There are few fighting game franchises like Mortal Kombat that have stood the test of time and endured.
The mythology and creativity within Mortal Kombat has made it both unique and captivating. With Mortal Kombat 11 being the newest instalment to continue this tradition, let’s look back at how the story has evolved and where it currently resides.
How the story began
When the original Mortal Kombat game was released, the story was naturally much simpler. There was no story mode in the game. Despite there being comics, movies and even a TV series, few fans considered these to be canon.
The original story involved the concept that Earth, or rather ‘EarthRealm’ as it was also known, was being threatened with invasion by ‘Outworld’. The one thing that prevented this was an ancient ritual called Mortal Kombat.
If Earth’s greatest champions could defeat Outworld’s greatest warriors in a tournament of one-on-one combat, then Earth would retain it’s freedom. All of the characters had their own motivations for entering and their own backstories.
What made the series distinctive initially?
From the very beginning there was something captivating about the design aesthetic. The early games pioneered photo-realistic graphics which instantly added depth and an extra degree of realism, however the franchise has since moved on from this technique.
The setting blended the best of martial arts films like Enter the Dragon with horror and fantasy elements and even a hint of eastern mysticism thrown in for good measure. Then there was Kano, a cyborg character. Additional sci-fi elements were expanded on with later instalments. Other cyborg characters and high tech weaponry were added and time travel was later used as a plot device but we’ll get to that later.
How did the series build its own multiverse?
As the series progressed, so too did the mythology. Additional realms were introduced with their own unique themes. Many of these realms are fairly self-explanatory, Chaos realm and Order realm act as polar opposites each embracing their namesakes and taking them to the extreme. Dream realm exists in the subconscious of people from the Earth Realm and unsurprisingly is also where Freddy Kruger resides. Vaeternus, on the other hand, is a realm dominated by vampires.
The concept is basically a more diverse variation on that of a multiverse. Whilst typically in fiction, we see different realities which are similar to our own with a slight deviation (e.g. a hero becoming a villain), in Mortal Kombat we see completely separate realities where anything is possible.
Finally there were crossovers most notably being the game Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe which had a story mode split into two halves one being DC-focused and the other MK-focused. Other guest characters such as Freddy Kruger, Ash Williams and the Predator have also appeared. MK11 appears to be set to continue this tradition with a leaked list already being available online.
But then there was a reboot?
When Midway games was bought out by Warner Brothers Interactive, the series was given a new production team at NetherRealm studios. With MK9 they took the series and went in a new direction. The storyline essentially involved Raiden using time travel to send information to his younger self in order to reboot the timeline. Earlier games in the franchise had left numerous characters dead and this was seen as an easy way to bring some characters back whilst taking others in new directions.
What can you tell us about Mortal Kombat 11?
Whilst it would be impossible to discuss the story and keep it entirely spoiler free, I will refrain from mentioning any character deaths or major plot reveals.
The story involves Kronika, the keeper of time who decides to rewrite history and create a new timeline in which Raiden will no longer exist. This is in response to the events of MK 9.
As time ruptures, the past begins to collide with the present. Earlier incarnations of characters fight alongside or against those of the present. In many cases characters have changed over the course of the franchise leaving earlier versions questioning who they will become.
For fans of the franchise this is a dream come true, with numerous throwbacks to past games. It’s great to see Liu Kang and Kung Lao back to being hero characters, given that both were killed off and turned into much darker undead characters in the last couple of games.
Each chapter showcases different characters, giving the story-mode more of an ensemble feel. Long term fans of the franchise or the Injustice series will know exactly what I’m talking about.
To say how MK 11 ends would be a massive spoiler, but let’s just say that this franchise is far from over. There are three separate endings for the story-mode and players will have to wait for the next instalment to find out which one becomes canon.
What about individual character endings?
There is also an arcade mode titled Klassic Towers in which you fight battle after battle. Each one symbolising a level on a tower until you defeat Kronika and unlock a character ending.
Is this story accessible for newcomers?
The one challenge with a story-mode like this is keeping the mythology and character backstories fresh in your mind. For newcomers it can be a bit like jumping into Avengers Infinity War without having seen any other Marvel movies.
You may have a vague idea of who Iron Man is but have no idea why he isn’t speaking with Captain America or why Thor is on a spaceship. Of course it’s easy enough for newcomers to simply just google the information and read up on the characters if they feel the need.
As noted above there have been a couple of attempts to bring this franchise onto the small screen, none have really been all that successful and there is plenty of potential for something truly special.
Mortal Kombat simply doesn’t get enough praise for its creativity and world (or rather realm) building. Of course, as long as NetherRealm Studios continues to make games like Mortal Kombat 11, you could argue we have the perfect medium for Mortal Kombat storytelling.