When Mortal Kombat was first released in the 90s, it quickly became a cult classic due to its violent nature and unforgettable characters. The one-on-one, arcade style fighting game has since grown into a dominant franchise that continues to push the boundaries of gore today. Marked with an R rating and boasting fatalities – gruesome ways of murdering an opponent – Mortal Kombat is as successful now as it was in its first form. What creates such a buzz is the unique people (or in some cases, monsters) we control and the powerful nature of their abilities; deadly spears that come out of hands, fireballs, manipulation of electricity, magic and stealing souls for the benefit of the thief. This poses the ultimate question: who are the most powerful characters?
Here I’ve compiled a list that works its way down from the tenth most powerful to the king of the MK universe. Some have been duelling since the first instalment, while others are newer to the franchise and may not be known by all gamers. Either way, few video games boast the playing roster of a Mortal Kombat title, and would struggle to find warriors as powerful as the ones you’re about to read about.
10. Sub -Zero
While Sub-Zero was killed by Scorpion earlier in the series (becoming Noob Saibot), this character has always been available on the roster. Recognised for his ability to freeze enemies (and then proceeding to break their bodies into pieces), this ninja/assassin is mysterious and utilizes the element of ice in battle. This character ranks on the power list due to his longevity and change; dying yet coming back in a new form and having his younger brother assume the identity of Sub-Zero makes the person a symbol that can’t be destroyed. Much like Batman. Don’t start your Jason Todd theories.
Goro, a tall, muscular, four armed beast, has been intimidating opponents and gamers alike since the first Mortal Kombat instalment. While he serves as a sub-boss, Goro was the undefeated champion of the tournament for more than 500 years. The first true monster of the series, he is a favourite of Shao Kahn and a warrior that enjoys murdering opponents. Goro was a commander of Outworld’s armies, but a key point is that his blows have always dealt more damage in the earlier adaptations of the game. To play as him is to feel true power, even if it is through your fingertips.
“Get over here” is one of the most iconic phrases of the series, spoken by the mysterious, skull-sheathing, fire-conducting, resurrected ninja Scorpion. A playable character in every MK game, Scorpion is well known for his rivalry with Sub-Zero as their epic battles are generally used to advertise the franchise. He is a creature focused on vengeance, and while he appears human when wearing his signature yellow outfit, removing the clothing reveals a blazing skeleton that strikes fear into opponents. Do yourself a favour and view the trailer for MKX.
7. Shang Tsung
The original “bad guy” and last boss of MKI, Shang Tsung is also the main rival of Liu Kang and has the ability to change appearance/powers through claiming the souls of other fighters. Stylish, cunning and highly intelligent, this character disguises the extent of his power to lure opponents into a false sense of security. His role in the film version of Mortal Kombat demonstrates his power (despite failing at the finale), and his desire for extravagant locales and lavish dinners adds a human touch to his power. “Your soul is mine!”
Taking over from Shao Kahn to become the antagonist of MK4, Shinnok is a powerful fallen God that has a primary goal of vengeance. He isn’t as intimidating as earlier villains, but possesses magical abilities that allow him to rule the Netherrealm. Much like the other antagonists, this character can copy other characters while also being able to turn into a destructive demon, but doesn’t have to absorb the souls in the way that Shang Tsung does. Shinnok is a sorcerer that uses his cunning tongue to play people against one another, a more mature evil that doesn’t rely on physical prowess.
5. Liu Kang
The original hero, Liu Kang has been the protagonist from the beginning and defeated the powerful Shang Tsung to rise to prominence. He is Earthrealm’s greatest fighter and has signature moves such as the bicycle kick, flying kick and fireballs; difficult to counter and easy to produce. Based off Bruce Lee, Liu Kang’s speed and strength have made him a constant threat to the emperor, Shao Kahn, and his self-restrictions (in MK1 he is the only character without a “murder” fatality) make him human despite the overwhelming power. While he is killed in later adaptations, the zombie-version of Liu Kang becomes a playable character and continues the dynasty in the afterlife.
4. Quan Chi
This bald sorcerer is a recurring villain of the Mortal Kombat franchise, but never serves as the main antagonist; this doesn’t make him any less powerful. A necromancer of the highest order, and matched by none, Quan Chi desires domination of all realms. He doesn’t side with a team, only focused on his own goals and prepared to create short partnerships with anyone who will help achieve success. He is hated by Scorpion due to him erasing his entire clan, and Sub-Zero despite Quan Chi resurrecting him as Noob Saibot.
God of thunder and protector of Earthrealm, Raiden has appeared in every instalment of Mortal Kombat and is a constant fan favourite with his powerful abilities. Since MK1, Raiden has utilised lightning control, teleportation and flying to dominate enemies. Now an Elder God, Raiden’s straw hat and the electricity radiating from his body have been a trademark for decades. While other characters have gone through distinct changes in appearance and story, Raiden has remained iconic to the series and has rarely been required to demonstrate the true extent of his power.
Known as the dragon king, Onaga can raise the dead, is resistant to magic and has the strength to match any opponent in the MK universe. While Shao Kahn was able to defeat him through poison, it appears to be the only way in which Onaga can be bested. Three other characters from this power list combined their talents and still couldn’t take down the beast. Onaga has flame-breathing abilities and can fly, key strengths of a dragon, and is an even more intimidating opponent than Goro. If not for the final fighter on this list, Onaga would have claimed top spot with ease.
1. Shao Khan
The antagonist of MKII and MKIII (taking over from Shang Tsung), Kahn is the emperor of Outworld and the brother of Raiden. He is often seen wearing a skull helmet and referred to as a God, destroying opponents with brutality and no emotion. While arrogant and overconfident, Shao Kahn is a more dominant soul-absorber than Shang Tsung and, for a time, appeared unbeatable to many players of MKII. Speed in battle and a large array of abilities mean Shao Kahn is as dominant as any Mortal Kombat character created.