What’s the Deal With Mortal Kombat’s Reboot Addiction

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Ben Hazell
| July 29, 2023
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Mortal Kombat is a game series known primarily for its overabundance of blood and graphic fatalities since its early conception in the 1990s. Originally based on a very grounded tale of humans against an otherworldly invading force in one-on-one combat, Mortal Kombat has been raising the mythological power base of its threats for many years. However, rarely do any of its characters stay in the same place or even in the same scenario for very long. In fact, the series, in general, hasn’t had a stable and lasting storyline for many years.

Kitana has gone through so many design changes throughout the years, this is her MK 11 outfit.

Ed Boon has been in control of the main series for many years. Stiil, his higher-ups have constantly changed. From Midway games to Warner Brothers interactive, to Netherrealm studios, the series has changed hands a lot. All these studio changes have led to quite a few confusing titles. For instance, the rapidly approaching “Mortal Kombat 1”  not to be confused with “Mortal Kombat” from 1992 or “Mortal Kombat” from 2011 (which later became Mortal Kombat 9 in popular use). Or the movie “Mortal Kombat” from 1995 or the movie “Mortal Kombat from 2021… well you get the idea. This series has outdone the Halloween franchise for the number of times they’ve reused the same title for their content. Needless to say, all of the above pieces of content have their own timeline and telling of events.

Under Midway games, the series was no stranger to confusing Retcons, Sub-Zero becoming Noob Saibot while his brother becomes the new Sub-Zero. Scorpion becomes a champion of the elder gods despite being a vengeance-driven demon. Shang Tsung constantly swaps between being old and young like a yo-yo, and Shao Khan’s flip-flopping strength depending on the game. One of the defining features of Mortal Kombat is that characters will never stay in the same place in any one game. The Midway era could be summarized by generally changing characters but not settings. The lore pretty much remained intact.

The first full world re-boot enacted via time travel message to Raiden’s past self.

Once we move to NetherRealm Studios’ era, we move past the simple act of changing characters every game. Now the entire world is shaken up every game. First, we reboot the whole franchise in Mortal Kombat (2011). Then we time-skip about 20 years in Mortal Kombat X (2015), establishing a new status quo. Finally, Mortal Kombat 11‘s storyline (2019) is about taking the past and time-skipped storylines, mushing them together and making them fight to see who gets to reboot next!

So, the world is technically rebooted again into this blender of characters’ past and future selves. And I don’t even want to talk about the absolute mess that was “Sindel was secretly evil the entire time”. After two previous games of setup, she needed to be brainwashed to do evil. Like, really, Netherealm thought they had this big “Gotcha” twist, forgetting that it contradicts two timelines, another character’s motivation and multiple previously established canons. All to state what is clearly an uncontrolled addiction to reboots. After which, Liu Kang just erases everything, including new nonsensical reboots.

Mortal Kombat kills so many characters off, maybe it’s needed that they reboot everything every five minutes.

Currently, as of this article, Mortal Kombat 1 is releasing in a few months, taking a leaf from Microsoft and having a confusing name. Like how they called the third Xbox the Xbox One, it just confuses everyone. Or when you make a password, and they insist that you need to add a number. In reality, this is Mortal Kombat 12, and it’s going to be great!

The gameplay looks fun, the characters look beautifully animated, and NetherRealm are proven storytellers in the short term, So you can understand me when I say that this confusing stuff has got to stop. I don’t mind some changes, such as characters having significant growth but changing the entire world every second game just devalues your plot and characters’ appeal. Mortal Kombat 11 specifically set it up that this new game’s world would be forged by Liu Kang, who is now a “Time-keeper”. A built-in universe retcon excuse!

In universe, it seems Ret-cons have been happening for ages.

For instance, Scorpion had two versions of himself in Mortal Kombat 11. His human version, Hanzo Hasashi, who was proven incredibly skilled. And his demon of vengeance version, who speed-ran his older counterparts’ character growth due to time travel shenanigans. The older version dies, and seeing this spurns the younger Scorpion into turning over a new leaf.

Mortal Kombat 1’s trailers have removed Hanzo Hasahi completely. Instead, giving the Scorpion name and title to Sub-Zero’s brother Kuai Liang, who would normally be Sub-Zero. The first Sub-Zero Bi-han is now Sub-Zero again, not Noob Saibot as he has been for the past two games. These reboots want to take your character loyalty and slap you in the face with them.

We’re brothers this time? What next? … Boyfriends?

To top it all off, we have the role reversal of Raiden and Liu Kang. Liu Kang is now a God, and Raiden is now a human… but he still has his godly lightning powers… I’m sure this will be explained somehow. I find it difficult to be a Mortal Kombat fan and have a main character I like to play, as Ed Boon’s wacky funhouse may roll into town and turn them into a gerbil at any moment!

Mortal Kombat 1 releases in September, and if the story once again cannot maintain its status quo until the end of the game, I’m going to fatality my computer desk. What do you think about Mortal Kombat? Can you follow the story at all? Are you just as tired of reboots as I am? I’ll be looking at the comments!

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Dan Morris
7 months ago

As a fan I like the NetherRealm narrative since Mortal Kombat 2011. I like how that game retold the events of the OG MK 1 and 2 then add in the continuation of 10 that rounds out with 11. Yes I realize how ridiculous all that sounds but as far as long running fighting game franchise stories go MK has got to be the most interesting and appealing.

I think how MK1 is able to tell a new story but retain the characters we all love is a brilliant way to breathe new like in an exhausted genre.

It’s still bat shit crazy and confusing but fun. And seriously MK11 Aftermath with Shang Tsung played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who played the character in the movie, Was brilliant. I loved all of it.

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