Gabe: In the same amount of time it's taken me to get bored of Final Fantasy, I experienced Uncharted 2's entire narrative arc. [...]
"Start as close to the end as possible."
—Kurt Vonnegut, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction
It is normal for a work to have a beginning sequence that, for whatever reason, is mostly unrelated or just setting the scene for the main plot. This is called a prologue.
It is also normal for a work to have a short sequence run before the opening credits.
But when a work has a long sequence, one that makes up a significant percentage of the work, run before the opening credits, and has that sequence be just a prologue, this trope comes into play. Depending on the skill of the creators, this can be either brilliant or perplexing.
You know this trope has come into play when the material that has played before the credits could be a stand-alone work.
For example, suppose you are playing a videogame. After hours upon hours of fighting your way through hordes of enemies, you've finally beaten their leader. Wait...what's that coming over the hill?! The title screen?! That was the prologue!?
Related to The Teaser (aka Cold Open) and Get On With It Already. When it's supposed to be funny, that's an Overly Long Gag. Compare Close on Title, when you don't see the title until the very end. Contrast Ending Fatigue.
Anime and Manga
- Berserk took twelve volumes to go through the Golden Age arc with the Band of the Hawks. Notoriously, the anime doesn't get out of the flashback, as the anime is more focused in telling the story of How We Got Here.
- Gungrave similarly spends 15 of 26 episodes on a flashback to before the plot of the video game it's based on to establish How We Got Here. Sadly, it's by far the best part of the series.
- Vinland Saga is also impressive. You start off In Medias Res with a fortress getting besieged, then there is a flashback where you learn that Thorfinn (the protagonist)'s entire motive for being with the mercenaries is to kill their leader in a fair duel - because that man killed his father by holding Thorfinn hostage. Thorfinn is seriously that dangerously single-minded. So it's pretty clear that the entire story is about Thorfinn's various adventures while he tries to kill Askeladd (the leader). Then, when everything is said and done and Askeladd finally dies and you think the story is going to end, you see the chapter title: "Chapter 54: End of Prologue." We're in it for the long haul, boys.
- Shinji and Warhammer40K is an excellent example. The prologue alone is many thousands of words just of how Shinji's childhood has been changed by his exposure to the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000. That's right, the fic is novella-length before Shinji even arrives at NERV!
- The Naruto fanfic Students of the Snake goes on for 18 chapters before the plot gets rolling. It even says so in the author's note!
- The Departed[context?]
- The Uwe Boll film Alone in The Dark is notable for having the longest text scroll in film, clocking in at about 100 seconds, as in nearly two minutes of spoken word and text. The scroll was inserted into the review because test audiences couldn't make heads or tails of the film's plot, so they wrote the scroll to explain some of it. Audiences then complained that it was too boring, so they added a voiceover. It didn't help much..
- The A-Team took almost thirty minutes to get to the title drop!
- Most James Bond pre-title sequences clock in at a few minutes. The one for The World Is Not Enough is nearly fifteen minutes long, and actually has a fairly clear cutoff point between its two scenes that could've been the act break. This is because that was originally going to be the end of the pre-title sequence, but test audiences felt that it was lackluster compared to recent Bond movies, so they stretched it out to include the next scene as well, which involved a lengthy, exciting boat chase.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has what seems like an interminably long prologue set just before World War I, when Indy is a preteen boy. This prologue serves multiple purposes: 1) to set up the Cross of Coronado as a Chekhov's Gun that turns up (a quarter of a century later!) in the film's real Action Prologue with an adult Indy; 2) to establish Indy's fleeting relationship with his father, which lends a certain weight to those characters' later scenes together; and 3) to explain how Indy acquired his trademark fedora, his bullwhip, the scar on his chin, and his crippling fear of snakes.
- Raising Arizona begins with an accelerated account of how the main characters met, got married, discovered that they could not have a child, and hatched a scheme to steal a baby. The title screen rolls just as they're driving out for the kidnapping. Essentially the prologue is the first act of the film.
