To understand the following story, Mortal Kombat is a series of fighting games created by Ed Boon and John Tobias. The first four renditions and their updates were developed by Midway Games and initially released on arcade machines. The arcade titles were later picked up by Acclaim Entertainment for the home console conversions. Beginning with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Midway Games exclusively created home versions of Mortal Kombat up until Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Following Midway's bankruptcy, the franchise was picked up by Warner Bros. in July 2009 and became a part of the Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Branch.
The whole saga is told chronologically, complete with game titles and dates of release in order to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. Let's begin:
MORTAL KOMBAT: SPECIAL FORCES (2000)
Special Forces is chronologically the first game in the Mortal Kombat storyline, as its events take place even before Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. The story of the game involves Kano freeing his gang, the Black Dragon (Tasia, Tremor, No Face and Jarek) from a maximum security prison and Jax, seeking revenge for the slaughter of his Special Forces comrades at the hands of the Black Dragon, undertakes a mission to stop them from retrieving an artifact of great power, the Eye of Chitian. The true power of the artifact is shown in the ending that it can open portals to other realms when Jax uses the artifact to teleport himself and Kano back to Earthrealm after defeating him.
MORTAL KOMBAT MYTHOLOGIES: SUB-ZERO (1997)
Long ago, (before the events that took place in MK1) the Lin Kuei were hired by the sorcerer Quan Chi to steal a map of elements from a Shaolin temple. The Grandmaster sent his most cunning assassin, Sub-Zero, to do the job. Battling through the Shaolin monks who guarded the map, Sub-Zero reached the map room and was accosted by his rival, Scorpion. In a grueling battle, Sub-Zero mercilessly killed Scorpion and escaped the temple with the map. Back at the headquarters of the Lin Kuei, Sub-Zero delivered the map to Quan Chi, who had repaid the Lin Kuei by eliminating all the members of Scorpion's ninja clan the Shirai Ryu, the Lin Kuei's rival clan. Quan Chi also revealed he had hired Scorpion in case Sub-Zero has failed his mission, something that did not settle well with Sub-Zero. Retaining the Lin Kuei's services, Quan Chi had Sub-Zero follow the map to the Temple of Elements, where an amulet of "sentimental value" was resting.
Sub-Zero reached the temple and went through its many challenges and obstacles, eliminating the gods of Wind, Earth, Water, and Fire that protected the amulet. Just as Sub-Zero reached out for it, Quan Chi appeared and took the amulet, saying that it was actually the source of power for a fallen Elder God named Shinnok. Quan Chi disappeared through a portal, and the thunder god Raiden accosted Sub-Zero, ordering him to go to the Netherealm to retrieve the amulet.
Sub-Zero was sent to the Netherealm and was immediately trapped in the Prison of Souls by Quan Chi's guards. There, he was met by the undead spectre of his archnemsis, Scorpion, who blamed Sub-Zero for the destruction of his clan and family. Although Scorpion couldn't die, he was beaten by Sub-Zero and forced to retreat. Sub-Zero escaped and fought Quan Chi's underlings: Kia, Sareena, and Jataaka. He killed Kia and Jataaka, but spared Sareena.
Retrieving their transportation crystals, he was able to get to Quan Chi's fortress. Quan Chi then revealed to Sub-Zero that the only reason he was able to retain his mortality was because of the evil in his heart from being the ruthless assassin he had been known as. Suddenly, Sareena appeared and helped Sub-Zero defeat the sorcerer. She then begged Sub-Zero to take her away from the Netherealm, but she was quickly killed by Shinnok, who was now powered by his amulet.
Using his cunning, Sub-Zero grabbed the amulet from Shinnok, who then morphed into a giant demon. Rather than facing certain death, Sub-Zero escaped through a portal created by Raiden, and delivered the amulet to the god. When Sub-Zero questioned what Quan Chi said to him, Raiden confirmed it, but reminded the young warrior that only he could change his own fate.
Returning to the Lin Kuei headquarters, Sub-Zero was once again hired by another sorcerer named Shang Tsung. The Lin Kuei warrior was asked to compete in a tournament on Tsung's behalf. It was called Mortal Kombat...
MORTAL KOMBAT (1992)
The original Mortal Kombat is the only game in the series to not have an introduction video explaining its plot. Eventually, the story of the Mortal Kombat universe was revealed, as well as the story behind the tournament itself. It is said that the Elder Gods created various realms, and that they decreed that the denizens of one realm could only conquer another realm by defeating the defending realm's greatest warriors in ten consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments. With one of such realms, Outworld, already having won nine tournaments in a row, Earth's warriors would have to avoid handing Earthrealm the tenth loss, or all of humanity would crumble into the darkness of the Outworld. The first game takes place during this decisive battle. With the help of the Thunder God Raiden, the Earthrealm warriors are victorious and the monk Liu Kang becomes the new champion of Mortal Kombat after defeating the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung.
