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A History of Violence: A Look Back At The 'Mortal Kombat' Series (Part 4)

Mortal Kombat Logo

On Monday we kicked off Mortal Kombat week here at Game Rant with our choices for the 10 Most Awesome Mortal Kombat Characters as well as published the first installment of our Mortal Kombat retrospective.

On Tuesday, we published our review of the latest Mortal Kombat title and yesterday we continued with our feature, A History of Violence: A Look Back At The 'Mortal Kombat' Series - looking at Mortal Kombat 4 and Mortal Kombat: Special Forces.

Next up: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Mortal Kombat: Deception, and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks.

We'll keep updating the stories with links to subsequent installments but, for now, here's a guide to help you navigate to the other articles in the series.

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance Logo

Following the lackluster Mortal Kombat: Special Forces spin-off, the series returned to its former glory in the form of Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance. The title represented the first Mortal Kombat released on the new generation of consoles (PS2, Xbox, and Nintendo Gamecube) without an arcade port. A sign that things had changed considerably for the franchise, and the content of the game itself furthered that belief. Deadly Alliance was also the first primary series installment without John Tobias.

The fighting system received a complete overhaul from the previous games. Now, characters could move in three dimensions - allowing them to dodge attacks much more easily. Each character now had three distinct fighting styles, two hand-to-hand and one weapon. These changes were made to appease those who wanted the series to emulate the more sophisticated 3D fighting games such as Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur.

However, a number of other aspects had to be altered as a result. The "run" mechanic was dropped entirely, and characters' special moves were reduced (only two to four per character). Fatalities were also reduced to only one per character - and stage Fatalities were removed entirely. This caused a bit of backlash from fans of the older games, but overall, the changes were well-received.

A few modes were also added to provide a robust console experience. "Test Your Might" made a return after years of being absent - as well as a new version called "Test Your Sight." The minigames weren't played for points; instead, rewarding players with Koins. Koins could be used to purchase various items in The Krypt (grid full of unlockables) such as characters, arenas, costumes, or concept art and other behind-the-scenes content. Of course, you would have no idea what the coffin in particular contained, it was a total mystery (especially before FAQs became readily available on the Internet).

Another way to get Koins, besides the normal Arcade and Versus modes, was through Konquest. The Konquest mode was a more elaborate version of a traditional training or tutorial mode. The player would pick a character from the roster, and go through a series of missions with that kombatant, teaching them most of the fighter's moves while going over their personal backstory. The mode had a two-pronged effect:  explaining the story of the game while allowing the player to familiarize themselves with the roster, particularly newer characters.

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance Select Screen

The plot of the Deadly Alliance seemed to go out of its way to change things within the series forever. Liu Kang and Raiden successfully defeated Shinnok in the last installment. Liu Kang was offered to rule Edenia alongside Kitana as king and queen, but declined due to his status as Mortal Kombat champion and defender of Earth. Raiden ascended to the heavens as a reward for defeating Shinnok, leaving Fujin as the new protector of the Earth Realm. Meanwhile, Quan Chi revealed to Scorpion that it was he who killed his family and clan, not Sub-Zero. He cast a spell on the ninja and returned him to the NetherRealm - but Scorpion managed to drag Quan Chi down with him. Scorpion chased Quan Chi throughout the realm, seeking his revenge slowly. Quan Chi, however, found a portal that transported him to Outworld - to an undiscovered chamber.

As it turns out, Shao Kahn wasn't always the ruler of Outworld. Before him was the Dragon King, Onaga. Onaga ruled over the realm with his supposed indestructible army, and Quan Chi had stumbled upon the tomb of that same army. If Quan Chi managed to get control of the army, he could rule Outworld, and possibly all of the realms. The problem is, the army is dead, and could only be used if new souls were transplanted into the bodies. Therefore, Quan Chi begins an alliance with an expert soul-sorcerer, Shang Tsung. Together, the two decide to take down the only enemies capable of posing a threat to them.

In a shocking turn of events, they successfully kill two of the most important characters in the series: Shao Kahn, the main enemy of the series, and Liu Kang, the main hero. After dispatching the series-staples, and absorbing their souls, the pair returned to Outworld and began transplanting spirits into the army. The heroes, still reeling from the death of Liu Kang, gather together to make an attack on the duo.

