With Mortal Kombat 1 looking to be more of a soft reboot, it’s useful to know what’s happened in the Mortal Kombat series story to date. That’s why I’ve cast my eye over the whole series, spinoffs aside, to bring you up to date. So here is a full summary of the main Mortal Kombat game franchise story so far.
A Story Summary of Each Main Mortal Kombat Game
If you just want to know about the new continuity, the one that leads up to Mortal Kombat 1, you can skip ahead. Mortal Kombat 1 will be the series’s second soft reboot, since 2011’s Mortal Kombat also went that route.
Additionally, since the first few games have different endings depending on which character you play, I’m going by confirmed canon or generally assumed canon. But game by game, here are the Mortal Kombat game story elements you should probably know about. I’ve omitted Mortal Kombat Trilogy because it’s a compilation game.
Mortal Kombat (1992)
Mortal Kombat is a tournament that’s fought every 50 years or so, hosted by the soul-stealing sorcerer Shang Tsung, on his private island. This tournament’s participants are Liu Kang, Thunder God Raiden, Scorpion, Sonya Blade, Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage, and Kano.
However, it’s not just an ordinary tournament. It’s a way of preventing the forces of Outworld (a none-too-pleasant fantasy-style realm) from taking over the earth. Shang Tsung’s champion, the four-armed Goro, has won nine tournaments, and if he wins a tenth, Outworld can invade.
Liu Kang, a Shaolin monk, is the victor. He defeats Goro and Shang Tsung, saving the Earth.
Mortal Kombat II (1993)
Despite his defeat in the last game, Shang Tsung convinces his emperor, Shao Kahn, to hold the next tournament in Outworld. There they will face the emperor himself and, if all goes according to plan, get their heads smooshed by a big hammer.
No, it’s not been 50 years and it’s not clear why Raiden, self-proclaimed protector of Earthrealm, doesn’t just tell Shao Kahn to shove it. But throughout the series, the Elder Gods, who are above Raiden, are shown as being unwilling or unable to intervene.
Liu Kang once again wins the tournament, defeating Shao Kahn.
Mortal Kombat 3 / Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (1995)
Shao Kahn is back, despite Liu Kang turning him to rubble. He resurrects his late wife, Queen Sindel, on Earth, letting him open a portal and invade the world. There’s an awful lot of loopholes involved in this Mortal Kombat business. He’s defeated, Earth is saved, and Shao Kahn exits the series, for now.
Mortal Kombat 4 (1997)
A new threat arises in the form of rogue Elder God Shinnok. Originally defeated by Raiden, he was imprisoned in the Netherrealm, the franchise’s fiery underworld. Aided by his own sorcerer, Quan Chi, and enabled by the defeat of Shao Kahn, he attempts to conquer pretty much everywhere.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (2002)
Quan Chi and Shang Tsung team up and kill series hero Liu Kang. Their combined powers allow them to go toe to toe with the series regulars, also killing the surprisingly-still-alive Shao Kahn. The ending is a little muddy, but the beginning of the next game suggests they succeed in defeating the heroes.
Mortal Kombat: Deception (2004)
Shang Tsung and Quan Chi’s alliance crumbles, their actions resulting in the resurrection of Onaga, the Dragon King, a long-dead Outworld ruler. He serves as the game’s main antagonist, but as with Shao Kahn and Shinnok before him, he is ultimately defeated.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (2006)
Each Mortal Kombat has been adding more fighters, to the point where Mortal Kombat: Armageddon features over 60. Armageddon’s story is that the sheer number of fighters is in danger of destabilizing all the realms.
And so, an Elder God constructs a giant pyramid, with the promise of ultimate power to whoever wins this final Mortal Kombat tournament. The canon ending, according to the next game, is that, while many fighters die, Shao Kahn wins, beating Raiden to within an inch of his life.
The series also contains more lore and character stories than you can shake a stick at. There’s the ongoing rivalry between undead ninja Scorpion and his ice-hurling rival Sub-Zero, perhaps the most famous characters apart from Liu Kang himself.