MORTAL KOMBAT: SHAOLIN MONKS (2005)
The battle raged furiously on Shang Tsung's island fortress in the Lost Sea, as the sorcerer watches from his throne. The Shaolin monk Liu Kang defeats Shang Tsung, and the giant Goro comes to his defense. With Goro distracting everyone else, Shang Tsung creates a portal to Outworld and retreats. Raiden appears afterwards and warns the remaining fighters to get off the island palace because it is collapsing into the sea.
Everyone, except Liu Kang and Kung Lao, evacuates and escape back to the Wu Shi Academy. Liu Kang and Kung Lao, however, have to fight their way to another portal to get to Wushi Academy. Upon arrival, they meet Baraka and the Tarkatan attacking the Wu Shi Academy. The Tarkatans are defeated, but Baraka captures Sonya Blade. Raiden confirms that Shang Tsung is trying to lure Liu Kang and his allies to Outworld where he can order his henchmen to attack them and bide his time for power. If successful, Shang Tsung will conquer Earth without winning a Mortal Kombat tournament, which is cheating.
The Shaolin Monks, Liu Kang and Kung Lao, journey through the nightmarish realm of Outworld to stop the sorcerer's plot. They are guided by Raiden and assisted by Johnny Cage. Throughout their journeys, they are joined by a mysterious princess named Kitana, meet familiar foes and eventually save Sonya and stop Shang Tsung. But the sorcerer is not the only person who wants Earth; the Emperor of Outworld, Shao Kahn, wants Earth for his realm and he will stop at nothing until he gets it.
MORTAL KOMBAT II (1993)
Following his failure to defeat Liu Kang in the first Mortal Kombat game, the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung begs his master, Shao Kahn, to spare his life. He tells Shao Kahn that the invitation for Mortal Kombat cannot be turned down, and if they hold it in Outworld, the Earthrealm warriors must attend. Kahn agrees to this plan, and even restores Tsung's youth. He then extends the invitation to Raiden, who gathers his warriors and takes them into Outworld. The new tournament is much more dangerous, as Shao Kahn has the home field advantage, and an Outworld victory will allow him to subdue Earthrealm.
MORTAL KOMBAT 3 (1995)
Fed up with continuous losses in tournament battle, Shao Kahn, who had lost to Liu Kang in the Outworld tournament, enacts a 10,000 year-old plan. He would have his Shadow Priests, led by Shang Tsung, revive his former Queen Sindel, who unexpectedly died at a young age.
However, she wouldn't be revived in the Outworld. She would be resurrected in the Earthrealm. This would allow Shao Kahn to cross the boundary lines and reclaim his queen. When Sindel is reincarnated in Earthrealm, Shao Kahn reaches across the dimensions to reclaim her. As a consequence of his action, the Earthrealm becomes a part of the Outworld, instantly stripping billions of their souls.
Only a few are spared, as Raiden protects their souls. He tells them that Shao Kahn must be stopped, but he cannot interfere; due to his status, he has no power in Outworld, and Earthrealm is partially merged with Outworld. Shao Kahn has unleashed extermination squads to roam throughout the Earthrealm and kill any survivors. Also, Raiden's protection only extends to the soul, not to the body, so his chosen warriors have to fight the extermination squads and repel Shao Kahn. Eventually with his final defeat, every human on Earthrealm comes back.
Thousands of years before the start of the series, Shinnok, one of the Elder Gods who control the six realms in the Mortal Kombat universe, attempted to become the conqueror from all of them. Thunder God Raiden fought and defeated Shinnok in a war that spanned hundreds of years, sending him afterwards to the Netherealm, where he would be trapped forever.
Now, Shinnok managed to escape from the Netherealm with help from the sorcerer Quan Chi, and seeks revenge to the Elder Gods who banished him. In his plan, he first conquers the realm of Edenia, with the aid of a traitor, Tanya, while he prepares to attack the Elder Gods. In order to stop Shinnok's menace, Raiden requests the help from the Earthrealm warriors who managed to save the realms from Emperor Shao Kahn in previous titles.
