Throughout video gaming history there have been many fighting games trying to gain superiority over one another. Occasionally some new gimmick or mechanic is added to the game to inspire the next set of players, or the next generation, that things will be different. However, there are some things that do not change. Regardless of what type of game you are playing, being able to convey a story, even a simple one, is important.
Mortal Kombat has had a wild ride the last few years with the story of its games. At times they are beautiful while other times they seem to be made up at the moment. But with Mortal Kombat 11, the current installment in the series, NetherRealm Studios has shown us why sticking to a strong story increases every aspect of your game.
Mortal Kombat 11 takes a bold move and decides to play with the concept of time, mixing past and present with the future. In books and movies this is usually considered a bad move because playing with time, or even the concept of it, tends to confuse and alienate the audience. More importantly it tends to leave lingering questions that the director or writer was unaware of decreasing the value of the story. But with the current installment of the blood bath fighting game, NetherRealm Studios not only incorporates time but uses it effectively—not a simple task.
The game takes the history of all the Mortal Kombat games since the initial one and blends them together for one final showdown. In doing so, the game literally shows what went right and wrong throughout the series not just as a function of plot but to show the audience that the writers have not forgotten about their audiences’ appreciation and dissatisfaction over the years.
Rather than simply let players bash each other’s brains in, the game reminds the audience of the vast world-building in the Mortal Kombat universe. From humans, to robots, to various levels of gods the story streamlines how intricate the world is. By incorporating such wildly different concepts such as robotic ninjas to movie star destiny warriors, the Mortal Kombat universe always has a way of remaining fresh with its ability to incorporate another storyline.
In a world dominated by changing political notions almost every day it is surprising to witness a video game display similar notion. In addition to repairing time, the game revolves around the need for a new king or “khan”. Although many non-video gamers would think the incorporation of politics into a simple game would be crude, I must say that the writing and characterization were nothing short of a high budget movie. It is rare to find a game willingly to create an environment that feels so much like our own with characters displaying real world emotions and reacting humanely to their own crises.
Surprisingly, one area that many would overlook in this game is morals. For a video game series well known for its gore and violence, and essentially being responsible for the ESRB rating system, Mortal Kombat 11 shows the need for morals but not in a preaching manner. Throughout the story you witness characters making difficult humanistic choices, going out of their way to respect the cultures and lifestyle choices of others, and weirdly of all—not fighting.
In a fighting game, fighting is everything. But in a story of rich characters all trying to prove something great, sometimes not fighting is a necessity. Rather than needlessly having characters constantly punch each other, the writers of Mortal Kombat 11 demonstrated the need for fighting but also the need for cooperation and trust. To build something like that in a game dedicated to mutilation and pain is nothing short of impressive.
But of all the things that display the great story telling that is Mortal Kombat, is the return of Liu Kang as the main character. Mortal Kombat is unique in the franchises of fighting games because it was never really clear who the main character was. For a time, people assumed Raiden was. Others thought Scorpion because of his trademark moves and catchphrases. For the last few years Johnny Cage took center stage and helped expand the Mortal Kombat universe with his family. But deep-down fans always felt that Liu Kang was the protagonist because of his righteousness and simplicity.
After years of not only shunning Liu Kang, but in some cases killing him off altogether, in this installment Liu Kang returns triumphantly. But with politics floating around and a game based on changing time streams, how exactly can a story hold itself together and emphasize its previously dethroned main character? It wasn’t easy—but it was done beautifully.
The beauty in script writing for video games culminated in Raiden passing on his godly status to Liu Kang allowing him to become our focus of attention, have power to move through time and repair it, and alter the dimensions of the Mortal Kombat universe as needed. Though this might sound like basic writing, it is more than that. Mortal Kombat faced a terrible dilemma with MK 11. It needed to resolve multiple issues in character interaction, timelines, and move forward as a franchise.
It was nothing short of pure genius to have the godhood of one of the series most notable characters passed onto the one that all fans had been waiting to see shine for years. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if other games, books, and movies starting copying NetherRealm Studios’ decision. By having such a remarkable ending set up correctly, it is simple to look back and enjoy the nuances of the writers early on.
I find it almost funny that in an era where sub-par movies are constantly being churned out, the video game industry is leading in its story telling that correctly incorporates action, drama, romance, fantasy, science fiction, and in many cases—horror. With a such an acutely written story, Mortal Kombat’s gameplay and personage has lifted itself far above the rest of the competition. It is simple to making a fighting game. But it is a work of art to find a fighting game where people care more for the quality of the story than the pace of fight.