Scorpion believes Sub-Zero killed his family and clan, so he kills Sub-Zero. Sub-Zero’s brother then becomes the new Sub-Zero and continues this rivalry, unaware that Quan Chi actually killed Scorpion’s clan. There’s also the story of Kitana who is the “true” ruler of Outworld, her toothy clone sister Mileena, and Sindel who’s revealed to be her mother. But if I attempted to cover all that I’d be here till Mortal Kombat 1 came out.
A Story Summary of the New, Reboot Mortal Kombat Continuity
As of 2011’s Mortal Kombat 9 — called just Mortal Kombat — series continuity has been reset. Here’s what happens in this new trilogy.
Mortal Kombat / Mortal Kombat 9 (2011)
Mortal Kombat 9 begins where Armageddon ended, with Shao Kahn about to kill thunder god and Earthrealm protector Raiden. Raiden sends a cryptic message to his past self, “He must win!” Past Raiden receives this message through his now cracked amulet. He also starts having fractured visions of the future and so tries to avert Shao Kahn’s victory.
His efforts to prevent armageddon go horribly, horribly wrong. The game revisits the events of Mortal Kombat 1 – 3, including the invasion of Earth. Many fighters die, including Liu Kang and Kitana until Raiden realizes, almost too late, that “He must win!” refers to Shao Kahn.
By letting Shao Kahn win, without a formal tournament, the Elder Gods are able to assist Raiden. With the additional power they grant him, he defeats Shao Kahn. It’s a victory but one with a terrible, terrible cost.
Mortal Kombat X (2015)
As in Mortal Kombat 4, Shao Kahn’s death helps banished Elder God Shinnok get a foothold on Earth, which is still suffering the effects of the Outworld invasion. Many of the characters who died in Mortal Kombat 9 are brought back as revenants, under the control of Shinnok and Quan Chi.
Shinnok is defeated and banished by former Hollywood actor Johnny Cage who, shocker, has actually gone through some character development. Those who were resurrected return as their normal, living selves, though not without some psychological damage.
After Shinnok returns, the Earthrealm and Outworld heroes band together to stop him, including Scorpion and Sub-Zero, who make peace. Shinnok is defeated by Cassie Cage, daughter of Johnny Cage and series regular Sonya Blade.
Raiden, who has been corrupted by dark energy, removes Shinnok’s head. He presents it to the revenant Liu Kang and Kitana (who currently rule the Netherrealm) as a warning to stay the hell away from Earthrealm.
Mortal Kombat 11 (2019)
This entry in the series has time travel all over the place. Shinnok’s mother, Kronika, can control time using her hourglass, and she’s not happy about her son’s death. So, as this game’s villain, she joins forces with revenant Liu Kang and revenant Kitana alongside other villains, past and present. Her plan is to create an entirely new reality, which she calls her New Era.
Past and future are slammed together and characters meet other versions of themselves, with dramatic results. Ultimately, Raiden gives his powers to Liu Kang and merges past Liu Kang with present revenant Liu Kang to create Fire God Liu Kang. Fire God Liu Kang defeats Kronika and prepares to create his own, new timeline.
Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath continues the story, with Shang Tsung attempting to take Kronika’s crown that is required to use her hourglass. But ultimately (as confirmed by the Mortal Kombat 1 trailer) Liu Kang defeats him, and using the crown, he creates a new reality.
Do You Need to Know All This to Play Mortal Kombat 1?
You don’t have to know the entire Mortal Kombat chronology, new and old, to play Mortal Kombat 1, but it’s clear that you’ll get more out of this soft reboot if you do. The new game takes place in Fire God Liu Kang’s reality, and so in order to really appreciate how things have changed, you’ll need to know how events unfolded in at least one of the timelines.
That summarizes the full main Mortal Kombat series story so far, so you have a working knowledge to start Mortal Kombat 1.