It’s no secret that we here at the Chi-Scroller love our Mortal Kombat. It just hits all of the right notes for us. It debuted during a pivotal period in both of our gaming lives with the franchise being at its most popular during our teen years, it’s a Chicago made game, and it’s just plain great. Originally we were just going to do a single piece
We’re going to kick off Mortal Monday with a Mortal Kombat lore primer. There is a lot to cover with Mortal Kombat, but it makes it much easier to contextualize each game with a bit of history. So to that end, we’ll quickly go over what makes the Mortal Kombat universe what it is.
When Mortal Kombat came out, its main competition in the one vs. one fighting game scene was Street Fighter II. While SFII was a great game, it didn’t do much in the way of story. Mortal Kombat was able to differentiate itself by introducing a deeper story. Each playable character had their own background and motives, and there was an overarching narrative encompassing the game as a whole.
The original MK mythos goes something like this: There are six realms in the universe. If one realm wishes to invade another, the aggressor must first win ten consecutive “Mortal Kombat” tournaments. These tournaments pit the greatest warriors from each realm against one another in one-on-one combat. If one realm manages to win ten in a row, then an invasion can occur.
Mortal Kombat one picks up with Earthrealm having lost the last nine tournaments against Outworld, an aggressive and sinister realm. One the precipice of ultimate defeat, Earthrealm musters it’s greatest warriors and they attempt to save the realm from the evils of Outworld.
Earthrealm is essentially our present-day Earth. Fighters from Earthrealm exist in a world much like our own, with the exception that most normal humans don’t have the ability to punch another person’s head off. Fighters from the Earthrealm side of things tend to represent the “good guys”, although this isn’t always the case.
Liu Kang is the closest thing the game has to a central protagonist. A Shaolin monk, he has trained his whole life for the chance to defend Earthrealm. While Liu Kang represents the truest version of a protagonist, most of the playable characters in the Mortal Kombat series tend to have (at least) some moral ambiguity about them. Johnny Cage, for example, fights for Earthrealm, but he does so mostly for his own gain. His story is one of a washed up movie star, chasing a last hope for fame by becoming the greatest fighter in the world.
The ninja assassins Sub-Zero and Scorpion have always been two fan favorites, their stories tied together. Before the tournament, Sub-Zero killed Scorpion banishing his soul to Netherrealm (another of the six realms). Sub-Zero then enters the tournament on a mission to assassinate the tournament’s host and steal his riches. Scorpion is raised from the dead, however, and enters the tournament for his own reasons; find and kill Sub-Zero.
Within the original Mortal Kombat tale, two characters stand out as center pieces to the story. The first is Raiden, god of thunder and protector of Earthrealm. Raiden understands the Mortal Kombat tournaments and the gravity of Earthrealm’s current situation. He participates in the tournament as a part of Earthrealm and acts as a mentor for the other Earthrealm fighters. The other standout character is Shang Tsung, a sorcerer from the realm of Outworld, and the host of the original Mortal Kombat tournament. While Shang Tsung’s motives are always shrouded in mystery, it’s clear that his intentions are not good. Throughout the ongoing story of Mortal Kombat Raiden and Shang Tsung tend to be front and center in the main plot. Though not always the chief protagonist and antagonist, they tend to help drive events.
The Mortal Kombat tournament itself pits challengers against one another until only one fighter is left standing. The last fighter left standing then challenges the reigning champion for the right to call themselves the tournaments victor.
In Mortal Kombat one, Liu Kang is victorious over all other challengers and faces off against Goro, the four-armed giant, and reigning champion. Liu Kang defeats Goro, becoming the new champion. Enraged by this, Shang Tsung challenges Liu Kang. Though Liu Kang is victorious against Shang Tsung, events are set in motion that begin the plot of Mortal Kombat II.