Are They All Immortal? Mortal Kombat’s Storyline, Explained
- What Is The Mortal Kombat Tournament?
- CLASSIC TIMELINE: Mortal Kombat 1 – Mortal Kombat 3
- 3D TIMELINE: Mortal Kombat 4 – Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
- REBOOTED TIMELINE: Mortal Kombat 2011 – Mortal Kombat 11
- RE-REBOOTED TIMELINE: Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath
Mortal Kombat is a series that spans more than ten different games, with a ton of spin-offs in between. With characters dying in pretty much every match, having about a million different variants, and appearing across different worlds and timelines, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the fighters in Mortal Kombat are immortal.
Beyond a few godly characters like Raiden, Shinnok, Cetrion, and Fujin, most of Mortal Kombat's characters aren't actually immortal. The real reason why they've lasted so long is that Mortal Kombat has reset its timeline several times over, turning the clock back and considerably changing the story each time it does so. Let's dive into each timeline and look at where Mortal Kombat is now, as well as which characters have been changed the most each time.
Let's start off with a couple of ground rules. For starters, we won't be counting several games in the series. Crossover events like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, Raiden and Sub-Zero's appearances as DLC characters in Injustice, and, strangely, Shaolin Monks, are not considered canon in the Mortal Kombat universe by most fans, and therefore are best ignored here. We're also not counting the movie, animated shows, or comics here.
Secondly, if you're wondering how characters survive when they're constantly being killed during fights – don't. The only fights that count towards the storyline are the story mode ones, so no matter how many times you kill Johnny Cage in Arcade Mode, he's still alive in the current Mortal Kombat timeline. With that in mind, let's test our timeline traversing might.
What Is The Mortal Kombat Tournament?
Before we get started on the different timelines and story events, let's talk about what the Mortal Kombat tournament actually is and why it was set up. Mortal Kombat tournaments were created by the Elder Gods as a way to stop the realms (basically like different planets) from invading one another by, uh, offering the chance to invade another realm by winning enough tournaments. The rules originally stated that a realm had to win 10 times in a row to be able to invade, but this was later changed.
The Mortal Kombat tournament that we see in the first game in the series is canonically not the first Mortal Kombat tournament, with some notable ones including one the won by "The Great Kung-Lao" and the first tournament that allowed Shao Kahn to invade Edenia, the homeland of Sindel.
Later Mortal Kombat games retconned the "10 wins in a row" rule by having the second on-screen Mortal Kombat tournament (seen in Mortal Kombat 2) be a legitimate one that would end Outworld's claim to Earthrealm forever, essentially acting as the final one. Shao Kahn essentially ignores this after losing and tries to invade Earthrealm anyway.
If all of this is confusing already, you should probably strap in for all the timeline weirdness that's about to happen. Also, surprisingly, the Mortal Kombat tournament itself doesn't really end up mattering all that much in any timeline because of the retcons and because Shao Kahn ends up ignoring them.
CLASSIC TIMELINE: Mortal Kombat 1 – Mortal Kombat 3
Here's where it all began, with a battle between Earthrealm and Out. The original Mortal Kombat was light on story but had some key moments that ended up defining the rest of the series, before being retconned by 2011's reboot.
One of the more important storylines involves the original Sub-Zero, Bi-Han, being killed by Scorpion and later reborn as Noob Saibot, leaving the mantle of Sub-Zero up to his younger (and less evil) brother Kuai Liang. Scorpion and Sub-Zero start off as enemies because Sub-Zero's clan, the Lin Kuei, attacked and killed the Shirai Ryu, Scorpion's clan, killing Scorpion and leaving him to be reanimated as a spectre by the sorcerer Quan-Chi. It's later revealed that Quan-Chi set up the whole thing, but that's a story for later.
Some other key characters here are Hollywood actor Johnny Cage, Special Forces member Sonya Blade, and Black Dragon mercenary Kano. Although Johnny Cage is originally just here to prove himself as a capable fighter, Sonya and Kano are part of warring factions that get a bit more importance in later games.