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life begins with "The Crimson Permanent Assurance," which was originally supposed to be just one of the sketches of the film, but grew into a 15 minute short film that got stuck at the beginning.
- Friday the 13th Part 2 begins with a Cold Open that set an initial record for length. It follows the evening routine of Alice, the first movie's Final Girl, building up the tension with Jump Scares and Scare Chords until Jason finally gets her.
- The remake of Friday the 13th hits the title screen so far into the film that the viewer is likely to have forgotten about the credits not being over some ten or twelve minutes prior.
- Halloween H20 has the title screen about twenty-two minutes in.
- The opening credits of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind appear 18 minutes into the film, at the end of the first reel.
- The 2009 Star Trek reboot doesn't get to the title until eleven minutes in.
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture begins with a 10-minute overture - not unique in film, but more often found on 3-hour historical epics than on sci-fi movies.
- Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet has an opening so long it's practically a film within a film.
- The movie 127 Hours doesn't reveal its title until fifteen minutes in.
- The credits for The Departed don't appear until nearly twenty minutes after the start of the movie, by which time you've already seen a flashback scene, a Training Montage, and the first plot twist.
- The Deer Hunter has an extremely long first act showing the main characters' lives in small-town, working-class America before they get to the actual war.
- The first sequel to Silent Night, Deadly Night is a roughly eighty-eight-minute movie. The first forty or so of those minutes are spent recapping events from the preceding movie. After that, another 25 minutes or so is spent explaining through flashback how the main character got to where he is at the beginning of the movie.
- In the film Helldriver, the opening credits are approximately forty-eight minutes into the film.
- Both Sherlock Holmes movies have very long, very awesome, prologues.
- Hugo has a very long prologue, which is awesome.
- A full ten minutes go by in Lilo & Stitch before the title and opening credits show up.
- In Stephen King's IT a brief teaser chapter leads into the rest of the prologue, an over 100 pages long story about how the main characters start their return to Derry.
- The Wheel of Time series uses these from book six onwards to catch up on what the entire cast was doing. This would usually take upwards of 50 pages.
- Michael Crichton, starting around Prey and getting worse. The prologue of State of Fear is one third of the book. Next can be seen as nothing but prologue.
- Dean Koontz's book Your Heart Belongs To Me was terrible about this. The summary of the plot on the back of the book explains the second half of the book. The entire first half is the prologue.
- Your Mileage May Vary, but even fans of The Lord of the Rings will admit that Tolkien takes his sweet time getting the hobbits out of the Shire.
- Justified to an extent; it helps the reader appreciate what they're risking and fighting for; without it, the penultimate chapter lacks much of its impact. The actual prologue, on the other hand, is twenty pages of Info Dump (including a recap of some of The Hobbit, an essay on life in the Shire and one on the Hobbits' smoking habits). Interesting stuff, but you can certainly skip it the first time through.
- It's even worse if you consider the penultimate chapter itself to be part of the corresponding Ending Fatigue. All together, depending on how you define it, the story has somewhere between 80 and 200 pages of exposition, spanning several years (including the Time Skip in which Frodo spends years in the Shire not really doing anything.)
- The Scarlet Letter has what is called "The Customs House," an elaborate prologue detailing how the author discovered the manuscript. It's about a quarter-to-half the length of most printings of the book. Furthermore, the first actual chapter is called "The Prison Door," the entirety of which is spent describing a prison door and a rosebush beside it.
- In The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath's "Prologue" (mostly a defense of remarriage) is longer than her actual story.
- The book Spring Moon starts with a prologue about the main character at the age of about eight, and recounting the despair and suicide of her servant and friend. It has no bearing on the plot, except for some symbolic and thematic value - but it is at least an excellent short story all by itself.
- Life of Pi takes around a hundred pages just to get to the point where the blurb begins.
- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is written as the autobiography of Tristram Shandy. It starts with Tristram developing as a young fetus, rapidly approaching his birth. While his mother is in labor, the book mentions Uncle Toby who is sitting in a chair. The book goes on to talk about Uncle Toby's life and character, and how he was a soldier until he was wounded in the groin by a cannonball, and then how he went insane and constructed a small replica of the battlefield he'd been wounded on, which he then blew to bits with small replica cannons. Tristram Shandy is born on page 92, when Uncle Toby suggests they ask someone to check and see if Tristram's mother is in labor. It's a incredibly funny and/or pointless book. YMMV.
- The first Bionicle book, Tale of the Toa dedicates six chapters to describing how each of the Toa discover themselves, their surroundings, meet their people and each other, until they finally all come together and kick off the plot.
- In The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, an unnecessarily large amount of time is spent on the SOS Brigade preparing for a Christmas party that the audience doesn't even get to see. A few important plot points are established, but most of it can be seen as unnecessary padding. Kyon even lampshades it, observing that it was "too long for a prologue." The movie adaptation, despite mostly being very well made, makes it even worse, as, arguably very little actually happens until about an hour and a half into the film.
- The Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya goes even further, with a prologue that takes up about a third of the book; half of it is spent recapping everything about the SOS Brigade and most of the side characters, while the other half consists of Koizumi walking Kyon through a Flash Back and berating him for being Selectively Oblivious to Love.
- Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone doesn't even get to Hogwarts until halfway through the book. Then again, the beginning was absolutely necessary to set up the plot for the entire series.
- Alias's prologues would frequently go ten to eleven minutes. The show was more radical in its first two seasons. Frequently episodes would end with the third act cliffhanger and the fourth act would be knocked on to the next week where it would serve as an extended prologue pushing that episode's first act into the second act's slot (roughly minute 11 to minute 22). The second act would then push the third act back so that the episode ended on the third act cliffhanger and so on...
- One Monty Python's Flying Circus episode begins with a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the movie epic Scott of the Antarctic that goes on for about two thirds of the show before we see John Cleese's BBC announcer and the opening titles.
- According to SF Debris, you can usually tell how much a particular Star Trek episode will suck (especially a Star Trek: Voyager episode) by the length of the teaser; the longer the teaser, the more you're urged to run for the hills.
- That may be accurate. The teaser of Scorpion - which introduces Seven of Nine and pits Voyager and the Borg in an Enemy Mine against Species 8472 - was barely ten seconds if that.
- Flashpoint's prologues are generally about five to six minutes, though in some cases up to ten.
- Into the Woods begins with a musical sequence introducing the characters (and setting up the plot) that lasts for 12 minutes on the original cast recording. Seeing as that takes out several lines of dialogue, it could be even longer.
- The Company Formerly Known as Squaresoft, developing mostly story-heavy role-playing games, has a knack for this:
- One of the most notorious examples is Kingdom Hearts II. The term Longest Prologue Ever is popularly used to describe the first part of the game, which takes between three to five hours and does little except setting things up for the actual plot and main character.
- The first game isn't quite as bad, but there's still plenty of stuff you can do on the Destiny Islands that can take quite a bit of time. Most of it is optional, though.
- Vagrant Story has an extended prologue culminating in a fight with a dragon. There's no clue this is just a prologue... unless you press the Start button and the game skips the rest.
- Final Fantasy 1 has the first mission which can take a decent amount of grinding to accomplish (most FAQs recommend getting to level 5) and is implied to be the primary goal, but then you get the real start and a new opening scroll.
- Final Fantasy IV opens with a long scene, after which you head to your room, followed by a number of smaller scenes, a long scene occurs as you sleep, another long scene when you awaken, then a text scroll. All in all depending on how fast you read, it can take you more than twenty minutes before you get to actually start wandering around the world.
- Final Fantasy VII doesn't start properly until you're out of Midgar, which can take anywhere between four to five hours, during which time the city is introduced, characters are met, vital exposition is dumped, and villains are introduced and killed off. Most players don't seem to mind, though, because even though the Midgar sequences are very linear, it's chock-full of action and intrigue relating to Shinra and AVALANCHE, to the point where some players feel that the opening is practically the high point of the entire game.
