The Mortal Kombat franchise has rejiggered its timeline twice over the past decade, with Raiden altering the course of history starting with 2011’s Mortal Kombat and Liu Kang giving it another go in this week’s Mortal Kombat 1. Narrative reboots like these give developer NetherRealm Studios a chance to rework core elements of Mortal Kombat lore — bitter ninja rivalries, Earthrealmers battling supernatural monsters and wizards, Outworld royalty and military drama — with a fresh spin.
Mortal Kombat 1 goes harder than ever before in its retelling of the classic Mortal Kombat story, with Liu Kang directly interfering in previous canon events to prevent certain bad guys from coming to power. In his version of Mortal Kombat’s story, Liu Kang does a respectable job of keeping the peace between Earthrealm and Outworld. The actual Mortal Kombat tournament of MK1 kind of glides by rather nonviolently in this version of the story.
At one point, Liu Kang even comforts a young Raiden as he prepares to represent Earthrealm in the tournament, telling him, “No tournament participant has ever been grievously injured or killed.”
That’s one of the low-key funniest moments in Mortal Kombat 1’s story. But it’s nothing compared to the timeline shenanigans NetherRealm pulls off at the end of the game.
[Warning: The following contains endgame spoilers for Mortal Kombat 1’s story.]
Mortal Kombat 1’s Liu Kang does an admirable job of resetting the universe, keeping series villains Shang Tsung, Quan Chi, and Shao Kahn from coming to power, but only up to a point. That’s because there’s a twist that neither Liu Kang or Geras saw coming.
The whole reason Liu Kang has the ability to rewrite history is explained in the events of Mortal Kombat 11’s story add-on, Aftermath. In the final moments of that expansion, Shang Tsung defeats the powerful Titan named Kronika, and steals her crown, a powerful temporal magic device, for himself. Liu Kang then defeats Shang Tsung, uses the crown to control the Hourglass, erases his longtime enemy from existence, and ventures back in time to reshape Mortal Kombat history.
In an alternate version of that ending, Shang Tsung defeats Liu Kang and becomes all-powerful, conquering Earthrealm, Netherrealm, and Outworld.
What Liu Kang doesn’t realize in Mortal Kombat 1 is that both Aftermath endings happen. Liu Kang is rewriting Mortal Kombat history, and so is Shang Tsung. The latter is interfering with Liu Kang’s plans and the two timelines are running in parallel. And what is initially believed to be two timelines turns out to be infinite timelines.
Mortal Kombat 1 goes full multiverse from here.
While that may be an increasingly tired storytelling trope in the wake of Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, The Flash, and Everything Everywhere All At Once, Mortal Kombat 1 does the funniest thing possible with its multiversal story.
In the game’s final chapters, Liu Kang and Shang Tsung travel to dozens of other timelines, recruiting the kombatants of those worlds to fight for their causes. Some of those alternate-reality fighters become the player’s opponents in a series of battles on the way to defeat Shang Tsung. And they’re mostly mashups of the Mortal Kombat characters that fans will know and love, but all of them are evil.
They include guys like Stung Lao, a combination of Scorpion and Kung Lao:
And John Kahner, a blend of Johnny Cage and Shao Kahn that does extra work as a Terminator reference.
There’s also Quantum Chi, a mashup of Geras and Quan Chi.
Triborg Smoke is also here.
There’s even a Kano/Sonya mashup (Kanya?) that you unfortunately do not fight one-on-one.
Most, if not all, of these mashup characters can use the special moves of both fighters. Firefly, a combination of Li Mei and Scorpion, uses the latter’s throwing spear alongside her magical abilities.
The same is true for Frostbite, who employs Nitara and Sub-Zero’s movesets…
…and the Geras/Reptile combo with the brilliant, groan-worthy name, Klockodile.
Some of the characters you’ll fight in Chapter 15, “Armageddon,” of Mortal Kombat 1 are just fun variations of familiar fighters, including female versions of Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, and Ermac. (There’s also a Janet Cage who unfortunately only appears in cutscenes.)
Others are just silly throwbacks to Mortal Kombat in-jokes. You will always fight Ninja Mime.
Mortal Kombat 1’s final chapter throws these mashups at players somewhat randomly, and NetherRealm included a trophy for playing the chapter twice — ensuring that players will notice the variety of opponents in their playthroughs of the game’s story mode.
The remixed fighters of Mortal Kombat 1’s climax may be a sly reference to Mortal Kombat Armageddon’s Kreate A Fighter mode, with which players could evoke Frankenstein by building custom characters using various body parts, costumes, and moves from across the game’s massive roster. Whether NetherRealm will give MK1 players a chance to make their own mashups remains to be seen, but that would certainly make an entertaining addition to the game’s roster.