Since its initial reveal in May, a major selling point for Mortal Kombat 1 has been the reimagining of the game’s universe. Thanks to the newly minted Fire God Liu Kang’s creation of a new universe, while every character on the MK1 roster is returning from a previous game in the franchise–the first time that’s ever happened in a MK game–they all still feel fresh.
Bi Han and Kuai Liang, while still brothers, are now Sub-Zero and Scorpion respectively. Before, Bi Han eventually became Noob Saibot, and Kuai Liang succeeded him as Sub-Zero. Raiden seems to have switched places with Liu Kang, becoming Earthrealm’s Champion in the Mortal Kombat tournament as revealed in the MK1 Outworld trailer. The list goes on and on, but there are many questions yet to be answered.
We’re going to dive deep into some of the biggest mysteries surrounding this new era of Mortal Kombat as MK1 approaches. Will there be even more familiar faces appearing in the story mode? What other characters might be lurking in the shadows? Will Johnny Cage ever stop being a pompous ass? (Spoiler: no, not likely). Here’s what we’re looking to find out when Mortal Kombat 1 launches later this month.
Liu Kang and Raiden
In a total role reversal, Liu Kang is now the god of the realm, and the humble lightning-channeling Raiden is his champion in Mortal Kombat. In the previous universe, the god/champion relationship between the two was contentious to say the least, so we’re curious how this new version will play out.
Raiden is described as a humble and kind denizen of a village called Fengjian, where he spends his days in the fields and at Madame Bo’s teahouse. However, as we’ve already seen, the Lin Kuei is shaking down Madame Bo for money, and Raiden and his friend Kung Lao must defend her business. That will clearly be the catalyst for Raiden’s journey–Liu Kang can be seen watching in the background–but where things go remains to be seen.
Bi Han and Kuai Liang
As mentioned earlier, the dynamic between Bi Han and Kuai Liang has changed dramatically in Liu Kang’s new era. Previously, Bi Han served as Sub-Zero, Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei clan, and Kuai Liang was his younger brother and eventual successor. After his death, Bi Han would go on to become Noob Saibot, and a fierce rivalry between the two emerged.
Now, Bi Han and Kuai Liang are still brothers, but while Bi Han is once again Sub-Zero, Kuai Liang has taken up the mantle of the yellow-clad ninja Scorpion. The two fight side-by-side using their combined might to do the Lin Kuei’s bidding, but their personalities are far different than before. Bi Han is headstrong, constantly questioning Liu Kang’s leadership, while Kuai Liang tries to be the voice of reason and secretly worries he may have to challenge his brother eventually. As for the previous timeline’s Scorpion, Hanzo Hasashi, he is nowhere to be found… yet.
Where is Hanzo?
With Kuai Liang becoming Scorpion, we have one simple question: Where is Hanzo Hasashi? The vengeful ninja who declared war against the Lin Kuei after the murder of his wife and child is missing in action at the moment, with nary a mention of his name to be seen. However, we think his disappearance is smoke and mirrors… with an emphasis on the first part.
Smoke’s identity in Mortal Kombat 1 has yet to be revealed, however his backstory is eerily similar to that of the original Scorpion. His official bio on the Mortal Kombat website says his family was killed after trespassing on Lin Kuei lands while hunting, leaving Smoke orphaned. A man’s family killed at the hands of the Lin Kuei sounds awfully familiar, though here in MK1 the Lin Kuei took the boy in after feeling embarrassed by its actions. Was this boy a young Hanzo who was shown mercy instead of fury?
The character of Smoke has always been tied to the saga of Bi Han and Kuai Liang, just as Hanzo has. Official lore states Smoke joined Sub-Zero in Outworld back in Mortal Kombat 2, and then hunted him in MK3. Also, the character was bound with Noob in MK: Deception, which created Noob-Smoke. Hanzo, meanwhile, sought vengeance against the Lin Kuei, realized he was being deceived by Quan Chi, and ultimately befriended Kuai Liang.
Now, we still see Smoke fighting alongside Bi Han and Kuai Liang, only under different circumstances. Is Hanzo now fighting as Smoke? We’ll have to wait and find out. However, there’s a few clues hidden in the past which might seal the deal. For example, Smoke first appeared in Mortal Kombat II as a non-playable hidden fighter. Whose moveset did he possess in that game? Scorpion’s. Also, of the cybernetic robots in Mortal Kombat 3, which one had the spear-like attack? Smoke. We don’t know if Hanzo will end up being Smoke, but it would make sense if he did.
Outworld, the Royal Family, and the Umgadi
Much like the ninja brothers, Kitana and Mileena’s story has seen a few major changes in this new era. Rather than Mileena being a genetic experiment Kitana clone like before, Kitana and Mileena are actual twin sisters. Also, in perhaps a more interesting twist, it’s Mileena who is next in line for the Outworld throne currently held by their mother Sindel, as she is the older twin. Kitana serves as loyal counsel and guardian of her sister, and from what we’ve seen so far, she takes this position very seriously.
Despite this now-legitimate lineage, Mileena is still afflicted with a monstrous side, only now it’s part of a larger contagion: Tarkat. Rather than being their own race, Tarkatans like Baraka in Mortal Kombat 1 are now former Outworlders who are afflicted with a serious disease that mutates their body and, eventually, turns them into feral savages. It’s unknown how Mileena contracted the disease, though we wonder if the “terrible tragedy” that cost Li Mei her position among the Umgadi–the all-female defenders of Outworld’s royal family–is related. Also, should Mileena turn feral, it may be up to her sister Kitana to stop her, loyalty be damned.