- Final Fantasy XIII is basically the same as VII, but so, so much more. Instead of growing your characters during the absurdly slow paced opening city level, as you do in VII, you are basically restricted to only physical attacks and generic area effect stuff for the first few hours. It all plays like an extended cutscene until you finally get to the crystal lake, which has to be close to 5 hours in. To make matters worse, the game is unrelenting in its use of In Medias Res. In VII you had a moment of respite in the slums where things slowed down a little and you could take some time to get to know the characters in plot. XIII just barrels forward at a breakneck pace so that it becomes impossible to keep up with the barrage of new characters and terms that are thrown at you.
- Which is probably why this one includes a reference guide on the main menu. First time players interested in understanding what the hell the characters were just talking about can check it and find quick summaries of not only the plot (scene by scene), but relevant background information on locales, individuals, and organizations.
- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance begins with an explanation of why Marche's life sucks, then you get into a forced tutorial, then it is explained why the lives of the rest of the cast suck too, you get to see why Marche's brother's life sucks the most and then you get another forced tutorial, this takes at least 30 minutes, and you can't even set the GBA aside and come back later because you need to manually skip through the text.
- Radiata Stories has the beginning of the game taking orders from your superior in The Radiata Knights, this takes up about 3–4 hours of the overall game and during this time you cannot change armour.
- Dragon Age has a unique prologue for each character, generally about 45 minutes to an hour to play and then a second prologue that all characters share. Now, some if not most of the prologues are widely considered by many to have better plots than the whole rest of the game; the follow-up prologue at Ostagar as a Grey Warden recruit? Its considered to be below par with the rest of the game, with being forced to replay it once per playthrough hardly helping.
- Made worse for PlayStation 3 players at least: a glitch sometimes prevents a player character from collecting the Menacing trophy (10 successful uses of the Intimidate skill), requiring trophy-seekers to start from scratch. As opportunities to Intimidate are rare, this necessitates repeating about 3 or 4 hours of gameplay just to collect one trophy.
- Lothering might count as a third prologue, as you're railroaded there after Ostagar, although there's nothing stopping you heading straight to the world map and getting started on your quest proper. There is quite a bit to do there though, and it's not a good idea to put it off too long. After completing one Treaty Quest, the Darkspawn reach the village, and literally wipe it off the map.
- The Wild ARMs games have a tradition of giving each character an individual prologue before joining the core party.
- The Tanker part of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Reportedly, Kojima intended the ship to be the setting for the whole game before concluding it was too small. There's even an option, after completing the game, to play just the Tanker section, and it has its own set of post-game titles.
- The Virtuous Mission prologue of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has you visit multiple regions of the game, and introduces most of the cast, before the actual Snake Eater mission.
- Star Ocean 3 takes five to six hours before you are dumped on an actual planet and start real fights.
- ...which in itself is an extension of the prologue. You won't meet most of the characters until you land on Elicoor, and the events that happen on the first planet are never mentioned again.
- Persona 3 has a little over an hour of cutscenes (and one battle sequence) between the start of the game and your first opportunity to save.
- If you thought an hour of exposition before any fighting was a tad much, just wait until Persona 4. It takes between two to four hours before the game takes you off the rails and lets you choose what to do with your day (the real meat of the game).
- In Guild Wars: Nightfall, what is more or less the prologue of the story takes you most of, if not all the way, to the max level. In fact, you figure that when you catch up to the Big Bad, you're going to stop her from releasing the Sealed Evil in a Can, or maybe just fight it as the really Final Boss. No, you fail to prevent her from causing the Nightfall, which you spend the rest of the game dealing with.
- The same can be said for any of the Guild Wars campaigns. Prophecies begins in an idyllic map of decent size with several zones, hours of gameplay (if you do everything), and enemies up to level 10 (of 20). Many were entirely surprised when this turned out to be set 2 years before the ACTUAL game, which begins after that idyllic land is destroyed by magical crystal meteors, and maybe the size of 10% of the real game's map. Factions was similar to Nightfall in that it brought characters to near-maximum level before the prologue ended, though story-wise it was clear that you had only begun to uncover the real threat.
