Posted by reppy_reps on May 31st, 2003
Think of Mortal Kombat and who are the first characters that come to mind? Scorpion? Sub-Zero maybe? No doubt, Reptile, Shang Tsung, Quan Chi, and perhaps even Liu Kang follow somewhere close behind. It’s to be expected. These fighters are the heavy hitters of Mortal Kombat, so naturally, most people would think of them first. Go up to any gamer and ask them who Sub-Zero is and more likely than not, they’ll be able to tell you without even thinking. Ask them who Mileena is and it’s a different story.
Despite having a large roster of female kombatants throughout the series, Mortal Kombat doesn’t really have a headline girl like Street Fighter’s Chun Li and Cammy or Soul Calibur’s Taki and Ivy. When preparing to write this kolumn, I asked myself, why is that, and came to the conclusion that the look and establishment of a character is key.
Character design plays the biggest part initially in generating appeal for a kombatant. If a character looks good, we’re more likely to pick that character and play through with them. If not, well we’ve seen many fighters come and go throughout the series. Surprisingly, Sonya Blade made a major comeback after being denounced by series creators, Ed Boon and John Tobias, as the least popular character in the first Mortal Kombat. Her plain green army duds didn’t win her any points. Likewise, Kitana, Mileena, and Jade looked fine individually, but line them up and the Mortal Kombat series fell siege to numerous palette swap jokes (and deservedly so). Making matters worse, these ninja girls came off as the Chipettes to the Chipmunk trio of Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Reptile. Tanya of MK4 falls into the category too, since she was intended to be Kitana, but a last minute decision resulted in her creation.
It’s near impossible to establish a single, powerful image of a character with palette swapped clones running around. However, as we have seen in the case of Sonya Blade, once the least favorite character of Mortal Kombat, it is possible to redeem a character given the proper amount of time and refinement. In this, Sonya was lucky. The MK design team stuck it out with her and kept her coming back. They never gave up on Sonya and now I see fans posting how she’s their favorite character to use in MKDA. They changed her look, her moves, made her more unique, worked on her personality and her story and in the end, Sonya became a fan-favorite for perhaps the first time.
Not so lucky were Kitana, Mileena, and Jade. No sooner had they been introduced in MK2 than they were left to wander the Wastelands of Outworld during MK3. Only fan reaction prompted the release of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 where they became playable once more. But their ordeal would not end there. Once again, they were all abandoned during MK4 and once again, popular demand cried for their return in MK4 Gold. Similarly, Sheeva and Sindel, characters that held great potential, made it big in the MK3 spotlight and were never seen again afterwards. Tanya suffered their fate as well.
The point being, a prominent character, female or male, can only be established if Midway sticks it out with them and so far, the femme fatales of Mortal Kombat put in random appearances at best. Only Sonya has made it into every main MK entry, but I somehow doubt she’ll be eclipsing the popularity of the heavy hitters any time soon.
There is a bright side to this dark tale. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance saw to it to create all new, memorable female fighters. None of them were palette swapped. All of them had unique personalities and varied goals. Returning femmes, Sonya and Kitana were given complete makeovers to help them break from their old molds. Best of all, the new femmes, Nitara, Frost, and Li Mei along with seasoned vets, Sonya and Kitana, seem to have found their mark in the MK fanbase. PSM magazine took notice of them as well and included all five of these women in their 2003 swimsuit special. For the first time, many fans are having a difficult time choosing who their favorite woman is with MKDA. It’s no longer a simple matter of what color you like best. These are fully- developed characters with looks and minds of their own and with any luck, they’ll all return in MK6 instead of being cast off into the great void like so many before them.