Fighting games are some of the most old-school games you can play. They’re essentially made for the gameplay for the most part, and you play them simple to brawl each other. It’s rare nowadays that you get games with minimum stories this side of indie games, but fighting games generally pull it off because of the competitive aspect of it. Who cares about story when you can just smack around each other with punches, kicks, and fireballs? Well, apparently the fantastic Nether Realm Studios did when they created their Mortal Kombat reboot and set the standard for all fighting game stories! (This will contain spoilers for Mortal Kombat 2011.)
Now most fighting games tell their stories by having an intro and then an arcade ending. Usually this is enough for some people. In the past, we didn’t have too many more ways to effectively tell the story, so that’s what was best. Furthermore, most fighting games don’t have very complicated stories. They just need a reason to be fighting. Typically, all that takes is somebody saying that there’s a fighting tournament going on. That gets all the freaky fighters guys to gather up to brawl around the world.
And then everything started to get much more complicated as fighting games went on. Some games evolved more, and Mortal Kombat was one of those games. The first game was just a tournament of fighters where you fight to protect the realms. The second game was only a little more complicated because they bend the BS rules of the Mortal Kombat tournament to have another one in a different realm. The third game is so complicated and bends the BS rules of Mortal Kombat even more as Shao Kahn resurrects his former queen Sindel on Earthrealm, allowing him to take over Earthrealm. I won’t even get into the specific character storylines here, but needless to say, Mortal Kombat kind of got in over their head with their storyline in their third installment.
From there, the stories of the Mortal Kombat games got increasingly more… “complicated.” Myself and many of the fans did not care for the story in the rest of the Mortal Kombat installments, as they got too complicated and nonsensical to really take seriously. The fact that they introduced new characters to tell their story in a rather quaint RPG-esque story mode was rather unfitting as well. Even worse was that during these RPG-like story modes, you played as new characters like Shujinko and Taven who weren’t the favorites of many people. Overall, it wasn’t a great experience and people did not particularly love playing the Konquest mode, even if it did help expand the stories.
Eventually, Midway Studios, who were the developers of Mortal Kombat, were sold off and Warner Bros. bought the studio that made Mortal Kombat, seeing money to be made from it. This is mostly because they worked with Midway Studios to make Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, which was received rather poorly but showed potential. Ed Boon, creator of Mortal Kombat and now head of Netherrealm Studios, made the decision to bring Mortal Kombat back to its roots and tell the story of his first three games over again with a clever little retcon story titled simple as Mortal Kombat using the style of Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe to tell their story.
Basically, the story goes like this. In the last Mortal Kombat game Armageddon everybody in the Mortal Kombat world was killed except Shao Kahn and Raiden as they tried to gain the ultimate power. Raiden was about to lose to Shao Kahn, and in order to try and stop this apocalypse from happening, Raiden sends a message to himself in the past saying “He must win.” How far in the past? He goes all the way back to Mortal Kombat 1. That’s right, now Ed Boon gets to tell the story of Mortal Kombat through a new and special perspective. I know, you’re probably thinking “How could they possibly tell it differently?” With a story mode, of course! And not some RPG collect-a-thon like in the last Mortal Kombat games either!
The way in which we do this is actually very clever. They split the story into various chapters where you can play as many characters from the game and tell the story from each character’s perspective. We start with none other than Johnny Cage, fan favorite jerk actor. Johnny Cage is new to Mortal Kombat’s fighting, so it allows for much exposition on what is going on to occur. He fights two baddies, humorously talks about how he’s going to take everybody out, then he creeps on Sonya Blade to find out what’s going on. Sonya Blade, a Special Forces agent, follows her storyline of trying to find her partner Jax and rescue him, and Raiden is able to properly explain what is happening in full. So anyone who is new and has no idea what Mortal Kombat is all about easily finds out through these first two chapters and be highly amused during it.