Despite working together, the Deadly Alliance was hardly a happy-pairing:  Quan Chi only wants to use Tsung to get the army, and Tsung only wants to use Chi to get access to the Soulnado - a large quantity of souls that could grant Shang Tsung eternal life. Scorpion manages to escape the NetherRealm again, intent on tracking down Quan Chi and finishing him off once and for all. Sonya and Jax, in addition to wanting to defeat the sorcerers, are on a mission to find her missing comrades in Outworld. Sub-Zero, now the leader of the Lin Kuei, wants to make the clan a force for good - by helping the heroes. Kung Lao seeks to destroy Shang Tsung - wanting revenge for the death of Liu Kang.

Scorpion Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance

Kitana is focused on defeating the opposing Outworld armies once and for all - allying with the Shokan in the process. Raiden, having relinquished his status in Heaven to return to Earth, leads the forces of good into battle.

To keep with the theme of starting anew, a large number of new characters were introduced in the game. Bo' Rai Cho is a native of Outworld, a master of drunk boxing and is actually Liu Kang's teacher. He joins up with the forces of good to avenge his student, to train his fellow Shaolin Kung Lao, and to free his native realm. Li Mei is also from Outworld, and seeks to defeat the Deadly Alliance - to free her village from tyranny. Kenshi is a swordsman blinded by Shang Tsung after being tricked into removing a sacred sword from a pedestal. The sword, containing the souls of his ancestors, heightened his other senses, giving him the necessary means to take his revenge on Shang Tsung. Mavado is a member of the Red Dragon clan, a group of mercenaries that split from the Black Dragon, seeking to exterminate all members of the rival clan by allying with Quan Chi.

Nitara is a vampire whose realm was merged with Outworld many ages ago. She seeks to separate the two realms and save her race, and manipulates both Reptile and Cyrax into aiding her. Drahmin is a demon of the NetherRealm, and serves Quan Chi in case Scorpion returns. His ally Moloch serves as the sub-boss for the game. Hsu Hao is another member of the Red Dragon, and is targeted by Jax for destroying the base of the Special Forces. Frost is a new recruit of the Lin Kuei and has the same powers as Sub-Zero - which results in her becoming his personal student.

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance VS Moloch

Finally, once Konquest mode is completed, two more secret kombatants are unlocked. Neither of these characters were usable for Konquest, however. Blaze is a fire elemental who was initially focused on a mysterious quest, but is now forced to guard the egg prophesied to reincarnate the Dragon King. Mokap is a martial artist who pays the bills with motion capture work, but somehow gets caught up in the events surrounding the game.

It should also be noted that there were two ports to the GameBoy Advance. One had the same name as the main title and featured about half of the character roster, while the other port was named Mortal Kombat Tournament Edition, which featured the other half along with three more characters. Noob Saibot served as a member of the army opposing Kitana and the Shokan alongside Kano. Sektor, having failed to become the leader of the Lin Kuei, now starts his own clan of warriors, called the Tekunin. Sareena was one of the demons the original Sub-Zero battled while fighting Shinnok - but oddly enough was spared by the warrior. She is now forced to serve Quan Chi again, although she seeks her freedom.

After the dip in popularity surrounding the series during Mortal Kombat 4's run, things were looking up once Deadly Alliance was released. The game was considered a massive improvement over prior installments, namely Gold and Special Forces. The controversial actions shown in the story helped spark interest, and the update to the game's fighting system modernized the series in many fans' eyes. Mortal Kombat had made its return, and they were just getting started.

Mortal Kombat Deception Logo

In 2004, Mortal Kombat: Deception was released for the Xbox and PS2, with the Nintendo Gamecube version coming out in 2005. The game continued the trend set by Deadly Alliance - but also added onto what was established. Each character now had two Fatalities instead of one, and the stage Fatalities sort of made a return as the death traps - which could now be used at any time instead of after the opponent was defeated. A new sort of "-ality" was also added - the Hara-Kiri. When a character is defeated in battle, if they manage to input the proper button combination before their opponent does, they can kill themselves first.

Test Your Might and Test Your Sight disappeared, but in their places were two new minigames: Puzzle Kombat and Chess Kombat. Puzzle Kombat was essentially a Mortal Kombat take on Puzzle Fighter, with the loser being killed in trademark MK fashion. Chess Kombat is just that, chess with the roster of characters taking the place of game pieces, where they engage in battle - when the player takes an opponent's piece. Both the Konquest and Krypt modes got overhauls - with the Krypt reducing its coffin count to remove the useless content, and Konquest now an RPG-like mode with an overworld and various side quests instead of just the basic training.