MORTAL KOMBAT: DEADLY ALLIANCE (2002)
At the end of Mortal Kombat 4 (which is Scorpion's canon ending), the sorcerer Quan Chi revealed himself as the murderer of Scorpion's family and clan, before attempting to send him back to the Netherrealm. Scorpion, fueled with homicidal rage, grabbed Quan Chi at the last minute, bringing him to the realm alongside him.
In the intro, it is revealed that Quan Chi was able to escape the Netherrealm, using the amulet he had stolen from Shinnok. He appears in a tomb containing several mummified remains and an ancient runestone, which reveals that the remains are the "undefeatable" army of the long forgotten ruler of Outworld, known simply as the "Dragon King". Learning that it can be revived, Quan Chi forms an alliance with Shang Tsung, offering him an endless supply of souls in return for him transplanting the souls of defeated warriors into the army. The two work together to defeat, and kill, Shao Kahn and Liu Kang, the two biggest threats to their plans.
Unable to interfere as an Elder God, Raiden surrenders his status after realising that, should the sorcerors succeed, they will be virtually unstoppable. He gathers together his most trusted mortal allies in order to stop the Deadly Alliance before the army can be fully resurrected.
In the final events of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Raiden's warriors who were meant to protect the six fictional universes named realms are killed by the Deadly Alliance (Shang Tsung and Quan Chi), who attempted to conquer the realms. With Raiden defeated, the Deadly Alliance turns on each other. When Quan Chi wins, Dragon King Onaga, the former emperor of the realm of the Outworld, appears to regain his power. Raiden awakes and then unleashes all his powers in a colossal explosion that but apart from making both members of the Deadly Alliance and himself be affected, has little effect on Onaga.
Onaga now seeks to use six artifacts called Kamidogu (literally "Tool of God" or "divine clay"), which are able to destroy the realms. Those fighters not killed in the battle against the Deadly Alliance now stand against Onaga and his supporters. The latter include a fictional horde known as Tarkatan led by Baraka, one of the characters who starred in Mortal Kombat II. Other enemies include the former defenders from the realms, who were resurrected by Onaga and are under his control.
In the story explored in Konquest mode, a young man named Shujinko is deceived into spending his life collecting the Kamidogu for Onaga, who uses the guise of an emissary of the Elder Gods, the beings who created the realms, named Damashi. Onaga reveals his identity and intentions after Shujinko has gathered all the Kamidogu. Shujinko, led to believe he was working for the greater good, joins the others opposing Onaga.
MORTAL KOMBAT: ARMAGEDDON (2007)
Throughout the Mortal Kombat universe, the warriors were growing too strong and numerous for the realms to handle. The warriors' powers threaten to utterly destroy the fabric of the MK universe. Upon this scene, the Elder Gods demanded a safeguard to be put in place to absorb the kombatants' insatiable bloodlust. In an enormous crater in Edenia, these warriors clashed in a single battle royale between the Forces of Light and Darkness that would threaten to rip apart reality and bring about the Apocalypse. Without warning, a mysterious pyramid rises from the ground, and the tip bursts into flames, attracting the warriors' curiosity to see what it was. The kombatants fought one another to get to the top, while Blaze, the gods' firespawn revealed himself to them. The firespawn was created by Delia, a powerful Edenian sorceress, and the mother of the main character in "Konquest" mode to destroy each fighter that would threaten him in order to save the realms from Armageddon. This would be the warriors' last battle, their last chance to prove that they are worthy of surviving, while many others will die. This will be the final battle for Mortal Kombat, the battle that will determine the fate of the realms.
The opening cinematic in Mortal Kombat (2011) shows that NetherRealm Studios considers Shao Khan the canonical victor of the MKA tournament.
MORTAL KOMBAT (2011)
The story starts taking place after the events of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, where the Kombatants from both sides are dead, leaving only Raiden and Shao Kahn. Defeated and about to be delt the final blow, Raiden used his last attempt to cast a spell on his amulet, now shattered, to contact his past self and quote "He Must Win!" before he was killed.
In the events of the first game, the Raiden from that era appears with Liu Kang in the Mortal Kombat Tounament hosted by Shang Tsung, now possessing visions of the events from his future self and his amulet cracked. After the first few rounds of the tournament, with Johnny Cage defeating Reptile and Baraka, Raiden and Liu Kang met with Cage and explain to him the reason and purpose of Mortal Kombat, which he does not believe. Cage then finds Sonya Blade (who Cage flirted with earlier) while she was contacting her forces, and he attempts to help her out. Initially hostile, Sonya warms up to Cage after he saves her from the Black Dragon mercenary Kano, during which time Cage begins to understand the truth in Raiden's words. Later, Sonya rescues Jax with help from Raiden. The thunder god then explains to the four Earthrealm warriors his visions he had foreseen.
