Want to learn the lore of Mortal Kombat? Get over here!
Fighting games are not typically known for their stories, but Mortal Kombat is an exception. The series has been going on for nearly 27 years now, spanning 10 mainline games, three spin-offs, and a plethora of ports. That’s a lot of plot to break down, so get comfy.
Defender of the Realms
First, we need to understand the MK universe, which is made up primarily of realms. Realms are like planets, only instead of all existing in the same space, they each exist in their own separate dimension. There are a total of eight realms, but to keep things simple, we’re going to focus on the four most notable ones, which are:
Earthrealm: The closest thing to our own Earth… realm.
Outworld: A mostly desolate and… purple’y realm with ambitions of conquest thanks to its history of warlords like Onaga and Shao Kahn.
Edenia: A beautiful and magical realm originally ruled by Kitana and Sindel, until… well, we’ll get there.
Netherrealm: It’s hell. Let’s just call it hell. Lots of people get sent here when they’re very bad, or very dead.
Despite each existing in their own dimension, these realms are almost constantly at war with each other. Outworld, in particular, looked to conquer and absorb as many realms as it can. The Elder Gods, who rule over all the realms, didn’t like this, and thus they created Mortal Kombat, a martial arts tournament where each realm’s strongest warriors do battle, as a way to give the defending realms a chance to avoid being invaded.
Under the rules of Mortal Kombat, before a realm can be invaded and taken over, the invading realm must defeat the defending realm 10 times in a row, with a new Mortal Kombat tournament taking place every generation.
Turns out, Edenia probably deserved to get conquered, as Outworld bested it in 10 tournaments in a row, thus causing the two realms to merge. The merger brings together the queen of Edenia, Sindel, and the ruler of Outworld, Shao Kahn. Sindel convinces Shao Kahn that her daughter Kitana is worth sparing, so Kitana winds up in Shao Kahn’s royal guard and trained as a fan wielding bad-ass assassin.
Miserable and sickened by being betrothed to Shao Kahn, Sindel commits suicide, but in doing so, also places a ward on Earthrealm, Shao Kahn’s next target, to prevent him from stepping foot inside.
The Arcade Years
This brings us to the events of Mortal Kombat, or at least, the immediate backstory as told by the opening text of Mortal Kombat 1. Shao Kahn uses the Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung to invoke Mortal Kombat against Earthrealm. The Earthrealm warriors, led by the Thunder God Raiden and championed by the Shaolin monk, the Great Kung Lao, manage to win the tournament, with Kung Lao sparing Shang Tsung in the end.
When Shang Tsung comes back for the second tournament, he brings a new secret weapon: The Shokan Prince Goro, who just thrashes The Great Kung Lao, and Outworld goes on to win 9 consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments.
And THAT finally brings us to the actual events of Mortal Kombat 1, in which the Earthrealm warriors led by Raiden and championed by the Shaolin monk Liu Kang win the tournament, with Liu Kang sparing Shang Tsung at the end.
Shang Tsung begs Shao Kahn for forgiveness and comes up with new plan to lure the Earthrealm warriors into Outworld and hold a non-Elder God sanctioned Mortal Kombat tournament, where Shao Kahn is able to deal with them himself. It’s here that the events of Mortal Kombat 2 take place, in which the Earthrealm warriors, led by Raiden, and championed by the Shaolin monk Liu Kang, manage to win the tournament, defeating both Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn in the process.
By Mortal Kombat 3, Shao Kahn is fed up with these dumb rules of Mortal Kombat, and so he enacts a new plan that doesn’t involve winning martial arts tournaments. He commands his shadow priests, led by Shang Tsung, to resurrect Sindel inside Earthrealm, which would allow him to cross into Earthrealm to reclaim her — fully brainwashed into believing she’s his loyal and loving wife — and begin his invasion as he used to in the good old days.
But in an all too familiar story at this point, the Earthrealm warriors, led by Raiden and championed by the Shaolin Monk Liu Kang, defeat Shao Kahn and save not only Earthrealm but also liberate Edenia and in the process.
Here, we turn our attention away from Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn for a while and focus on two new villains, or actually, two old villains that have been scheming and plotting in the shadows for literally millions of years: the Fallen Elder God Shinnok and the Demon Sorcerer Quan Chi.
Shinnok’s first attempt to invade Earthrealm resulted in his defeat by the hands of Raiden and the other Gods, and he was banished to the Netherealm to spend an eternity in literal hell. Over the years, Shinnok eventually managed to become the ruler of Netherealm and struck a deal with Quan Chi to help him escape from his hellish prison, and return to his place among the heavens.
