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The Story of Mortal Kombat (2011) Explained by a Fresh Fighting Game Fan

With everyone pumped about Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8 and Mortal Kombat (1? One? I?), I decided it was finally time for me to get into fighting games. I knew I wasn’t going to be aiming for competitive play, but instead for a basic understanding of the genre, so I wanted a game that would have something beyond “get good” as a driving force and decided to play through the current trilogy of Mortal Kombat games. Everything I’d heard was that MK was the fighting game franchise with a story worth experiencing, and boy was that… a thing I heard.

I’ve played through 2009’s Mortal Kombat (not to be confused with 1992’s Mortal Kombat or the upcoming Mortal Kombat), and had a blast. The game was fun, the characters were big and bombastic, and the story was absolutely bonkers!

Read on for a very thorough and detailed recap of the story that I barely remembered, stay tuned for a similar take on Mortal Kombat X once I play through that game, or go check out our in-depth character breakdowns for thoughts from folks who respect this series a lot more than I do.

Canonical Retcon!

Everybody loves raiden.

Sometime in the distant future, a guy wearing a skull on his head like the most upsetting Cubone cosplay of all time beats the ever-loving crap out of apparently everyone, everywhere, all at once. Raiden, the Lightning Bender with a big cool hat, is the last man standing. The beboned warrior is not named Shere Khan, but that’s the name that stuck in my head because I loved the Jungle Book when I was a kid, and he starts tossing Raiden around the corpse-filled apocalypse like so much salad.

In a desperate attempt to prevent this ruin from will having had happened, Raiden uses his lightning powers to send a message back in time by breaking past Raiden’s special broach. It may sound like I’m mocking this plot point, but given what I know of The Flash, I’m surprised that Raiden just didn’t electrify himself back in time.

Mysticism and Misogyny!

Johnny cage eyes sonya.

We meet up with past Raiden in the present, smack dab in the middle of the plot of the 1992 game Mortal Kombat (which has the same plat as the 1995 movie Mortal Kombat and also the 2021 movie Mortal Kombat). For reasons this game is not interested in explaining, Raiden has brought a movie star, a well-endowed special forces soldier, a mulleted ninja, and a Raiden cosplayer with a less cool hat to fight some scary-ass demons. His broken broach makes him realize that he’s got to change the future somehow, so instead of starting with a cool character, he sends Johnny Cage, the movie star, into the ring.

Shere Khan isn’t around at this point. Instead, the big bad presiding over the tournament is Shang Tsung, a demonic sorcerer with a troublingly archetypical vibe, complete with a sweet Fu Manchu.

This is the point where you actually start playing Mortal Kombat. The first fight is part of the tournament, whose structure is suspect at best. His second fight is against Sonya Blade, the Soldier with a solid pair, who he fights for rejecting his disgusting, misogynistic advances.

I don’t much like Johnny Cage. I guess that made it easier to watch him get pummeled over and over again while I tried to learn how to throw a punch, though.

Two Tournaments!

Earthrealm victorious.

Over the next day or so, every plan that Raider has to change the future goes horribly wrong. The most spectacular is when he ambitiously convinces Scorpion not to brutally murder Subzero, only for Scorpian to… brutally murder Subzero by ripping his skull and spine from the rest of his body. Ultimately, Earthrealm's mightiest and most generic hero, Luke Ang beats the baddies and wins the tournament. Of course, this is exactly what happened before, so Raiden's jewelry keeps breaking just like that one time in that one movie with the Delorian and the mommy issues.

And Raiden can’t play guitar.

Fortunately, the big bad's big bad, Shere Khan (of the aforementioned Cubone cosplay), decides to take another swing at Earth with a sort of double or nothing bet to start up another tournament right away: If Earthrealm wins then Shere Khan will leave them alone forever, and if they lose they get conquered immediately.

Robots and Clones and Zombies oh my!

Robo sub-zero!

There's a new Sub-Zero at the new tournament, along with several other folks from his same clan. However, these other ninjas have decided to turn themselves into robots in order to be even better ninjas, which Sub-Zero is very much against. Sadly for him, Raiden is still out trying to change the future, so he lets Sub-Zero get borgified in the place of Gray Sub-Zero (Smoke? I think his name is Smoke), while the scantily clad, evil daughter of Shere Khan discovers that he has created an even scantier clad and eviler version of her.

The Eartherealm heroes ultimately win again, which per the terms of whatever galactic gambling group manages these tournaments should mean that Shere Khan is barred from interfering with Earth for the rest of forever. Instead, his dead wife comes back to life and he mounts a full-on invasion of Earth.

Guns and Gods!

Raiden has visions.

Mortal Kombat isn't just something happening in a nebulous extra dimension now, it's happening on Earth. Demons are flooding the street, and you take control of Stryker, a “shoot-first-then-shoot-again” cop who, with the help of his handy gun, is able to fight off the demon hordes as well as any of Earthrealm's champions.

I really want to emphasize that there is nothing special about Stryker. He’s just a guy with a gun. A normal, basic, standard-issue gun. I’m not a gun person, in fact, I’d say I’m pretty anti-gun, but if a regular handgun works against demons I’m not sure what we’re so afraid of. Then again, Johnny Cage is here and he doesn’t even have a gun!

Raiden talks to torsos.

Everyone works together to try to protect humanity while Raiden finally goes and talks to the Gods. He explains that Shere Khan is being a real butt and asks them to help out, but apparently, he is allowed to invade Earthrealm all he wants as long as he doesn't merge it with his world. Yup, conquering and destroying is fine, but assimilation is only allowed if he wins the Mortal Kombat tournament first.

This gives Raiden the great idea of refusing to fight in the tournament. Fortunately for him, the baddies went ahead and just straight up murdered all of the Earthrealm warriors while he was away, so he couldn't build a bracket if he wanted to.

The Only Way to Win!

Raiden has a plan.

After giving up on saving his friends or Earthrealm, Raiden flops on the ground and lets Shere Khan beat on him for a while. Crucially, Raiden refuses to fight back in any way whatsoever, so that when Shere Khan starts to merge the realms after his victory the Elder Gods can show up and say “What victory, there was no tournament?!”

Since he's clearly violated the rules, they blast him into nothingness and put back everything that went wrong. 

The End.

Just kidding, this is a fighting game! Since he's clearly violated the rules they give Raiden a Senzu bean and invite you to kick Shere Khan's butt!

Raiden goes super saiyan

In a postscript, it's revealed that this was all a plot by the leader of Neatherrealm, presumably named because it is neither Earthrealm or Outworld, and we're left with a cliffhanger suggesting that some new big bad is waiting to do some new big bad things in the next game.

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