After that, we are treated to a very entertaining retelling of the first three games. We get to see such classic Mortal Kombat plot points like Sub-Zero being murdered by Scorpion for vengeance against him killing his clan and Liu Kang beating Goro and Shang Tsung to win the first Mortal Kombat tournament. It’s refreshing to see this happen in fully animated cutscenes and it allows us to connect with the characters and the world that Mortal Kombat tried to create much better. What is even better is that characters who were around but not in the respective games being retold like Cyrax, Baraka, Sektor, Kung Lao, Kitana, etc are seen during the original Mortal Kombat 1 story. It adds a real depth and allows for a better story by including these characters so we understand them and their motivations better because it builds up their plot points. Like Kitana doesn’t want to be a brutal fighter that he father, Shao Kahn, wants her to be. Cyrax doesn’t want to become a robot even though his ninja clan is trying to turn them all into cyborgs. It’s things like that which help us see all of things that were previously happening behind the scenes.
And then with the second game, we get Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn breaking all the rules and forcing another Mortal Kombat tournament, leading to other story elements popping up. They have Sonya Blade being kidnapped, forcing Jax to save her with Raiden and Johnny Cage. Then they have the story of Sub-Zero’s brother, who takes his name after he died, trying to get revenge on Scorpion for his brother’s death. Meanwhile, Smoke is rescued from being turned into a cyborg like the rest of his ninja friends by Raiden, only for the past to change and forcing Sub-Zero to become the cyborg instead of Smoke. Something else cool that happens is that we get to see why Jax gets metal robot arms in very gruesome and brutal detail. Eventually, Liu Kang is able to defeat Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat and seemingly kill him, but the guy survives to launch an attack using BS loopholes in the rules of Mortal Kombat.
Concerning the third Mortal Kombat game, many people absolutely hated some of the choices in it. Because of this, Ed Boon and his crew decided that they would fix all of it when they retold the game. Remember that fat cop with the backwards hat and t-shirt? Yeah, they made Kurtis Stryker look like a police badass. Johnny Cage was also killed during Mortal Kombat III by Motaro, the centaur that everyone absolutely hated. So to fix this, they had Raiden see the vision of Johnny being killed by him, so he completely murders Motaro before he has a chance to do anything. Other Mortal Kombat III characters that were perceived as lame by fans were made with the express interest of making them seem awesome. Nightwolf, a character most people thought was just a weak Native American stereotype, was given the focus to pretty much give the Earthrealm one final chance and stop the Soulnado (it’s everything you think it could be) and be one of the most impactful characters in the game. Sindel was another character people didn’t really care for, so they made her gain great power and demolish the entire side of good in a very impressive way.
When Mortal Kombat’s story splits off into its own thing with the Mortal Kombat III storyline, it becomes fantastic. From the very moment that you get to play as Kurtis Stryker, you are bombarded with so many cool and brutal moments. You see Kabal’s transformation from Stryker’s partner to the cybernetic freak we know and love. We see Raiden just completely destroy Motaro. Then we see Quan Chi make a Soulnado with the express purpose of draining all of Earthrealm’s souls, and it’s up to Cyber Sub-Zero and Nightwolf to stop it. We also see the resurrected original Sub-Zero come back as Noob Saibot and have a confrontation with his brother, which was such a cool moment since it never happened before. When Sindel kills most of the good guys and it’s up to Nightwolf to stop her, it’s impressive and very enjoyable.
And when it’s all down to Raiden at the conclusion, we feel like everything is falling apart. He’s been trying this entire game to try and change something, but completely and utterly fails every single time. So he begs the Elder Gods for help and they tell him to buzz off. And while he’s gone his entire side is killed by skunk hair Sindel. So Raiden’s team is basically down to himself, Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, and Sonya Blade. That’s it. Raiden knows that the realm he’s trying to protect is completely screwed at this point, and yet he’s still trying. Raiden does the unthinkable at this point: he tries to appeal to Quan Chi, ruler of the Netherrealm (hell in the MK universe), and ask him to help him protect Earthrealm, promising to give them all of the fallen fighter’s souls and even his own. Quan Chi just laughs and tells Raiden that he already has their souls, and he sends them to fight Raiden in a gauntlet. This is just gripping because Raiden’s last chance to attempt to save Earthrealm was just thrown away.