If anyone believed things couldn't get worse after Deadly Alliance, they were soon proven wrong. The Deadly Alliance succeeded in resurrecting the indestructible army, and allied with the Tarkata to further their conquest. Kitana, Jax, Sonya, Kung Lao, and Johnny Cage were all killed in the battle. Raiden had to face the two sorcerers alone, and with his powers weakened in Outworld, the two overpowered and defeated him. They soon turned on one another, however, with Shang Tsung attempting to steal Quan Chi's amulet - which controlled the army. Quan Chi was able to defend himself, however, and defeated Shang Tsung. Things then managed to get even worse.

Mortal Kombat Deception Select

During the events of the previous game, Reptile stumbled upon the lair which held the dragon egg guarded by Blaze. When he arrived, the egg hatched, and the spirit of Onaga possessed Reptile's body. Onaga was now fully reborn, and sought Quan Chi's amulet to gain control over all of the realms. Quan Chi defended himself, along with both Shang Tsung and Raiden, seeing Onaga as the larger threat. They were unable to even scratch Onaga, however, and Raiden came up with a desperate plan. By releasing his godlike essence, the entire palace that they fought in exploded. Raiden, Shang Tsung, and Quan Chi were all killed in the blast. Onaga, however, survived, and now possessed the amulet.

But how did it come to this point? That's explained in the game's Konquest mode. A boy by the name of Shujinko is a student of Bo' Rai Cho, decades before the events of the first game. He has dreams of entering the Mortal Kombat tournament and defeating Shang Tsung, but is not skilled enough in combat to even leave his village. He then meets a spirit named Damashi, who charges Shujinko with a quest: gather the six Kamidogu, the items that keep the realms separate, and save all of reality. He's given the ability to absorb the fighting skills of other warriors to aid him, and over the years, he travels the realms, meets many of the kombatants, and gathers the Kamidogu.

He finishes the quest in the present day - now an old man. He soon discovers a horrifying truth: Damashi was actually the spirit of Onaga, who tricked Shujinko into gathering the six items - so that he could remake and control reality. Shujinko manages to escape from Onaga before getting killed - and now seeks to right the wrong that he committed.

The roster of the game is notable in that it brings back a number of characters that had been missing since Trilogy, as well as introducing more new characters. Liu Kang's soul is free to wander the realms after Shang Tsung's death, while his body was mysteriously revived as a zombie. He seeks to free his fallen friends Jax, Cage, Sonya, Kung Lao, and Kitana from Onaga's control, as well as find his body. He's helped in this quest, oddly enough, by Ermac, who is now free from Shao Kahn's control and wants to make amends for his past crimes.

Mileena Mortal Kombat Deception

Scorpion fought the duo of Drahmin and Moloch in the previous game, and was thrown into the Soulnado as a result. The Soulnado carried him to heaven, and the gods decided to make him their chosen champion - so that he may defeat Onaga and save the realms. Sub-Zero separated from the heroes after his student Frost betrayed him - and was injured as a result. He wandered Outworld and found a suit of armor in a tomb, which led him to the conclusion that he and Frost were descendants of Cryomancers, Outworld natives with control over ice. He meets up with the swordsman Kenshi, who is lost in Outworld after an attack by Mavado in the previous game, and the two try to find a way back to Earth.

Kabal was also attacked by Mavado due to his former status as a member of the Black Dragon. He survived the attack and took his revenge on him, choosing to restart the Black Dragon himself. Baraka and Mileena both return as well, Baraka serving as the general of Onaga's army, and Mileena acting as a spy within the opposing resistance, disguised as Kitana. Bo' Rai Cho leads the aforementioned resistance, along with his new student Li Mei. Nightwolf became the "Sin-Eater" of his tribe, absorbing all of the sins of his clan, and now heads for the NetherRealm to find a way to capture Onaga.

Noob Saibot found Smoke in Shao Kahn's dungeon, and reprogrammed him to serve him - resulting in them forming a quai-tag team in the game. It was also revealed here that Noob Saibot is actually the original Sub-Zero, reincarnated as a being of darkness. Jade and Sindel learn of Kitana's death, leading to Sindel resuming rule of Edenia and trying to defend it from Onaga's forces, while Jade tries to track down Tanya, who is working for Onaga. Raiden is reincarnated after his attempt at killing Onaga, but gains a new hatred for the other realms - and seeks to destroy any and all threats to Earth.

