Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mortal Kombat, Lin Kuei, & Philosophy

I recently learned that Midway, the developers of the Mortal Kombat franchise, have already started planning for an 8th Mortal Kombat game to be released on the next generation system in “2008, Novemberish.” The makers claim it will be a totally new game system much like the Deadly Alliance game which saved the franchise from extinction, and returned Mortal Kombat to its former glory. The new game story and feel will supposedly be much darker and grittier than any other game.

I remember playing Mortal Kombat for the first time as a child when my older cousin introduced me to the game. In fact, it was actually the first video game I ever played. People always think I’m crazy when I say that, but it’s completely true. This is also why I don’t get really excited by the chance to play the original Mario Bros. on the “old school” NES, which apparently causes a Nerdgasm for every other male on the planet. Go figure. Anyway, the first video game I ever owned myself was Mortal Kombat 3 for PC. Mortal Kombat is my personal Mario Bros. game that brings back childhood memories of violence, magic & of course, ninjas. To me, Mortal Kombat is easily the best fighting game due in large part to each character having developed storyline that creates a feeling of role playing a fantasy character. I feel a little inspired now to write about some of my favorite characters in the MK storyline, Sub-Zero and the three cybernetic warriors: Sektor, Cyrax, & Smoke. All of which belong to the reclusive Lin Kuei, a secret band of ninja assassins. This is my personal speculation on the meaning of these characters stories and where their development is leading them.

Sub-Zero, Jr.:
Quite possibly the most popular character in the MK genre, Sub-Zero has been in virtually all the series’ games. All fans are aware that there are in fact 2 Sub-Zeros who both were members of the Lin-Kuei clan, but the elder was slain in the first MK by Scorpian, an undead wraith seeking revenge for his own murder. Being a cold-hearted mercenary whose misdeeds tainted his soul with pure evil energy, Sub-Zero Sr. murder at the hands of, Scorpion, causes him to become a wraith himself going by the allias, Noob Saibot.

Sub-Zero Jr. by contrast, is destined to be one of the protectors of Earthrealm, chosen by Raiden, a thunder god responsible for the protection of earth against invasion by other Gods from Warlike dimensions. Raiden watches over his soul and provides him with guidance. Shao Kahn, ruler of Outworld, can absorb the souls of mortals to gain God like power, but Raiden’s protection prevents his chosen warriors from ever having their soul taken away. Sub-Zero fully embraces his destiny and is characterized as being merciful despite an enigmatic and secretive nature. Sub-Zero is the reformed villain [having been a member of the Lin Kuei before fulfilling his destiny], who not only seeks to help fight those who would conquer earth like Shao Kahn, but furthermore grants mercy, empathy, and guidance to other characters in the game who frequently try to betray and/or kill him. Frost, Smoke, Sareena, and Noob Saibot [his brother] are all evil characters in the game, but Sub-Zero continually offers them opportunities for redemption and forgiveness. This has nearly gotten him killed many times, and so far, only Sareena [who ironically happens to be a demon] has been persuaded to fight for good. It is so far unclear whether there is a romantic relationship between these two. Sub-Zero has also become the Grand Master of the Lin Kuei clan, which originally tried to have him executed for treachery, and now he molds the clan into a force for protecting earth.

Sub-Zero, as the name suggests, can control water and temperatures allowing him to freeze his opponents, making him very dangerous in battle. Frost, and his elder brother also have this ability. They are supposedly all descended from a civilization, unfortunately named, the Cryomancers. Personally this came as a surprise to me. One of his martial arts styles in the games is ‘Dragon,’ and he wears a dragon medallion that signifies his leadership of the Lin Kuei. Then in his Deception ending, a tarkatan warrior exclaims to Sub-Zero “Long live the Dragon King.” I was almost convinced that Sub-Zero’s powers were the result of some draconic heritage; perhaps a dragon that breathed cold frost instead of fire mated with the original Cryomancer? I know that sounds a little Dungeons & Dragonsish, but come on: Cryomancers?!? I can only hope that Ed Boon, MK’s creator, is reading this somewhere as the name cryomancer simply makes me cringe with lameness. No offense intended.


In Mortal Kombat 3, the Lin Kuei had decided to modernize the clan with the latest technology turning their best warriors into cyborgs. Of the three that were eventually were created, Sektor was the first, apparently volunteering for the inhumane automation due to zealous loyalty to the clan. As a consequence, Sektor has no soul, and his human identity is of little importance to the storyline since Sektor’s actions are completely driven by his programming, which is assumed to be an extremely intelligent AI. The other two cyborgs, Cyrax and Smoke, have retained fragments of their human personality, but Sektor has not; his conversion was a complete success from that perspective. However, despite the absence of a soul or any memories of his human life, Sektor still became self aware, displays traits of arrogance and selfishness, and is completely uncontrollable as he often seeks power for himself killing anyone who gets in his way without remorse or any sign of emotion at all. Sektor is similar to the machines in the “The matrix” or the Cylons from “Battlestar Galactica,” seeing machines as the ideal form and superior to humans. He is a kind of Pandora’s Box.

The first mission of the three cyborgs was to hunt down and terminate Sub-Zero for refusing to become a cyborg and leaving the clan. However, Sektor abandoned the man hunt during Shao Kahn’s, the ruler of Outworld, invasion of earthrealm. As Kahn’s armies searched the realm for Raiden’s chosen warriors, Sektor concluded if earth was destroyed, there would be indirect consequences for the Lin Kuei. Loosely interpreting his programming of absolute loyalty, he engaged Shao Kahn’s army without being ordered to by the Lin Kuei, otensibly for the clan's own protection. Sektor’s first act of free will was mass homicide. Although Shao Kahn’s army certainly were not good men, one imagines the fight was a little one sided against the stealthy mechanized killing machine.