Speaking of the Umgadi, under Tanya’s biography on the game’s official website, they are described as “sworn to piety and chastity,” but that this oath would “cause a scandal” if Tanya’s “bond with Princess Mileena” was publicly known. It seems we have a star-crossed lovers situation brewing under the surface as well, and it remains to be seen how Tanya and Mileena’s relationship will complicate things for them.
With Sindel on the throne of Outworld, where does that leave Shao Kahn, the previous timeline’s ruler? While he’s not a Kahn anymore, he still serves the realm as its most prolific military officer. General Shao’s bio says that, due to a disability at birth, his father harshly trained him to be a “physical colossus” with an “iron will” who serves Sindel in the Outworld army.
However, the Outworld trailer has already shown disagreements between empress and general, particularly when it comes to the new god Liu Kang. Shao wants to protect Outworld at all costs, even if it means war, and he’d do this “rather than [be] Liu Kang’s lap dog.” Sindel does not agree, and the two seem to be at an impasse.
Does General Shao have aspirations to the Outworld throne? His bio also says that “though General Shao is sworn to serve the empress, his loyalty is to Outworld. If Sindel’s rule ever endangers Outworld, he will be the first to try and end it.” It should also be noted that in the trailer where he’s introduced, he’s defeating female warriors… are they Umgadi? If so, that does not bode well for the already frayed relationship between Sindel and Shao, and it seems there may be a mutiny afoot should something catastrophic occur, like, say, Mileena’s affliction becomes exposed.
One immediate change in General Shao’s look are his massive horns, which somehow make him even more intimidating than before. However, those horns also look similar to another major villain in the previous Mortal Kombat arc, and one we’ve not seen since the days of the PlayStation 2.
Onaga, the Dragon King, served as the final boss of Mortal Kombat: Deception, and he cut an imposing image with massive wings and two big horns on his head. We hear a lot about Shao’s father in his backstory, but we’ve yet to see him in action… Could Shao be the son of the Dragon King?
Whether or not Onaga and Shao are related, we suspect the former Dragon King will have some influence over the storyline in Mortal Kombat 1. In a pre-match dialogue between two Liu Kangs, one asked the other, “Does Onaga exist in your timeline?” The other Kang responds, “Exist in it? He rules it.” This seems like the type of tease that would indicate the return of the (dragon) king, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Kronika and Shang Tsung
A recent preview event for Mortal Kombat 1 at NetherRealm Studios in Chicago showcased the first 20 minutes of this new era’s campaign, and already we’ve been thrown a massive curveball. Kronika, the previous Keeper Of Time and the main villain of MK11, exists in this new universe, and she already has her sights set on Shang Tsung, who has been reduced to using his shapeshifting powers in his traveling salesman endeavors.
It’s a brief interaction, but the seeds of partnership between Kronika and Shang Tsung are clearly sown. Also, it seems Kronika has some knowledge of what happened in the franchise’s past, as she mentions how people have been conspiring against Shang since his birth. How did she retain that information? We wonder if Geras, her guardian in the previous game who now serves Liu Kang, is acting as a double agent of sorts.
And much, much more…
These are the main storylines we’re seeing so far, but there are a few juicy elements to also keep an eye on. Kenshi is trying to reclaim Sento, his family’s prized sword, but that seems to be hanging over the mantle in Johnny Cage’s oceanside penthouse. Ashrah, a reformed Netherrealm demon, is trying to purify her soul with a sacred weapon, but Nitara is trying to claim it for herself. With Shang Tsung no longer Outworld’s top sorcerer, that role seems to have been passed on to Rain.
The list goes on, but we can’t help but notice a through-line with all of these stories. There’s an overarching theme here in these separate plots, one we suspect could play a major role in the campaign: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Liu Kang has created an entirely new universe, and yet:
- Bi Han and Kuai Liang still seem destined to battle each other, thanks to Bi Han’s aggressiveness and Kuai Liang’s uncertainty.
- If Smoke is indeed Hanzo, he still finds himself intertwined with Bi Han and Kuai Liang.
- Liu Kang and Raiden are still partnered and focused on the Mortal Kombat tournament, even if the roles are reversed.
- Mileena is still dealing with a monstrous Tarkatan version of herself, and Kitana may still have to be the one to face her in the end.
- Shao, though a general, still seems to have aspirations for the Outworld throne, as his own bio says has no qualms about protecting Outworld at any cost.
- Onaga still looms as a massive threat, even though we don’t know the full nature of it yet.
- Kronika and Shang Tsung still conspire against Liu Kang and his warriors, even if they need to do so from the shadows.
The universal reset was seemingly done to prevent these sorts of happenings, and yet, based on what’s been shown so far, we’re not sure Liu Kang succeeded. If it turns out he didn’t, perhaps we’ll see history repeat itself one more time, and it will be Liu Kang who becomes a vengeful, evil version of an Elder God, as his predecessor did before him.
We’ll find out for sure when Mortal Kombat 1 launches September 19 on Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC. If you preordered any deluxe editions–physical or digital–you can jump in five days early on September 14.