Mortal Kombat is one of those timeless videogame franchises. Since 1992 it has been causing controversy and delighting gamers the world over. Scouring the Internet, you’ll notice that there are plenty of Top Ten lists naming off the best Mortal Kombat characters. Being a fan of the series, I wanted to take a crack at it myself. There are a couple of ground rules I want to establish first: 1.) Glitch characters will not be included. 2.) The characters have to have been playable at some point in the series. 3.) I totally expect this list to piss Mortal Kombat fans off, but please don’t be obnoxious about it. Now, I’m not just going to throw a list at you without explaining the criteria I’m taking into consideration. When drawing up the list, I was looking at the overall aesthetic of the character. How do their costumes look? Do they have any particularly memorable moves? How badass are they? But, I also looked at more abstract things, like a particular character’s popularity among fans, and perhaps most importantly, the character’s legacy within the Mortal Kombat universe. Have they done anything particularly important? What is their role within the stories interwoven into the games? Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin!
I just want to go on record as saying that I can’t stand Johnny Cage. I think most people can’t stand him. I really didn’t want to include him on the list, but I also didn’t want my hatred to cloud my judgment. He is one of the franchise’s original characters and has managed to be playable in almost every single Mortal Kombat since the very first game in 1992. Aside from being the character who has died and been resurrected the most in the Mortal Kombat universe—thank you Raiden!—Johnny Cage somehow always manages to make himself useful. He’s been with Liu Kang and Kung Lao at many of their most intense and important fights, and has landed the killing blow on Goro a couple times, allowing Liu Kang to continue on and find Shao Khan. Also, he’s the only character you can use to punch other players in the nuts, and that’s got to count for something.
Let me just go ahead and save some of you a little bit of time: Mileena will not be on this list. I’ve chosen to include her half-sister instead. Kitana uses one of the few iconic weapons in the Mortal Kombat franchise: her Steel Fans. She’s very fast and has always been one of the more difficult characters to fight against because she plays a great keep-away game, but also has the ability to be devastating up close. Aside from being a pretty badass combatant, I find her role within the Mortal Kombat universe to be one of the more interesting ones. An Edenian Princess, Kitana’s parents were murdered by Shao Khan in his attempt to take over all realms. Kitana was raised assuming that Shao Khan was her father. Of course, the ruse was only kept up for so long before she learned the truth. The transformation her character goes through is one of the more poignant ones in the franchise, going from loyal “daughter” of the man who killed her real parents to vengeful Edenian Princess. When you stop to think about it, she had a pretty f*#ked up childhood filled with the kind of revelations that would completely break most people.
Oh, my… the plot thickens. As if Kitana having to deal with all that stuff I mentioned above wasn’t enough, Shao Khan decides to resurrect this Queen of Edenia, Kitana’s mother, and have her fight for him against the heroes of Earthrealm. Despite not being playable in many of the Mortal Kombat games, Sindel has played a major role in Mortal Kombat universe. She is queen to a realm that is one of Shao Khan’s central battlegrounds in his effort to rule all realms. She’s been there every step of the way. After serving as a brain-washed minion under Shao Khan’s spell, Kitana is eventually able to convince Sindel that what she is doing is wrong. Sindel soon switches sides, becoming one of only two evil characters to ever fall in with Raiden and the “Earthrealmers.” As a combatant, she is one of only two characters that can fly, and I think that by now any of the special moves involving hair are instantly recognizable by fans as those belonging to Sindel.
Shang Tsung is an asshole. That’s pretty much all there is to it. But, as Shao Khan’s right hand man there really isn’t any way I couldn’t include him on this list. He’s the only character with the ability to mimic his opponent’s move set, and his fireballs give him one hell of a keep-away game. He is one of only two sorcerers in the Mortal Kombat universe and is an all-around brutal and badass enemy. Whereas Shao Khan mostly barks orders, it’s Shang Tsung that players see doing the dirty work. Unlike Quan Chi, he doesn’t hold much influence over Shao Khan. He’s there at almost every turn to thwart Earthrealm’s plans. He’s devious, and often sets special handicaps for Earthrealm fighters during the Mortal Kombat tournaments. Shao Khan relies on him to advancement his plans, making Shang Tsung one of the most important characters in the entire Mortal Kombat universe.