- Knights of the Old Republic has the very long section on Taris, exploring three levels of the city, dealing with Sith oppressors, swoop gangs, outcasts and slavers, before the planet is destroyed and the plot starts. What makes it worse is that you still have a non-Jedi class before you get to Dantooine, and you'll probably want to hold off leveling until then, to get more Jedi levels.
- Surely the Endar Spire, the small, linear, tutorial-like level that precedes Taris is the prolouge. And the story begins immediately, in media res even, and takes a break on Taris to allow the player the chance to explore a wider, freer world.
- And Knights of the Old Republic 2 gives you Peragus. Big, almost depopulated mining station. REALLY big. And REALLY depopulated. If it wasn't bad enough already, half the time you're running in your underwear, with a mining laser. Alone. (Except you count voices in your head and com links as your party.)
- You spend the first few hours of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess learning your controls as Link and Wolf-Link. You don't have any idea of what's going on until the end of the segment, and you're not free to explore the overworld until after the first major dungeon.
- This is true for a lot of Zelda games, actually. You can't explore the overworld in Ocarina of Time until the tutorial (obtain sword/shield) and first dungeon (Deku Tree) are finished. Wind Waker railroads you until you get a boat (and sail) several hours into the game. A Link to the Past is a tad shorter, but you're still required to complete the Hyrule Castle dungeon and sewers before you can go exploring the main world. Really, the only games that give access to the overworld immediately are the original NES games, and these practically lack prologues entirely.
- Not to mention the biggest offender in the series: Majora's Mask. The opening sequence requires you to play through three in-game days (roughly two hours) in which you are essentially item-less and aren't allowed to leave the central hub town, and until you do so, you can't even save. By the way, if you fail to do all of the required tasks within the three in-game days, you have to start over from the first day, when you arrive at the town.
- Which is thankfully skippable with the use of the dancing scarecrow in the observatory, as he is able to make Link skip ahead to the third day by dancing with him.
- Skyward Sword was apparently intent on averting this, though there was difficulty concerning a scene where Link saves Zelda, as this was important to show their relationship. So they cut out many scenes.
- Fate/stay night can easily take an hour to reach the title screen, during which you "play" a different character from the game proper. That's in scare quotes because you don't make any decisions in this part of the game.
- Umineko no Naku Koro ni. The airport. Unlike previous (or later) installments of the "When They Cry" series, which introduce us to the characters within the context of the overall story, thus keeping the plot moving, Umineko's first episode has Battler, the main character, meet two-thirds of the entire cast in an airport, where you get huge infodumps about them, and nothing else happens.
- You could argue the entire first episode is this Trope. The main story in latter episodes revolve around the Meta World that is just introduced in the first episode epilogue.
- The story mode of Star Wars Battlefront 2, Rise of the Empire, involves various missions centred around a group of clone troopers liberating various planets from the droids and eventually taking part in Order 66. A cutscene after that event shows Vader's armour and an ominous image of the Death Star while the central character explains what the squadron did after the battle, which could be a perfectly valid ending to a game that's already full enough to be a game itself. Then the second opening crawl starts, finally introducing the actual Rise of the Empire storyline.
- Narcissu Side 2nd spends the first four chapters (out of 19) introducing the main characters, before the opening movie plays.
- While it's not technically a prologue, the beginning of Heavy Rain has you going about your ordinary life for several hours before the actual plot starts.
- Dragon Quest IV, If you're going to take the Hero's arc as the real start of the game, the whole 4 chapters before that will be just the prologues or background stories to you.
- Dragon Quest VII has an entire story arc and dungeon before your first battle. Its not that long proportionally, though, given that the game itself is one of the longest around.
- Endless Frontier EXCEED is split on chapters. The first three are named "Prologue 1", "Prologue 2" and "Prologue" 3 and take an hour minimum each (Note it's a long game, especially for a portable system), during which you take control of several characters, defeat several bosses, get plot and exposition going off just fine and gameplay elements are introduced and explained.