Ashrah is a demon of the Netherrealm who found a sacred sword known as the Kriss. With each demon she kills, the sword purifies her spirit, moving her closer and closer to freedom from the realm. Havik is a being of the realm of Chaos, who wants to throw all the realms into anarchy and disarray. He healed Kabal after his attack and encouraged him to reform the Black Dragon. Kabal's new Black Dragon consists of himself, Kobra, a street punk with an insatiable bloodlust, and Kira, a mercenary and international criminal. Hotaru is a being of Seido, the realm of Order, and serves Onaga under the belief that he will restore proper order to Outworld. Dairou is a former solider of Seido, but was imprisoned for killing a criminal. He escaped and now serves as a mercenary-for-hire. Darius is the leader of a group of revolutionaries, wanting to overthrow the current Seido government.

Mortal Kombat Deception Gameplay

The Gamecube version had two exclusive characters as a result of its delayed release: Goro and Shao Kahn. As it turns out, Shao Kahn created a clone of himself to throw off the Deadly Alliance, and escaped after the pair killed the clone. He met up with Goro, who was injured while fighting Noob Saibot and was believed dead. The two joined forces to track down Onaga and regain control of Outworld.

Though the game was an improvement over Deadly Alliance, there were a few complaints directed at the installment, particularly in regards to the plot. Shujinko was not a fan favourite, especially since he was considered the new protagonist of the game. He was mocked for his seeming lack of intelligence and his pale imitations of character moves. Despite a number of kombatants making their return, fans believed that too much focus was on newer, underdeveloped characters, and the plot suffered as a result. Even with these remarks, the game was still considered a hit, and was even given an adaptation later-on for the Sony PSP.

The handheld adaptation was called Mortal Kombat: Unchained and was largely the same game as Deception, with a few extra characters and an endurance mode included. Jax and Kitana were freed from Onaga's control, with Kitana trying to get back to Edenia and Jax after revenge on Onaga. Frost decides to take over the Lin Kuei by killing anyone in her way. Blaze's mysterious quest is revealed - and it could mean the end of all of reality as we know it.

Blaze's armageddon was the result of another round of fading interest in the series. While Mortal Kombat had managed to regain some popularity - it was hardly a return to the 2D glory days. Therefore, a decision was made: kill the entire roster and start over. If the developers rebuilt from scratch, perhaps they could get a whole new fanbase.

Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks Logo

Before Boon and Co. plotted a course for Armageddon, Midway decided to take a look back. Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks, released on the PS2 and Xbox, was the series' third, and to date last, attempt to expand into other genres. A simple 3D beat-em-up, the game allowed up to two players to mow their way through swarms of enemies, taking on multiple foes at once - thanks to a freeflow combat system.

Also, the player could upgrade characters' various special moves - after accumulating points in battle. The kombatants could also use Fatalities, but aside from the first one, each one had to be discovered on your own. A new addition was Multalities, which killed any enemies surrounding the player. Brutalities returned, but instead served as a power-up for the character.

The game took place during Mortal Kombat II, often considered to be the height in the series' popularity. Players took control of Liu Kang or Kung Lao as they traveled to Outworld to fight Shang Tsung's armies and eventually defeat him. Gamers could unlock both Scorpion and Sub-Zero for the main mode - after using both primary characters, and could unlock other kombatants for a Versus Mode. The prior mentioned characters, in addition to the four mentioned above, were Johnny Cage, Baraka, Kitana, and Reptile.

In terms of gameplay, Shaolin Monks garnered plenty of praise. The plot, however, was almost universally derided. Though it takes place during the second game, things were considerably different. Liu Kang was now a naive child-like hero (which many considered to be far too similar to Shujinko), and Kung Lao, instead of being the quiet pacifist, was now an arrogant jerk. Characters were killed before they were supposed to be, other characters appeared long before their canon introduction, certain fighters knew information they wouldn't discover for years, and the ending in particular had a very large plothole. Since then, many took the story as an alternate take on the plot of the second game - but initially, it was considered a serious flaw.

Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks Gameplay

Despite this, Shaolin Monks is still considered to be the best of the three spinoff titles, though whether or not this means there will be more in the future is a total mystery. The beat-em-up was able to placate fans eager to see just what was going to happen with the newest core-title. With the rumors spreading of Armageddon serving as a literal "end" to the series, speculation was rampant. If this was going to be the end of the franchise as we knew it, how exactly would it all wrap-up?

Check back tomorrow for the fifth and final installment in our Mortal Kombat retrospective for a look at Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, and Mortal Kombat 9.

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