Mortal Kombat is an icon of the fighting game genre; a series that has risen to the top, fallen into obscurity, elated and disappointed its fans, and made history in the video game industry. The most recent triumphant return was in 2011, followed recently by MKX, but I have been an avid fan of the series since the epic release of the arcade game back in 1992. It was all so exciting: the blood, gore, the secrets, and victory! I loved the digitized graphics, and the stop-motion effects for Goro looked so good for the time. Playing it was great of course, but I decided that I wanted to know more about everything I was seeing. The story and characters intrigued me, as did the behind the scenes of how the games were made. I was looking through all the magazines, asking every friend at school who played, and eventually had the assistance of the internet to help in my search, to filter out all of the lies, half truths, and even the stuff the creators themselves decided to re-write. It is a lot to sift through, and with the new game coming out I was excited about reviewing everything and seeing where the franchise would take the next step of an incredible journey.
Most Mortal Kombat fans are aware of the not so humble beginnings the series had, as it was supposed to be the vehicle for Jean Claude Van Damme into the realm of video games. That did not work out due to the actor’s scheduling, thankfully, and the creators scrambled to turn their concepts into something completely different and new, while still meeting their time constraints. The story and characters went through enormous amounts of changes. Everything from actors not wanting to shave their heads to personal interests contributed to the overhaul of the game. Most fans do not even know that Kurtis Stryker was originally supposed to be in the game as Kano’s nemesis, but the decision to add a female combatant brought about Sonya Blade, whose name—and that of Tanya’s later on—was taken from Ed Boon’s real life sisters. It is pretty obvious to even those who are not fans of the series that the robot ninja designs were inspired by the Predator films, but even hardcore fans get confused when explaining the various realms, like chaos and order, or the difference between Chameleon and Khameleon (No, really. Those are different characters). So much of that changed when the second game came out, and the following titles would see a lot of their materials deemed non-canonical later on. Misinformation runs rampant in this series, but recent entries have smoothed some things out.
The first Mortal Kombat game saw Earthrealm saved by Liu Kang, after defeating Shang Tsung and keeping the realm from merging with Outworld. This was the initial starting point of the series because it encompassed the core ideas Boon and Tobias had come up with, but it is not the beginning of the story. Mortal Kombat II saw a second but irregular tournament, as they traditionally only happened once every fifty years, and Mortal Kombat 3 upped the stakes with a full out invasion of Earth. Each game saw new characters, bosses, and fatalities to keep things interesting, but as the franchise’s popularity grew, so did the need to expand. After three successful games and a box office hit film, the decision was made to work on two games at once, the expected Mortal Kombat 4, and a side-scrolling adventure title called Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, which would rely more on the story the team wanted to tell. The two games released close to each other, with Sub-Zero’s personal story setting up the history and events of the first game while also establishing antagonists for MK4. This was the team’s first chronological step backwards to develop their lore.
After those games though came the first real failures in Mortal Kombat’s history, causing a large break before their next game. The three that followed though were well received, closely related, and all followed a similar pattern. Beginning with Deadly Alliance, the franchise attempted to surprise fans by killing off its main protagonist and antagonist (something that would be repeated in a much cooler fashion later), but also dropping hints to the past and important story teases that would arise in the coming games. Deception and Armageddon would both use their Konquest modes to do what they did with two games last time, setting up back story for the series in the action-adventure portion, while dealing with the new plot and newly established enemies in the main game. This was an effective method for the most part, but showed how much needed to be done just to push the story forward a small bit, as all three games in that group happened close to each other in the overall story line.
Mortal Kombat had a much stronger back story for their universe after these games, but there was another five year gap in the franchise—because we are not counting Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe—but that may have been best, as the ninth game in the main series, simply called Mortal Kombat, impressed fans new and old. 2011’s Mortal Kombat was a soft reboot of the story line thus far. Though it preserved everything that happened up until that point as its own timeline, the new characters are in an alternate one. The story however, was in line with the first three games, just trimmed up and simplified. It was a fun trip and a tight fighting game, but felt like it was a nostalgia-laden rehash; a trick that could only be done well once, but it seemed to succeed at getting the series back on track.
Now, I have just beaten Mortal Kombat X, a game that finally takes the story completely into the future of the realms and characters. There are a few flashbacks, but even they take place chronologically after Shao Khan’s defeat, and once the evil Shinnock’s plan has been put into motion. There is no tournament this time, but instead, a more intricate plot concerning the defense of Earthrealm, a powerful amulet, penitence, and family. The game explores themes of growth, relationships, trust, and making up for mistakes, but felt like it could have gone so much deeper with the setup. A little politics is thrown in as well, as fans get the best looks into Outworld (one of the more mysterious realms in the MK universe) in the series thus far. I was also so pleased to see references back to Mythologies: Sub-Zero, the Konquest modes, and even the Mortal Kombat movie (even if that one was not exactly in the story mode). The writing is better this time around, with less random fights, and the story still feels just as epic. Even if the last boss fight did not take me multiple hours to beat this time around. The tone is different as well. Although the seriousness is still there, and Earth is in jeopardy, the overall outcome for the good guys is much more positive, which was a surprise. The people who die in MKX had it coming for the most part.
Mortal Kombat X turned out to be a real pleasure. Could it have been better? Sure, but there was a lot I enjoyed. I would have never guessed Johnny Cage would turn out to be such a good father, much less a better parent than Sonya Blade. I ended up liking the majority of the new characters, which were needed to help the franchise in my opinion and need to show up again in future installments. The fighting is still smooth, even if I am still not a fan of the X-ray attacks, but long combos and fatalities are so satisfying. The story mode took out the two-on-one fights and the quick time events that were added are few, far between, and not too annoying. For those who do more with multiplayer, a lot of content has been added to that as well. Overall, Netherrealm Studios pruned some things that didn’t work last time, beefed up the story, graphics, and netcode, and made an excellent follow-up to the last entry.
The game’s ending sets up the next antagonist and some of the story for whatever comes next, and I am thrilled to say that it looks like we will be continuing into the future with this story. I want to see progression like what MKX gave us, with more developments in the character relationships and themes the game managed so well. I saw a ton of potential, giving fans a reason to trust in the series once again. I, as someone who has taken such an interest in the story, in front of and behind the scenes, cannot wait to see how much more brutal and deep they will take it. I sincerely hope they will allow the series to continue to grow.