We also have Raiden, Liu Kang, and Shang Tsung introduced here. Raiden is the protector of Earthrealm who gathers up the rest of the warriors to fight on Earth's side, while Shang Tsung is the representative for Outworld who sets up the tournament. Liu Kang canonically wins this Mortal Kombat tournament, defeating Goro in Mortal Kombat and sending Outworld home, becoming the Mortal Kombat champion in the process.
Mortal Kombat 2 saw Shang Tsung set up another tournament for Shao Kahn that was originally supposed to be a false tournament, where Outworld would end up invading Earthrealm no matter what. Shang Tsung, who didn't die in the original Mortal Kombat, set the tournament up as a ruse, with Earthrealm falling for it.
A few new characters include Kitana, the adopted daughter of Shao Kahn who eventually fights for Earthrealm, and Mileena, her clone that is essentially made to replace her. Jax, a member of the Special Forces, is also introduced, as is Reptile, a new ninja who was eventually changed to be an actual reptile.
Kuai Liang takes up the mantle of Sub-Zero here, fighting with Earthrealm and looking into the death of his brother at the hands of Scorpion. Kung Lao, another Shaolin Monk and a descendant of the "great Kung Lao" also joins the fight here, although is given more importance in later games.
The second tournament ends with Liu Kang once again winning, this time beating Shang Tsung, Kintaro, and Shao Kahn.
Mortal Kombat 3 saw Outworld say "screw the rules" and decide to invade Earthrealm anyway, because that's totally fair. There's no tournament this time around, with Earthrealm instead fighting off against the invaders in regular battle. Several new characters were introduced, including Stryker and Kabal, as well as the robotic Lin Kuei, Cyrax and Sektor.
Johnny Cage also ends up dead because of the events of Mortal Kombat 3, something which would later be retconned and shifted around a whole lot. We also see characters like Jade and Sindel introduced to further Kitana's plotline, although Sindel's allegiance is something that is argued to this very day, with later games turning her into a straight-up villain.
Mortal Kombat 3 ends much the same way as other Mortal Kombat games, with Liu Kang winning against Shao Kahn, although this time around Kung Lao was seemingly killed in the process, something that was shifted closer to Mortal Kombat 2 in later games.
3D TIMELINE: Mortal Kombat 4 – Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
Okay if you thought all of that was messy, just wait until you get a load of the 3D era of Mortal Kombat. This is where things get weird. Although not a separate timeline from the original three games, this jump to 3D is a good a place as any to split things up a little bit. By now you know most of the characters, so it's more a case of what happens.
Mortal Kombat 4 sees Shinnok, the previous Elder God of Death trying to invade Earthrealm and corrupt the Jin-Sei, the lifeforce of Earthrealm. The original defenders of Earthrealm, including the suddenly alive Johnny Cage and Kung Lao team up with members of the Black Dragon and Special Forces to take down Shinnok, with Liu Kang once again succeeding and winning against him. Kitana also offers to marry Liu Kang and let him rule Edenia, but he refuses.
For those following the series' best storyline, Quan-Chi is also revealed to be the person behind the death of Scorpion's clan and family, resulting in the sorcerer and himself being sent to the Netherrealm.
The next game, Deadly Alliance, saw Shang Tsung and Quan-Chi, who was actually in control of Shinnok the whole time, deciding to team up with one another and take out Shao Kahn and Liu Kang. Although the Shao Kahn they kill is actually a fake (yep), they do manage to kill Liu Kang.
In response, Raiden brings together an army of Earthrealm's best and decides to go up against the two, which goes about as well as you can imagine. Pretty much every Mortal Kombat hero ends up dead in the events of Deadly Alliance, save from a few. Of course, Shang Tsung and Quan Chi end up fighting one another, before Onaga, the Dragon King and previous ruler of Outworld, ended up returning.
Some other key story elements include Sub-Zero becoming the grandmaster of the Lin Kuei and taking on a disciple, Frost, who ends up betraying him and nearly getting him killed, the introduction of Kenshi to the storyline, and the death of Scorpion, seemingly. Like we said, weird.
Right, Mortal Kombat: Deception time. Shang Tsung, Quan-Chi, and Raiden decide to team up in order to win against Onaga, with Raiden blowing himself up and coming back as a red-eyed, much more evil god of thunder. Raiden then uses his powers to revive Liu Kang, but as a zombie for some reason.