Thus begins Mortal Kombat 4, in which Shinnok finds his way to the newly restored Edenia, kidnaps Queen Sindel and Princess Kitana, and launches an attack on both Earthrealm and the heavens.
Wanna guess what happens next?
Earthrealm’s warriors, led by Raiden, and championed by the Shaolin Monk Liu Kang, defeat Shinnok, once again banishing him to the Netherrealm, along with Quan Chi.
A Deadly Alliance, Deception, Armageddon, Then Back to the Start
We’re going to fast forward a bit through Deadly Alliance, Deception, and Armageddon, because, well it’s a lot, but the highlights are: Shang Tsung and Quan Chi straight up murder Liu Kang in the opening cutscene of Deadly Alliance; the original big baddie of Mortal Kombat lore, Onaga the Dragon King, returns thanks to the misguided efforts of the warrior Shujinko; Raiden sacrifices himself in vain to defeat Onaga, then comes back corrupted by Onaga’s evil power; Liu Kang becomes a zombie; Shujinko defeats Onaga; and then all hell breaks loose as everyone starts fighting in the Battle of Armageddon, where everyone dies except for Raiden and Shao Kahn.
This is where things get a little messy. Everything that I’ve just talked about? Forget it all, because, in his dying moments, Raiden hits the reset button and sends us all the way back to the events of Mortal Kombat 1. Here, we begin Mortal Kombat 9, where Raiden has but one clue to prevent the Armageddon of the previous timeline: “He Must Win.”
Most of MK9 plays out the same as MK1, 2, and 3. Liu Kang still wins the first two tournaments, though Kung Lao is killed by Shao Kahn this time around in the second tournament, Sindel is still revived, and Shao Kahn and his forces still invade Earthrealm. But in Raiden’s desperation to do something different to change the apocalyptic fate that he has foreseen, he inadvertently sends a ton of his strongest allies to their deaths.
The whole ordeal leaves Liu Kang pretty fed up with Raiden, and when the time comes to follow along with Raiden’s new plan of allowing Shao Kahn to merge the realms, Liu Kang turns against his former friend, culminating with the Thunder God killing Earthrealm’s mightiest warrior.
Turns out, it wasn’t such a bad idea, as once Shao Kahn entered into Earthrealm, the Elder Gods grant Raiden their power. Raiden then proceeds to kill Shao Kahn once and for all.
All according to plan though for Shinnok, who in Mortal Kombat X, proceeds to enact his plan from Mortal Kombat 4. Only this time, he’s stopped by Earth’s newest mightiest warrior, Johnny Cage, and sealed inside his amulet. 20 years go by and the mantle of Earthrealm’s defenders has been passed to a new generation: Johnny Cage’s daughter Cassie Cage, Sonya Blade, Jax’s daughter Jacqui Briggs, Kung Lao’s cousin Kung Jin, and Takeda, a disciple of Hanzo Hasashi, better known as Scorpion.
Over the course of MKX, Quan Chi sets loose his army of reanimated dead Mortal Kombatants in an effort to recover Shinnok’s amulet to free the fallen elder god once again. Quan Chi succeeds, but then gets immediately decapitated by Scorpion who finally gets the revenge he’s been seeking all these years. Good for you, Scorps.
Shinnok runs amok, kidnaps Johnny and Sonya to prevent a repeat of what happened last time, and then proceeds to enter the Jinsei Chamber, which essentially contains the lifeblood of the realm, corrupts it and transforms himself into an all-powerful god beast.
The fate of Earthrealm falls on the shoulders of Cassie Cage, who battles against the corrupted Shinnok, and thanks to her Dad’s special green glowy power and the exceptional skill of whoever was playing, manages to defeat him. A battered and beaten Raiden is brought to the Jinsei chamber to purify it and remove Shinnok of his godly powers. Good feels are shared all around, and then credits roll.
Except that’s not where our story ends. Turns out, all that evil that Raiden purified had to go somewhere, and in the stinger after the credits, we see a familiar red-eyed glow as he threatens the revenants of Liu Kang and Kitana, who are presumably the new rulers of the Netherrealm, and leaves them with the parting gift of Shinnok’s still live, but severed head. And that’s where we currently stand with the story of Mortal Kombat 11…stay tuned!
Mitchell Saltzman is Gameplay/Livestream Guy at IGN. Follow him on Twitter.