Later, Raiden receives more flashbacks whereby he sees the ninja spectre Scorpion killing Sub-Zero and a new warrior forming. Raiden confronts him and requests him to spare Sub-Zero's life, offering to have the Elder Gods restore his clan, the Shirai Ryu, back to the mortal realm, which Scorpion decides to accept his request. In Shang Tsung's Throne room, Scorpion later confronts Sub-Zero as the both fought in The Netherrealm and defeated him there. Scorpion then honour's Raiden's request no to kill Sub-Zero, until Quan Chi appeared and showed Scorpion visions of Lin Kuei forces attacking the Shirai Ryu clan and witness Sub-Zero killing his wife and child (unknown to him is a different Sub-Zero), which enraged Scorpion and kills him. He returned to the Throne Room in regret as held a burned skull of Sub-Zero and dissapeared screaming in rage. Cyrax is later contracted by Shang Tsung to kill Cage, but is rebuffed by Raiden to do so. Cyrax defeats Cage, but honors Raiden's wish. Cyrax is confronted by Sektor regarding the interaction, and beats him in a hand-to-hand fight.
Meanwhile, Kitana attempts to kill Kang, but is defeated and spared. Kang then defeats Goro and Shang Tsung in the tournament. However, despite the victory, Raiden's amulet cracks. Disappointed with Outworld's defeat, Shao Kahn orders Shang Tsung's execution, but relents after being given the proposal of holding the second tournament in Outworld. During the events of the tournament, Kitana learns of her true past, while Jax, Cage, and Raiden attempt to rescue Sonya. Along the way, Sub-Zero's younger brother and Smoke sneak into Outworld to learn of the original Sub-Zero's fate, while Ermac maims Jax. However, due to Raiden's assistance of Smoke, Sub-Zero instead undergoes cybernetic transformation, inadvertently altering the time-line. Raiden attempts to substitute Kung Lao as the champion of the next tournament, only for Lao to be killed by Kahn after defeating Kintaro, leaving Kang to be the second champion.
Despite Kang's seemingly fatal victory over Kahn, Kahn launches an invasion of Earth. Among the response teams would be riot cops Kabal and Kurtis Stryker. Stryker and Kabal manage to defeat Kintaro, Mileena, and Reptile, but Kabal suffers severe burns from Kintaro. After defeating Ermac, Stryker is recruited by Nightwolf to aid Raiden in defending Earth. Meanwhile, Kabal has been recovered by Kano only to escape from Outworld. After defeating a cybernetic Sub-Zero, Kabal joins Raiden's defenders, composed of Liu Kang, Smoke, Johnny Cage, Jax (now with cybernetic arms), Kitana, Jade, and Nightwolf. A reprogrammed Sub-Zero confronts Sektor and retrieves intelligence from the databanks. Sub-Zero would learn that Quan Chi was sacrificing Earthrealm's souls to merge Outworld with Earth, and confronts his older brother (now Noob Saibot). Nightwolf halts Quan Chi's ritual. However, the interference causes Shao Kahn's forces to assault the headquarters of the Earthrealm warriors, where everyone except for Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Raiden, and Liu Kang are killed by Sindel, with Nightwolf sacrificing himself to eliminate the empress.
Raiden makes a large gamble and heads to the Netherrealm to ask for Quan Chi's help against Outworld, offering his life. Quan Chi scoffs at this and commands the souls of the fallen to fight the thunder god. Raiden soon realizes that Shao Kahn has to win for the Elder Gods to finally intervene. As Shoa Kahn prepares to step into Earth Realm, Raiden lets Liu Kang know what he had just learned. However, Kang is already burdened with the loss of his comrades as he is prepared to face Outworld's ruler.
Already deeming Raiden insane for the destruction brought by trusting in his visions, he threatens to kill him. Raiden inadvertently kills the enraged Kang during a fight, and is forced to lose to Kahn voluntarily himself. The Elder Gods intervene at last, and grant him the power necessary to defeat Kahn once and for all, making Earthrealm safe, but at a heavy cost. He vows to rebuild Earthrealm and tend to the dead with Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade.
However, Quan Chi and Shinnok decide to use the chaos to their advantage to make the Netherrealm the dominating force.
And there you have it, understanding the fatality and brutality of the Mortal Kombat universe. And it will be a matter of time before a new chapter will be told...