Through several different deux ex machinas and sorcerers, pretty much every character who had been killed is brought back in some way or another, leading up to Armageddon, the big one. This story ends by having Shujinko, a character introduced in Deadly Alliance, killing Onaga by destroying an amulet that he'd collected during the Konquest mode of Deadly Alliance and then just straight up killing him.
However, as expected, with Onaga out of the way, a much bigger war is coming between good and evil, which leads to the all-out war that is Mortal Kombat: Armageddon.
Mortal Kombat Armageddon acted as the culmination to everything we'd seen up to this point, with every single character becoming part of the roster. In a story sense, Armageddon was seen as one massive battle between good and evil, as every fighter competed to go up against Blaze and rule over everyone.
If you've played Mortal Kombat 9, you know how this goes – Shao Kahn is the overall winner out of all of the fighters, with everyone else completely dead besides Raiden. This timeline ends with Shao Kahn killing Raiden and the Elder God sending a message to himself in a previous timeline, which leads into Mortal Kombat 9.
REBOOTED TIMELINE: Mortal Kombat 2011 – Mortal Kombat 11
Hey, so you know all of that I've just described above? You can discount literally all of it because Mortal Kombat 2011 (also known as Mortal Kombat 9) reboots the whole thing. The game opens as Raiden is about to be killed in the Armageddon universe. He sends a message to his past self in the first Mortal Kombat, "he must win", meaning to warn Raiden that Shao Kahn needs to win the fake tournament and merge the realms so the Elder Gods would finally step in.
Raiden doesn't understand this until the last minute, of course, thinking the message means that Liu Kang or Kung Lao need to win the tournament. From the opening, Mortal Kombat 9 essentially acts as a redo of the first three Mortal Kombat games, changing the timeline significantly and acting as a soft reboot. For example, Raiden is warned that the original Sub-Zero will become Noob Saibot when killed by Scorpion, and tries to convince him not to kill him. Scorpion still does, but we get to see him contemplate it.
There are some key changes made to the storyline through Raiden's knowledge of the future. Smoke manages to avoid that fate though, with Sub-Zero actually getting turned into Cyber Sub-Zero during the storyline. Kung Lao has greater importance and is chosen to fight Shao Kahn in the second tournament, actually beating him but ending up killed anyway. Thankfully, Johnny Cage is stopped from being killed as well.
Raiden keeps trying to fix the timeline but gets no assistance from the Elder Gods. In a pretty infamous scene, a reborn Sindel is brainwashed by Shao Kahn into killing literally all of Earthrealm's fighters except for Johnny, Sonya, Liu Kang, and Raiden. Liu Kang decides to stop listening to Raiden and goes to fight Shao Kahn before Raiden realises that Shao Kahn needs to win to get the Elder Gods to attack him.
At the end of Mortal Kombat 9, Liu Kang is killed by Raiden as he tries to stop him from attacking Shao Kahn. Raiden defeats Shao Kahn but loses Liu Kang, leaving it up to Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, and as eventually revealed by Mortal Kombat 10, Kenshi, to fight for Earthrealm.
Mortal Kombat 10 starts off with Shinnok's invasion of Earthrealm and has Johnny Cage realising his powers and defeating the god after seeing Sonya in danger. After defeating Shinnok, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade went up against Quan Chi and Johnny Cage nearly dies and becomes a Revenant. Raiden interrupts the process and manages to reverse it, turning Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Jax back into humans.
We then get to see the characters many years in the future, including Johnny and Sonya's daughter Cassie Cage, a revived Scorpion's son, Takeda, and Jax's daughter, Jacqui Briggs. Scorpion and Sub-Zero have made peace with one another and start to rebuild their clans separately, after revealing to one another that Quan-Chi is responsible for their rivalry.
Outworld is now ruled by Kotal Kahn, a much kinder man who actually agrees to a peace treaty with Earthrealm known as the Reiko Accords. The realms are finally in a relative state of peace, aside from characters like Liu Kang and Kitana remaining as Revenants. However, when the task force made up of Cassie's daughter and their friends go to Kotal Kahn to receive aid, Shinnok's amulet is stolen by Kano and eventually gets into D'Vorah's hands, who was working for Quan-Chi all along.
