Though the games are mostly about beating up other players and taking them out with gory, brutal fatalities, the Mortal Kombat series is steeped in lore. Ten games in, its story is pretty convoluted–there are the various realms, the different gods, a bunch of character backstories, and plots filled with sorcerers, spells, zombies, and even time travel.
With Mortal Kombat 11 quickly approaching, we’ve dug back through the stories of the Mortal Kombat games to bring you up to speed on everything you need to know–and, honestly, probably some things you don’t. It’s all about Raiden trying to save Earth and prevent the end of all reality, and long-time baddie Shao Kahn basically mucking that up. But there are a huge number of evil players, and they’re all likely to be relevant once again in Mortal Kombat 11, which promises more time-bending weirdness.
Here’s the entire story of the Mortal Kombat series thanks in large part to the Mortal Kombat Fandom wiki and a few handy YouTube videos, from the first release in 1992, all the way through the following 27 years.
Before The Games
First and foremost, it’s important to understand how the world of Mortal Kombat is laid out. There are special, powerful Elder Gods, who preside over multiple distinct dimensions known as the realms, and a bunch of lesser gods who hang around those various realms, with their own agendas–usually to protect places and people from the scarier folks of other realms.
The major realms are Earthrealm (Earth as we know it, more or less), Outworld (a conquest-happy barbarian wasteland), Edenia (a beautiful magical paradise), and the Netherrealm (Hell). There are more but they vary in size and importance, but if they exist, Outworld wants to dominate them. In Mortal Kombat, that doesn’t just mean sending occupiers to another dimension to take over; when a realm is conquered by another, they literally merge together, mixing their landscapes.
The Elder Gods figured they should regulate all this realm-merging nonsense somehow. They created the Mortal Kombat tournament, in which, once a generation, champions from competing realms would face off. If one realm beats another realm 10 times in a row, the victor wins the right to take over the loser.
Outworld wasn’t just warring with other realms; it was creating an empire. For centuries, Outworld was ruled by Onaga, who was obsessed with taking over as many other realms as he could. Onaga was particularly scary because he could raise the dead, making his army effectively invincible. He and his followers were also noodling on a way to make him invincible.
Onaga eventually was betrayed by his lieutenant, Shao Kahn, with the backing of the Elder Gods. Shao Kahn took over the role of ruler and protector of Outworld, but like Onaga, his lust for power got the better of him. Shao Kahn took on his own campaign of conquest, with the help of Shang Tsung, his sorcerer minion. His primary target: Edenia.
Meanwhile, On Earth
Separate of all the scary Outworld stuff were the events going down on Earth. One of the Elder Gods, Shinnok, decided he wanted to take over Earthrealm and make everyone worship him and be all-powerful. Shinnok was more than a regular god thanks to his special amulet, which was linked to his powers and allowed him to travel between the realms without the Elder Gods being able to stop him.
Luckily, Earth had Raiden, the god of thunder, who wasn’t an Elder God but powerful nonetheless. He battled Shinnok in an intense war that lasted millennia, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and toppled civilizations, and even tore holes between realities. A race of dinosaur-descended folks (e.g. Reptile) came through those tears, and while most were wiped out with the extinction, some made it to the realm of Zaterra.
Raiden eventually defeated Shinnok, snagged his magic amulet, and imprisoned him into the Netherrealm for all eternity. For untold centuries, Shinnok was tortured and stuck in Hell, which was a pretty good result for Raiden.
Shao Kahn Comes For Earth
When Shao Kahn took Edenia, he next turned his attention to Earthrealm, which apparently is, like, the best one. In Edenia, he killed the realm’s king and took its queen, Sindel, for his own. At Sindel’s urging, Kahn spared the princess, Kitana; instead of killing her, he raised her to be a skilled assassin and member of his guard.
Sindel might have been conquered, but she wasn’t done fighting. She commited suicide in order to create a magic ward on Earth, which prevented Shao Kahn from stepping foot in the realm, which made it a lot harder for him to conquer.
Shao Kahn sent Shang Tsung to kick off the Mortal Kombat tournament on Earth. Raiden had prepared for this, though, and created an order of Shaolin monks dedicated to seeking out the best fighters on Earth every generation to fight in the tournament. The Great Kung Lao won the tournament, and Earthrealm was safe.
Shang Tsung had a trick this time, though. He brought the four-armed Goro to serve as Outworld’s champion, and the monstrous fighter promptly kicked the Great Kung Lao’s ass and killed him. The plan worked beautifully, and despite Raiden and Earthrealm’s best efforts, Outworld won the next eight tournaments. One more, and they’d be able to invade and merge Earthrealm with Outworld.
Shinnok’s Not Done
But wait! Shinnok is still a thing. After being tortured in the Netherrealm for a quarter of forever, Shinnok met Quan Chi, a sorcerer wandering around the realm. The pair made a deal: Quan Chi would help Shinnok in exchange for being his right-hand man and gaining the power to rule with him. They teamed up and eventually took over the Netherrealm. But even being King of Hell kind of sucks, on account of it’s still Hell, so Shinnok and Quan Chi started working on getting out and back to Earth.
assassinate the sorcerer.
Finally, The Original Mortal Kombat Games
That brings us (oh my god, finally) to the original Mortal Kombat. Shang Tsung had orchestrated the tournament yet again, Outworld was one victory away from taking over Earth, and Goro was ready to wallop all challengers. But Shang Tsung didn’t bank on Raiden and his new flock of champs, including Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, and Liu Kang (or on Sub-Zero, sent to kill Shang Tsung, or Scorpion, resurrected by Quan Chi and driven by revenge against Sub-Zero). Liu Kang went on to defeat Goro and Shang Tsung to win the tournament. Meanwhile, Scorpion killed Sub-Zero, whose soul went to the Netherrealm and became Noob Saibot.
In Mortal Kombat II, Shang Tsung tried doubling down in repentance for his failure. He and Shao Kahn sent forces led by Baraka to attack the Shaolin monks, baiting Earth’s fighters to Outworld for another tournament to get around the usual rules of Mortal Kombat. The idea was that if Earth won the Outworld tournament, Outworld would stop bothering them altogether–but if Outworld won, it would count as the tenth victory and allow Outworld to take over Earthrealm. It was a dumb gamble, but the Earth fighters were all upset, so they decided to go for it.
Back once more, Shinnok was able to corrupt the Jinsei, the Earthrealm’s mystical life force, with his evil magic, just like he planned the first time. That gave him intense powers and turned him into a demon–but Johnny and Sonya’s daughter Cassie Cage fought Shinnok and defeated him, thanks to Johnny’s special warrior bloodline. Raiden sacrificed himself to purify the Jinsei and save the world. Unfortunately, Raiden came out corrupted again. Now he’s back to being sort of evil Raiden, with Shinnok’s amulet and Shinnok’s severed head–still living, thanks to him being a god.
More Time Travel In Mortal Kombat 11
We don’t know too much about the story of Mortal Kombat 11, but comments from Ed Boonsuggest that time travel is coming back in a big way. It seems we’ll be seeing another time rewind at the hands of Kronika, the Keeper of Time. The new villain was apparently pretty happy with the way history had turned out, and didn’t appreciate Raiden’s meddling with the plan and rewriting history, as is apparent from the game’s story trailer.
This won’t just be another return to the beginning of the story, though. Apparently, Kronika is causing the various timelines are going to “fold” together, with past events merging with present ones, and characters will run into themselves from the past and future. Perhaps most notably, that means Shao Kahn is back, and various forces of Earthrealm and Outworld are going to need to band together to defeat him and stop Kronika and her time-bending plans.