The Evolution of Mortal Kombat Characters

From 1999 to 2019

From side-scrolling arcade cabinets to deeply immersive storylines, Mortal Kombat set a standard for action video games since its introduction in 1992. Even beyond their playable characters, the lore of Mortal Kombat has extended to movies, comic books, and animated TV. Across 25 years and more than 10 individual games, the Mortal Kombat franchise has extended its storytelling capacity with complete cinematic story mode in recent games.

And while some core characters like Sub-Zero and Liu Kang have been around since the beginning (and in every iteration since), you might not recognize their original forms in some of the more modern chapters of the game. Let's take a look at 10 of the most popular Mortal Kombat characters of all time to see how much things have changed, and where they've stayed the same.

Sub Zero

Sub Zero

Bi-Han, better known as Sub-Zero, is one of two Mortal Kombat characters to don the title.

Since Mortal Kombat II, Bi-Han's younger brother Kuai Liang has taken up the Sub-Zero mantle, maintaining the recognizable blue ninja-like attire. To help differentiate between Kuai Liang and Bi-Han (killed by Scorpion), Kuai Liang as Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat 3 was depicted with a scar over his right eye. In MK3, Sub-Zero was also the first Mortal Kombat character to streamline his uniform and play without a mask. By Mortal Kombat 4, Sub-Zero returned to a more traditional garb, more closely aligning with the costume Bi-Han originally wore as Sub-Zero. Over time, Sub-Zero has been one of a small handful of Mortal Kombat characters to show any signs of aging, including wrinkles and gray hair in Mortal Kombat: Deception.

Scorpion

Scorpion

An original character first appearing in Mortal Kombat, Scorpion is seen by fans as the game's most popular anti-hero. Following the death of his family, and entire clan, he uses the forces of evil to attempt to bring them back, as well as seek revenge on the ones who killed them.

Known for his yellow costume (a direct taunt to Sub-Zero's blue), Scorpion appeared in the first four Mortal Kombat games in traditional ninja attire, often with two swords on his back and his kunai tied with rope to his belt. When he's wearing his mask, Scorpion is depicted with white eyes, and occasionally shown with a flaming skull when his mask comes off. While unmasked, Scorpion is referred to as Inferno Scorpion.

Raiden

Raiden

Like Sub-Zero and Scorpion, Raiden is an original Mortal Kombat character who has appeared in every game as a playable option.

Despite being formless and ethereal, Raiden's mortal appearance is often characterized with white robes, a blue vest, and black belt (occasionally with gold detailing). He is often shown as a full-grown man, with blue eyes and long white hair. A trademark distinction of Raiden's character has always been a straw hat that covers much of his face, though in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance he was also shown wearing a blue cape. Because of his god-like power, Raiden is often shown with radiating electric energy engulfing his form. In both Deception and Armageddon, Raiden's appearance shifted to dark robes and armor with deep red eyes. His dark form is a playable option in Mortal Kombat 11.

Liu Kang

Liu Kang

The original Mortal Kombat protagonist, Liu Kang was the undisputed Grand Champion of the first four Mortal Kombat tournaments.

When Liu Kang was originally introduced, his character heavily resembled Bruce Lee with no shirt, black pants, and white shoes. From Mortal Kombat II and the games following, Liu Kang has enjoyed a more unique appearance, including longer, shaggier hair, a red band tied around his forehead, spiked gauntlets on his arms, and red and black pants. In Mortal Kombat 4, Liu Kang is shown wearing a tank top, but is otherwise shirtless in most other Mortal Kombat games. Liu Kang's typical human form gets a dark, zombie-like twist in the later games, Mortal Kombat: Deception, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, and Mortal Kombat X.

Johnny Cage

Johnny Cage

Johnny Cage is a stage name of the actor and martial artist Jonathan Carlton, who remains one of the most popular original characters in the entire Mortal Kombat franchise.

Not unlike Liu Kang, Johnny Cage is often shown without a shirt on, wearing tight pants and sneakers. In the original Mortal Kombat, Cage wore shorts, though he is often shown in longer pants or jeans in later games. In addition to his black arm wraps (traded for blue in later releases), Cage's signature uniform accessory is his black sunglasses, introduced in Mortal Kombat Trilogy. In Deadly Alliance, Cage went back to his original shorts with bare feet and straps wrapped around his legs, though his hair was dyed blonde for the first time. In Mortal Kombat 2011, Cage ditches the straps for sneakers but has the addition of his own name tattooed across his chest.

Kitana

Kitana

Kitana first appeared in Mortal Kombat II, and despite being over 10,000 years old, she has consistently been depicted as youthful in the game.

Her appearance has evolved considerably across the Mortal Kombat franchise but often looks very similar to Mileena when her blue mask is worn around her face. Along with her matching leotard and black or blue knee-high boots, Kitana is also sometimes shown with a headband on and her hair pulled back into a bun. In later games, Kitana is often shown in much more revealing attire, including bikini briefs with a loincloth and sleeveless top.

Shao Khan

Shao Khan

As the resident bad guy, Shao Khan's appearance has remained relatively consistent (and iconic) across the Mortal Kombat franchise.

Well known for his skull-shaped helmet and spiked shoulder gauntlets, Shao Khan's kneepads also carry a similar design. Common costume colors include red and black, and in later iterations of Mortal Kombat, Shao Khan is occasionally shown sans helmet where his bald head appears to have spikes of its own.

Sonya Blade

As the first female character to debut in the original Mortal Kombat, Sonya Blade's appearance has remained relatively consistent throughout the series.

Starting with her green halter top and blonde bob in the original game, Sonya Blade grew out her hair and added black biker gloves to her uniform by Mortal Kombat 3. In Mortal Kombat Gold, she's seen with boots in place of her original sneakers, and by Deadly Alliance, Sonya forwent her green ensemble completely for a white top and dark jeans. In Mortal Kombat X, Sonya is seen wearing a special forces uniform, complete with ID badge and dog tags.

Mileena

Mileena

The purple to Kitana's blue, Mileena is a long-time Mortal Kombat antagonist who has often been depicted in some combination of purple and black leotard with purple and black knee-high boots.

Her face is usually partially obscured by a mask, but when removed, Mileena is shown to have a wide, distorted mouth with razor-sharp teeth. In Mortal Kombat 2011, Mileena's purple mask was exchanged for a veil to continue keeping her mouth hidden from others.

Baraka

Baraka

A loyal servant to Shao Khan, Baraka has regularly been shown in long pants, high boots, and a dark-colored tunic. While his original appearance in Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat Trilogy showed him in a white tunic, his character has adopted a red and black aesthetic in later games.

In addition to his violently sharp teeth and wide mouth, Baraka, in later games, is often shown with spikes coming out of his arms that compliment the blades that extend from his forearms.

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