- Microcosm had an Opening Scroll that explained the star system the game was set in, the Megacorps that ran them, the struggles between them and the current covert shenanigans, and a short movie panning over the Cyberpunk city, showing aircraft landing and setting up the plot at length. All told, ten or twenty minutes of prologue for a Rail Shooter that would hardly pass muster as a free web game.
- The exposition for Suikoden V takes about eight-to-twelve hours.
- The opening to Harvest Moon Save the Homeland drags on for quite a while, which doesn't help the game's status as one of the least popular in the series (that and removing the marriage and family aspects). Add to that the fact that the game has Multiple Endings, and you can't skip the cutscenes on your New Game+, and that intro really gets old.
- The unskippable intro to Valkyrie Profile last for thirty minutes if you don't bother reading any of the text. If you want the complete intro, you have option of watching it on the main title with that being twenty minutes.
- Golden Sun: Dark Dawn takes nearly ten minutes just to read the opening dialogue. And then it's another ten minutes of cutscenes, with tons of Forced Tutorials, a usual for the series, but it only gets worse with the extremely long cutscenes. Hope you got your DS charger cords ready. You're going to need them.
- This was a problem in the first Golden Sun too. The opening scene establishes most of the plot, yes, but the talking-to-fighting/puzzling ratio is way off.
- Mother 3 is divided up into eight chapters. The first three happen over the course of three days, and cover the perspective of three different characters. Story-wise, they're important, but the gameplay suffers somewhat. It Gets Better after the Time Skip.
- In Breath of Fire 3, the first few missions take place in a very small portion of the map with very limited access to shops, fishing spots or masters, and after raiding McNeil Mansion, your two allies pull a Wutai Theft and aren't seen again until the second half, and any Level Grinding you did with them is wasted. After that, you're sent on a very linear mission that only allows you access to one part of the map at a time while you assemble your team, and it isn't until you defeat Stallion that you have full access to the majority of the continent and can start properly building your team.
- Okami begins with a ten-minute cutscene explaining the legend of Orochi, then a lengthy tutorial with your Exposition Fairy chirping at you all the while. But It Gets Better, I swear.
- Advent Rising lets you witness the destruction of Gideon's Doomed Homeplanet through his eyes. It takes pretty long.
- Lufia and The Fortress of Doom: the prologue was so amazing, it became a prequel!
- The first chapter of Tales of Graces concerns several of the main characters as children. Chapter 2 takes place after a Time Skip and mostly revolves around setting the scene and getting the group back together now that everyone's grown up. Nothing that could possibly be construed as the main plot kicks off until roughly the end of the second chapter and start of the third.
- The prologue for open world Kingdom Come: Deliverance is both hours long and on rails while never clearly communicates when the rails have ended (resulting in an explicit order with an exact time to start a quest that's both indefinitely delayable and mechanically expects you to have gained experienced before starting). Amazingly, it was originally even longer before several scenes cut out and repurposed for an optional side story showing them from the view of another character because the prologue was too long.
- Averted in 'The Long Lost Prologue' of Our Little Adventure. The first couple of panels started as black screened exposition, but The Palm Tree Ghost cut it short.
The Palm Tree Ghost: Ugh, who writes this drek anyway? It sounds like the beginning of some stilted Lord of The Rings wannabe novel.
- The Gungan Council typically has roleplays to introduce new characters. They are are supposed to be simple in order to get a new character instantly acquainted to two or more established characters. Roughly 200 words is enough per post. Some have start with 1,000, and keep this amount up through over 15 posts and essentially almost writing enough to create a novella off the bat.
- The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes: The Avengers don't officially form until the end of the seventh episode. Furthermore, Captain America doesn't join until the ninth episode, Black Panther doesn't join until the eleventh, and Hawkeye doesn't join until two episodes after that, meaning that the core team of eight Avengers that make up the first (26 episode) season doesn't assemble until the end of the thirteenth episode. However, the first seven episodes feature plenty of action by the heroes working solo and do set up the season nicely, so this is a case where Tropes Are Not Bad.