The development of the first game was originally based on an idea that Ed Boon and John Tobias had of making a video game starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, but as that idea fell through, a fantasy-themed fighting game titled Mortal Kombat was created instead. Mortal Kombat was the first ever fighting game to introduce a secret fighter, reached if the player fulfilled a set of requirements. The original game has spawned many sequels and spin-offs consisting of several action-adventure games, as well as a comic book series and a card game. Film producer Lawrence Kasanoff licensed the rights to the game in the early 1990s and produced the first hit movie ever made from a video game. Lawrence also produced the second movie, animated TV series, live-action TV series films, the first one million platinum-selling album and a live-action tour. Mortal Kombat has become the most successful fighting franchise in the history of video games and one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.
The series has a reputation for high levels of violent content, including, most notably, its Fatalities (finishing moves allowing the player to finish off their defeated opponent). Controversies surrounding Mortal Kombat, in part, led to the creation of the ESRB video game rating system. Early games in this series were also noted for their realistic digitized sprites and an extensive use of palette swapping to create new characters. Following Midway’s bankruptcy, the Mortal Kombat development team was acquired by Warner Bros. and turned into NetherRealm Studios. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment currently owns the rights to the franchise, which it rebooted in 2011.
The series takes place in a fictional universe consisting of eighteen surviving realms which, according to in-game backstories, were created by the Elder Gods. The Mortal Kombat: Deception manual described six of the realms as: “Earthrealm, home to such legendary heroes as Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage and Jax, and also under the protection of the Thunder God Raiden; Netherrealm, the fiery depths of which are inhospitable to all but the most vile, a realm of demons and shadowy warriors such as Quan Chi and Noob Saibot; Outworld, a realm of constant strife which Emperor Shao Kahn claims as his own; Seido, the Realm of Order, whose inhabitants prize structure and order above all else; the Realm of Chaos, whose inhabitants do not abide by any rules whatsoever, and where constant turmoil and change are worshipped; and Edenia, which is known for its beauty, artistic expression, and the longevity of its inhabitants.” The Elder Gods 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.
The first Mortal Kombat game takes place in Earthrealm (Earth) where seven different warriors with their own reasons for entering participated in the tournament with the eventual prize being the continued freedom of their realm, threatened with a takeover by Outworld. Among the established warriors were Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. With the help of the thunder god Raiden, the Earthrealm warriors were victorious and Liu Kang became the new champion of Mortal Kombat. In Mortal Kombat II, unable to deal with his minion Shang Tsung’s failure, Outworld Emperor Shao Kahn lures the Earthrealm warriors to the Outworld where the Earthrealm warriors eventually defeat Shao Kahn. By the time of Mortal Kombat 3, Shao Kahn revives Edenia’s (now a part of his Outworld domain) former queen Sindel in Earthrealm, combining it with Outworld as well. He then attempts to invade Earthrealm but is ultimately defeated by the Earthrealm warriors again. After Kahn’s defeat, Edenia was freed from Kahn’s grasp and returned to a peaceful realm, ruled by Princess Kitana. The following game, Mortal Kombat 4, features the former elder god Shinnok attempting to conquer the realms and attempting to kill the thunder god Raiden. However, he is also defeated by the Earthrealm warriors.
In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, the evil sorcerers Quan Chi and Shang Tsung join forces to conquer the realms. By Mortal Kombat: Deception, after several fights, the sorcerers emerge victorious having killed most of Earthrealms’ warriors until Raiden steps forth to oppose them. The Dragon King Onaga, who had been freed by Reptile at the end of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, had deceived Shujinko into searching for six pieces of Kamidogu, the source of Onaga’s power. Onaga then confronted the alliance of Raiden, Shang Tsung, and Quan Chi and thus obtained Quan Chi’s amulet, the final piece of his power. Only a few warriors remained to combat against the Dragon King and his forces. Shujinko eventually triumphed over the Dragon King and removed his threat to the Mortal Kombat universe.
In Mortal Kombat: Armageddon the catastrophe known as Armageddon starts. Centuries before the first Mortal Kombat, Queen Delia foretold the realms would be destroyed because the power of all warriors from all the realms would rise to such greatness it would overwhelm and destabilize the realms, triggering an all-destructive chain of events. King Argus had his sons, Taven and Daegon, have been put into incubation and who would one day be awakened to save the realms from Armageddon by defeating a firespawn known as Blaze. In the end, however, Shao Kahn is the one who defeats Blaze, causing Armageddon.