Quan-Chi gets the amulet, but not before Scorpion shows up and chops his head off. With Quan-Chi dead, there's no way to restore the Revenants. He also casts a spell that revives Shinnok, leading to a big fight between everyone. Cassie Cage realises her powers, similarly to how Johnny Cage did, and Raiden absorbs negative energy from the Jin-Sei, which turns him into a much more brutal version of himself.
Mortal Kombat 10 ends with Raiden warning Liu Kang and Kitana that he won't spare them this time around, throwing Shinnok's decapitated head at their feet. Shinnok, who is immortal, is actually still alive even with his head cut off, but it acts as a warning to anyone who dares to invade.
Mortal Kombat 11, the most recent game in the series, starts with Raiden torturing Shinnok's decapitated head. As he leaves we get to see Kronika, the keeper of time and mother of Shinnok, who reveals that Raiden has upset the balance of the universe by manipulating the timeline in Mortal Kombat 9 to work in his favour, and Kronika can't do anything about it because he's a god as well. According to Kronika, this has happened across different timelines and realities (which explains the older games, I guess), but that Raiden always manages to interrupt things for her.
In the current timeline, Sonya leads the Special Forces in a mission against Liu Kang and Kitana, which eventually leads to her death in an explosion. Kronika then tries to recruit Liu Kang and Kitana to create a timeline without Raiden, but needs to recruit more warriors to her side in order to do so.
Kronika then brings in characters from the past, including human versions of Liu Kang, Kitana, Kung Lao, Sonya and pretty much every character who has died along the way, both good and evil. Oh, and two Johnny Cages. Raiden's current, evil self disappears and is replaced by his younger version, who sets off to find out how to defeat Kronika.
A lot of things happen in the campaign, including the death of the current Scorpion, Kitana becoming the ruler of Outworld, the introduction of Kronika's unkillable minion Geras, and the awkwardness of a past Sonya Blade appearing when the current one has just passed away. After rallying together all of their forces, Raiden starts to use Shinnok's amulet against a version of Scorpion from the past.
As he does so, Liu Kang fights against him, triggering his memories of every other reality where the two have fought against each other and things have gone wrong, which is reminiscent of Mortal Kombat 9. The two refuse to fight one another which leads to Kronika taking Liu Kang away before the final battle. This final battle sees Geras taken down by an anchor under a sea of blood, Jax get over his trauma and switch sides, and Kronika eventually just reverse time so that everyone disappears.
Before that happens, Raiden passes on his powers to Liu Kang, making him the God of Fire and Thunder. As a god, Liu Kang is immune to Kronika's powers of time manipulation, resulting in a final battle between the two. Liu Kang wins and a human Raiden says that he'll be his advisor in whatever new timeline he chooses to create, which leads into the events of Aftermath.
RE-REBOOTED TIMELINE: Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath
Hey, so you know all of that stuff I just described above? You can go ahead and bloody discount it again because Mortal Kombat 11 ends with another universe-rebooting event. Woah, deja vu. After defeating Kronika, Fire-God Liu Kang tries to use her hourglass to restore the timeline, before being stopped by Shang Tsung and some other characters.
Although there are some twists and turns in the Aftermath DLC, such as the confirmation that Sindel has been evil all along, the main thing to take away from it is that Shang Tsung once again planned pretty much everything that's happened and that Liu Kang was aware of that. The player gets to choose which character to play the final fight as out of Liu Kang and Shang Tsung, and the ending changes depending on which character is picked.
Shang Tsung's ending, likely non-canon, sees him making a new era with Raiden and Fujin as his loyal subjects, while Liu Kang's sees him creating a new era and choosing to train "the great Kung Lao" in order to ensure Earthrealm's victory.
And there we have it, that's the whole Mortal Kombat timeline explained. With two massive reboots and a pretty uncertain future, it's not clear where the series will go next, but it's sure to have plenty of bloodshed, time-travelling, and a distinct lack of actual tournaments.
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