable moments aplenty. Coupled with the N64’s then-advanced graphics and an instantly recognizable soundtrack, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time endures (timelessly?) as one of the greatest prequels ever made.

Neat prequel fact: The powerful Sages who assist Link in defeating Ganondorf bear the same names as towns from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, a 1987 Nintendo Entertainment System title occurring later in the timeline. Rauru, Ruto, Saria, Nabooru, and Darunia (the sixth Sage, Impa, isn’t named after a town) are all areas visited by Link during the course of the game.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater -- Number 1

Percentage of the vote: 30
Release date: 2004
Place in the series’ timeline: Metal Gear Solid 3 takes place in 1964, earlier than any other title in the series.

Staff Writer Mike Minotti: This snake can stand tall. GamesBeat’s readers and staff have declared Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater the best gaming prequel of all time with a whopping 30 percent of the vote.

After Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty disenchanted many of the series’ fans with its convoluted plot and whiny protagonist, Hideo Kojima decided to set his next stealth-action game during the height of the Cold War. The setting made a lot of sense (Metal Gear had always involved nuclear weapons as a major plot element), but moving the action back to 1964 gave gamers a chance to play as and learn about Naked Snake, who would go on to become Big Boss, the genetic father and later enemy of Solid Snake, the protagonist of most of the other titles in the franchise.

Still, most remember Snake Eater for its personal and emotional plot, which culminates in an unforgettable showdown between Snake and The Boss, his mentor and mother figure. Add Metal Gear Solid’s signature stealth-based action, a rousing score from composer Harry Gregson Williams, and insights into the events that would shape the world of the series and you’ve got the greatest gaming prequel ever.

Neat prequel fact: While the nuclear device Snake fights to stop in Snake Eater, the Shagohod, is not a Metal Gear, we get to meet the inventor of the bipedal tanks, Dr. Aleksandr Leonovitch Granin, during the game. He eagerly shows his designs to Snake before telling him that he plans to send the documents to a friend of his in America. This is Huey Emmerich, the father of Hal Emmerich (better known as Otacon, who worked on Metal Gear Solid’s Metal Gear Rex).