The crossover Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe does not seem to share continuity with any of the other games. After the simultaneous defeats of both Shao Kahn and the alien warlord Darkseid in the DC Universe cause both villains to fuse into the entity “Dark Kahn”, both the Mortal Kombat and DC Universes begin to merge. This causes the warriors and heroes to undergo bouts of uncontrollable rage and attack anyone on sight. The heroes and villains of both universes repeatedly conflict with each other, believing each other to be responsible for the catastrophe, until only Raiden and Superman remain. The two confront Dark Kahn and both realize that the other is not working for him, and team up to defeat their common foe. After Dark Kahn’s defeat, the two realms unfuse, with Shao Kahn and Darkseid trapped in each other’s different reality and facing eternal imprisonment.
In Mortal Kombat (2011), it is revealed that the battle between the warriors of the six realms in Armageddon culminated into only two survivors: Shao Kahn and Raiden. Badly beaten, Raiden had only one last move he could make to prevent Shao Kahn from claiming the power of Blaze. He sends last-ditch visions of the entire course of the Mortal Kombat timeline to himself in the past right before the tenth Mortal Kombat tournament (first game). This transfer of information to his former self causes a rift in time, causing a new “reboot” timeline to be introduced that splits off from the original Armageddon timeline, with a new outcome of Mortal Kombat history to be written. But this story leads to even worse unforeseen events. It ends with many of the main game characters dying at the hands of Queen Sindel and Raiden accidentally killing Liu Kang in self-defense. Eventually, the Elder Gods aid Raiden in killing Shao Kahn and saving Earthrealm. But as the scene goes on it is later revealed that this was all a plan by Shinnok and Quan Chi.
Mortal Kombat X sees Shinnok and Quan Chi enacting their plan, leading an army of undead revenants of those that were killed in Shao Kahn’s invasion against the realms. A team of warriors led by Raiden, Johnny Cage, Kenshi Takahashi and Sonya Blade oppose Shinnok, and in the ensuing battle, Shinnok is imprisoned, Quan Chi escapes and various warriors are resurrected and freed from Shinnok’s thrall. Twenty-five years later, Quan Chi resurfaces and allies himself with the insectoid D’Vorah in manipulating events that lead to Shinnok’s release. Though Quan Chi is killed by a vengeful Scorpion in the process, Shinnok resumes his assault against the realms. After a grueling, protracted battle, Shinnok is defeated by Cassandra Cage representing the next generation of Earthrealm’s warriors. With both Quan Chi and Shinnok gone, the undead revenants of Liu Kang and Kitana assume control of the Netherrealm and Lord Raiden now seeks to violently and preemptively protect Earthrealm from any perceived threat, throwing the severed head of Shinnok at the feet of Kitana and Liu Kang as a warning.
Mortal Kombat 11 sees the architect of time and Shinnok’s Mother, Kronika to restart the timeline after her son’s decapitation, where it turns out that said beheading tampered with the balance between Light and Darkness courtesy of the now-corrupted Raiden. After the death of Sonya Blade & the destruction of the Cathedral of Shinnok in the Netherrealm, Liu Kang and Kitana make a partnership with Kronika herself to commence to rewrite history with her hourglass in her Keep in the Netherrealm. Starting with a timequake that brought past versions of the likes of Shao Kahn, Liu Kang, Kitana, Kung Lao, Jade, Skarlet and Baraka to the present as well as erasing Dark Raiden from existence leaving his past self to exist alone in the present due to his Immortal status. After the past Raiden and Liu Kang fight with each other, Raiden came to realize that his battle with Liu Kang is part of Kronika’s machinations to have them fight to the death which occurred in alternate timelines. Knowing their combined strength can put a stop to Kronika. With Kronika now defeated and far into the past without any chance of restoring the present, the now-Fire God Liu Kang took advice from a now-mortal Raiden as he starts a new timeline from the dawn of time with the help of Kitana, hoping that their work together can shape a better future and hopes of seeing Raiden the elder god again in the next timeline.