Sektor’s behavior only became more self-determined and violent. Ultimately, Sketor concluded that the Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei was inferior, and tried to steal the Dragon Medallion that signified the clan’s leader. After killing the grandmaster, Sektor was stopped from claiming the Dragon Medallion by Sub-Zero who defeated Sektor and became Grand master of the Lin Kuei. Sektor fled to Japan, and is currently trying to establish a new clan. He has ambitions to rule Japan with his own army of his automated cyborgs.

The second to undergo the transformation process, Cyrax is not described as volunteering for automation as was the case with Sektor, but he apparently did not resist the process either. Cyrax loses his soul as a result, but slowly begins to have flashbacks of his human life finally regaining his soul with the help of Sonya and Jax, characters in the game that investigate events in other realms on behalf of the US government. Some philosophers adhere to a belief that humans are not born with souls, but rather earn the soul throughout life. Discovering the purpose of one’s existence is an essential component of growth for a soul. To me, Cyrax is the philosopher of Mortal Kombat. His quest to restore his humanity is deeply rooted in finding a reason to live; a purpose or cause that is worth fighting for.

Like the other Cyborgs, Cyrax hunts down Sub-Zero, but is defeated and re-programmed to assassinate Shao Kahn. Shao Kahn retreats to Outworld after being defeated before Cyrax can carry out his directive. Unfortunately for Cyrax, his mission becomes impossible to carry out. Worse still, the now disbanded Lin Kuei do not send him any new orders, and Cyrax’s programming malfunctions due to his lack direction and purpose. He wanders out into the desert for no reason at all and continues to do so indefinitely. During this time, Cyrax is trying deperately to determine what would be meaningful, but can not do so because he has no attainable goal. He begins to remember his old life before he became a machine until he is found and repaired by the Sonya and Jax of the Outworld Investigation Agency. It becomes apparent, that the human inside of Cyrax has reasserted itself, and Cyrax has successfully reclaimed his soul. Cyrax hopes to be fully human one day, but for the time being, he has become a member of the Outworld Investigation Agency to repay Sonya and Jax for saving him from a pointless existence. Sonya and Jax are reluctant to make further modifications to Cyrax’s programming because he might lose what little personality he has. Cyrax tells them that being a machine that has no purpose is not a life worth living. He is willing to risk death to regain his humanity since he believes that at the moment, he is not alive in the true sense of the word.

Last, but not least is Smoke. Smoke, my favorite type of hero, the tragic hero. A tragic hero is someone who despite good intentions is responsible for great atrocities due to circumstances that he can not control, and thus, the audience feels pity for him. Smoke was the third and final cyborg assassin created by the Lin Kuei. However, the human smoke, a grey template ninja, was a hidden opponent in Mortal Kombat 2 before the automation took place in Mortal Kombat 3. Smoke is close friend of Sub-Zero and aids Sub-Zero secretly in Mortal Kombat 2. It is unknown where smoke gets his powers from, but he is a shape shifter that can take the form a grey mist which allows him to become invisible and teleport by becoming incorporeal at will. Even when corporeal, he can surround himself with smoke which is incapacitating to others [stinking cloud special move]. Like Sub-Zero, Smoke refused to become an automated cyborg like Sektor and Cyrax, but was captured and forced into the automation process against his will. Smoke apparently retains his magical powers while at the same time possessing the upgrades of the cyborg body while in corporeal form. This double threat, if you will, makes him perhaps one of the deadliest warriors of all.

However, a malfunction occurred in his automation. Smoke fundamentally had a good soul and furthermore, a destiny. Smoke was chosen by Raiden to be one of the warriors to protect earth. Sektor and Cyrax despite losing their humanity, find a way to regain their free will by achieving self awareness. Smoke on the other hand, is never able to fully control his actions, but keeps his soul. Smoke is a prisoner in his artificial body because he obviously feels great pangs of guilt whenever he asserts himself, while the machine obediently murders whoever his master tells him to. Despite trying to kill Sub-Zero as per programmed, Sub-Zero helps Smoke free himself from his nightmare and fight the programming. Before Shao Kahn retreats, he takes Smoke as a war trophy for his palace.

Years later, after Shao Kahn is killed by the deadly alliance, Noob Saibot finds smoke in the abandoned fortress of the late emperor. Smoke reawakens the cyborg with commands to obey only him. Apparently, Smoke is no longer in control of his actions. Noob Saibot had developed a plan to take control of the Netherrealm [a hell dimension] for himself using Smoke as a template. Noob and Smoke encounter Sub-Zero who once again tries to help Smoke regain his humanity, but smoke tries to kill Sub-Zero at Noob’s command. Only with the help of Sareena does Sub-Zero escape his elder brother and former friend with his life. Smoke is described as having difficulty when he enters the netherrealm because “perhaps there is some good left in the cyborg.”

Smoke seems to have gone almost insane, and it is unclear how much control he ever really has over his actions. In Mortal Kombat Trilogy, both the human and cyber Smoker are available, but the Bio of human Smoke indicates that he is not really human at all, rather smoke is imagining himself as a human fighting to protect earth. It seems that being denied the right to complete his destiny causes great trauma for Smoke. Like any good tragic hero, his origins would otherwise make him an admirable and noble man, but keeping his soul causes him to be completely sporadic. His power and unstable psyche puts everyone around him in danger. However, Raiden has predicted that he will play an influential role in protecting earth, if he doesn’t destroy it first. However doubtful, there is always a small hope that Smoke will do the right thing as his programming and his soul are locked in an eternal struggle for dominance.


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