So while Raiden fights them off, Quan Chi seems to throw him a bone and tells Raiden that if Shao Kahn merges Earthrealm with his own dimension, he’ll have to be punished by the Elder Gods. When Raiden said “He must win” to his past self, he meant Shao Kahn must win. Raiden then bails and returns to Earthrealm with his remaining team and explains that Shao Kahn needs to win. Liu Kang who had watched his love interest die in his arms and see the apathy of the Elder Gods first hand, doesn’t have any of this. He completely freaks out in a moment I’ve heard best described as “It’s like if Ryu from Street Fighter just started calling bullshit on everything.” It’s a really magical moment since Liu Kang is the hero in the series, and he tries to fight Raiden himself. Even worse is that Raiden defends himself with a lightning shield when Liu Kang tries to use his fire fist attack on him, and it fries Liu Kang to death. Raiden is horrified, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade are even more horrified, and now everything feels screwed when Shao Kahn walks up to claim Earthrealm.
Even though Raiden surrenders, Kahn beats the holy hell out of him. Just before Shao Kahn can finish him, the Elder Gods give Raiden incredible power so he can defeat Shao Kahn enough for the Elder Gods to destroy him. Raiden saves Earthrealm and everything is fine, except for all of the dead fighters and the fact that Earth is a complete mess. We’re thinking everything is fine until Quan Chi is shown to have seen the events unfold and tells his master, the fallen Elder God Shinnok (introduced in Mortal Kombat 4), that he succeeded in helping Raiden defeat Shao Kahn. And now that both Earthrealm and Outworld are weakened, Shinnok will be ready for takeover.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking: “How are they going to have a sequel when they just killed everyone? And Shinnok and his stupid plans all sucked. And if it follows Mortal Kombat 4 next time, that means they’re going to have Jarek and Reiko in the game and they suck even more!” And while I will concede that Jarek and Reiko are totally awful and not worth a spot on any roster, I have faith in the next Mortal Kombat game to not make mistakes. Hell, this entire game was spent fixing mistakes they made in the original three games and resetting all of the dumb storylines they created with the rest of the series. Do you really want to have storylines where Reptile turns into the dragon king Onaga and freaking Blaze is the top guy to stop Armageddon from happening? Absolutely not, and Netherrealm Studios knows this.
Of course, you have right to worry. Most of the good guys are totally dead and controlled by Quan Chi and Shinnok now. And there is the very real fear that we may actually be forced to play a game with Mortal Kombat 4 characters again. This means they would introduce characters like Fujin, Jarek, Kai, and freaking Reiko into the mix. We should stop and think about that for a while now though, because there is no way that Netherrealm Studios, with how much they did completely right with the story for this game, would kill off everyone knowing they were sitting on a game that would have fans begging for a sequel and not have some sort of plan or idea for it. And besides, if they can work miracles and make Stryker and Nightwolf cool, I think they can make Kai and Fujin cool. I mean, Jarek and Reiko are still so bad, but maybe they can make them passable. Or, if anything, they can give them the Motaro treatment and make sure they get killed without any issue.
They’re planning something completely original for the next game and you can tell. With how well they rebooted this series full of rich history, you just need to have faith in Netherrealm Studios and Ed Boon to make the fans happy. Because in the end, you can tell that’s all Ed Boon ever wanted. All of his decisions have historically been made to make the fans happy, and it isn’t often you find developers so passionate about making people happy either.
And this story mode? Everybody was happy with it. It gave us insight into each of these characters we’ve played a ton of and allowed us a chance to truly explore the rich mythos that the Mortal Kombat series has created. To allow you to play as multiple characters through the story was brilliant, and I wish that most other fighting games would model their story modes by this. If you want us to care, then bring us into your story. Let us experience it in anything other than intro and outro clips. Let us grow to enjoy a compelling story you’ve created and love the creative characters you’ve made. You’d be surprised, if done right, how much your fans will appreciate it.