The post-apocalyptic motif is one I’ve always found intriguing. The idea that the world as we know it is gone is kind of hard to wrap your mind around when you really think about it; it’s as mysterious and evocative as it is baffling. It can rattle and perturb as much as it can open the floodgate of questions. How did the world end? What secrets does this new world hold? How does life carry on? I love these questions, and even better, I love discovering their answers. As a fan of post-apocalyptic themes, I am of course drawn to games take place after catastrophic events. Though this list is not exhaustive, it’s revealing that much of is so top-heavy. With the theme becoming increasingly popular, I don’t seem to be alone in my enjoyment of post-apocalyptic games. Here’s hoping for more to come.
Crystalis (NES, GBC)
An action adventure RPG with similar gameplay to The Legend of Zelda, Crystalis puts you in the shoes of a hero frozen in cryogenic sleep and awakened 100 years after a global nuclear war. Like many RPGs throughout the years, the world of Crystalis has turned to a quasi-medieval state complete with elemental magic, but since it released over 20 years ago on the NES, we’ll give it a pass.
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS)
While previous Advance Wars games featured bright, colorful worlds and exaggerated characters, Days of Ruin blazed a different trail. Grittier and more rooted, the characters of Days of Ruin fight for survival following a devastating meteor shower. Pre-apocalyptic feuds carry on in the aftermath, and fuel, land and defense all translate into key turn-based skirmishes.
Fallout 3 (360, PS3, PC)
Though it is admittedly the only Fallout game I’ve played extensively, it’s not to say Fallout 3 doesn’t deserve accolades for offering a rich open world set after a nuclear holocaust. Fallout 3 captures the essence of survival after the world ending, portraying several different societies struggling to make their way in a new world. Sad, crumbling ruins are invitations for exploration, and anyone you meet in the wild is a potential foe.
Final Fantasy VI (SNES, PSX, GBA)
Final Fantasy VI did something few other games had at the time (or have to this day): Let the villain win. Unlike most post-apocalyptic games, FFVI allowed the player to experience the World of Balance before Kefka, the primary antagonist, brought destruction and altered it to the World of Ruin. Though the World of Balance was not necessarily an inviting place with Emperor Gestahl’s forces at every corner, the transition was nonetheless jarring and unexpected.
BattleTanx is post-apocalyptic and it’s fun, but it doesn’t make any goddamn sense so I’m not going to bother.
Darksiders (360, PS3, PC)
A key ingredient in a Biblical apocalypse is, of course, the Horsemen. Unless the game is Darksiders and the apocalypse occurs anyway with War set up as the patsy. War slashes through foes like God of War’s Kratos and explores ruined buildings like The Legend of Zelda’s Link, piecing together not the mystery of how the world ended, but why the world ended.
Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (Wii)
By most accounts a clunky and flawed game, Fragile Dreams still manages to capture the mystery and dread and wonder of a world decimated by unknown events. As the teenage boy Seto, players explore a world splashed with beautiful colors and packed with an attention to detail, but fraught with ghostly perils.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (360, PS3)
While most post-apocalyptic accounts revel in cold, gray aftermath, Enslaved stands as a warm, bright foil with pleasing colors and an abundance of lush vegetation. In an adaptation of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, decayed New York ruins make for fun platforming for the revisioned Monkey to negotiate as he protects Trip, his ward, and experiences visions of what life was like before the global war.
Guild Wars (PC)
Like Final Fantasy VI, Guild Wars offers players a taste of a pre-apocalyptic world. Unlike FFVI, however, Guild Wars makes every effort to contrast the two. Prior to the cataclysmic event called The Searing, Ascalon is beautiful and idyllic. This serves only as the game’s prologue, and it’s not long before the gorgeous countryside is ripped from the player in favor of dark, dusty towns and desolate canyons.