Arguably the single most important character fighting for Earthrealm, Liu Kang has been with the franchise since day one. One of the most popular characters, his claim to fame is defeating Shao Khan multiple times in the Mortal Kombat tournament and saving Earthrealm. His popularity probably has to do partly with the fact that he is one of the more accessible characters. Aside from being incredibly important to the Mortal Kombat universe, the voice-over work done for his character in the original Mortal Kombat has become canon for Mortal Kombat players and non-players alike.
Nos. 4 & 3
(4)Sub-Zero and (3)Scorpion
Oh, yes. It’s that time in the list where I start bringing out the big guns. I can feel your rage and anticipation building! Sub-Zero and his doppelganger ninja Scorpion, are two of the most iconic fighting game characters of all time. Never mind the incredibly interesting stories of why these two are always trying to kill each other, never mind the iconic costumes, nope. The thing that makes these two so special is that they embody the brutality and over-the-top violence the franchise is known for. It even transcends that and delves into the very essence of the idea of revenge and conflict by opposing two completely opposite elements with one another: ice and fire. Each element carries with it its own associations and characteristics, and it’s just as much the choice between ice and fire that draws players to these two characters as it is the undeniable icons that they are. No Mortal Kombat game is complete without them.
I’m sure the fact that I didn’t put Sub-Zero at No. 2 and Scorpion at No. 1 is going to rub many of you the wrong way, but I don’t really care. Everyone knows the God of Thunder. Raiden, just as much as Sub-Zero and Scorpion, is an iconic character in the franchise. I mean, for f#%k sake, he’s a GOD! He’s considered to be one of the most, if not the most powerful character in the franchise and has the ability to teleport, fly, and control lighting. How cool is that? You couldn’t imagine Sub-Zero without his ice, or Scorpion without his fire. The same is true for Raiden. Take his lighting away and he is nothing to fans. It’s how we identify him. He’s also one of the most varied characters in the story to Mortal Kombat. Earthrealm would not even exist if it were not for Raiden and Liu Kang. Yeah… so, there’s that… kind of important. But, later on in Mortal Kombat: Deception and Mortal Kombat: Armageddon his role shifts to that of vengeful God. His only wish is to see Earthrealm kept safe, and he will go to any length to ensure its peace. He is a central character in the Mortal Kombat universe and has more than earned his spot on this list.
Alright, get it out of your system. Scream, kick, throw stuff… whatever you have to do. Done? Okay. Quan Chi is scary as hell. He’s the most powerful sorcerer in the Netherrealm (which he rules, by the way). In addition to controlling the souls of those unfortunate enough to be sent to Netherrealm, he also manages to put a leash on Scorpion at some point! Now that is no easy task, my friends. He’s always been weird to fight against, as he contains an annoying drop-down move and plenty of low attacks as part of combos that can easily catch an opponent off-guard. His versatility has made him relatively popular among tournament players. But, it isn’t just his prowess in combat that has earned him the No. 1 spot. It’s also the fact that he is the guy—along with Shinnok—who is really controlling what’s going on in the Mortal Kombat storyline. Even most of what Shao Khan plans is, at some point, raised as a suggestion by Quan Chi. Unlike Shang Tsung, Quan Chi holds influence over Shao Khan, he knows how to manipulate him. He’s opportunistic, making him an unreliable ally at best. This is the guy who tricked Shao Khan, Onaga, and Shang Tsung into teaming up in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon so that he and Shinnok could do away with anyone who may compete with them for control of the realms. He’s had a hand in the plots and plans of every villain in the Mortal Kombat universe, either directly or more subtly. He is the evilest of the evil and one of the more intriguing characters in the roster.
Article by Jon Hamlin
Article by Jon Hamlin
Jon Hamlin is a freelance game journalist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He plays too much Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and enjoys a good glass of wine. Occasionally, he can be found commanding his legion of doom on Xbox Live as GeniusPantsPhD. Follow him on Twitter @WordsmithJon, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Articles by Jon.