Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (5) reinvented Mortal Kombat gameplay. Mortal Kombat: Deception (6) refined and distilled the essence of that new system. It was only natural that Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (7) reinvented Mortal Kombat yet again… as a kart racer!
Wait, no. Take two.
It was only natural that Mortal Kombat: Armageddon carried the changes of MK: Deception to the finish line, and created the new Mortal Kombat Trilogy of its generation. Mortal Kombat Armageddon’s greatest achievement was that it featured literally every fighter that had ever appeared in a (fighting-based) Mortal Kombat title up to that point. This meant that kharacters that had not appeared in the “new trilogy” had to be re-created in 3-D and granted movesets appropriate to the new normal. These returning kombatants were mostly forgotten fighters from Mortal Kombat 4 (Fujin, Jarek, Kai, Reiko, and Shinnok), a few low-tier MK Trilogy “stars” (Chameleon, Khameleon, Rain, Sheeva, Stryker, and Sektor [edge-case, long story]), and a handful of bosses/hidden kharacters that we never thought we’d see again (Meat, Kintaro, Sareena, and Motaro). Some fighters, like Motaro, were drastically redesigned to “fit” with the rest of the bipedal kast, but, by and large, everybody was here for a good fight.
Of course, with the entire, bloated MK roster in attendance, there were a few… concessions. If you tally up the old geezers that are new to the Armageddon generation of the franchise, you’ve got fifteen new models that had to be created for the fight. Somehow, 46 legends had already appeared between Deadly Alliance and Deception, so we’ve got 61 dudes and ladies that all need unique moves, fighting styles, and fatalities. That’s pretty daunting for a development team that was pumping out a new MK title every other year! So, corners were cut (kut?). Previously, every fighter had two fighting styles and a weapon style. Now, everyone simply had one fighting style and one weapon style, the end. Many of the “discarded” fighting styles from the earlier 40 fighters were distributed amongst the newbies, and one hurdle was quickly vaulted. And unique fatalities? Right out. Everyone worked off the same “dial a fatality” system that allowed for some gruesome ends, but nothing distinctive for a fighter that may or may not be able to summon hellfire. And all the “boss” fighters were limited to very narrow, singular move-sets, ostensibly to balance their hulking frames and ridiculous super armor. Oh, and the majority of the roster didn’t get biographies in game (websites and later titles eventually filled in the blanks), and everyone’s ending was just text over a recording of your dude doing calisthenics on top of a pyramid (exactly the same as the endings of Battle Arena Toshinden 3, which is a really weird thing to ever have to say). As a result, Armageddon did seem like the bloated, simple descendant of its previously lean and focused ancestors. Don’t get me wrong, I was one of the people shouting about how it all doesn’t matter if we still get to play as the centaur/satyr again, but the whole experience did feel a tweak compromised to compensate for that full roster.
Oh, and another chief complaint about Mortal Kombat: Armageddon? There were only two wholly new kharacters added to the mythos, and they both sucked.
Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you the sad tale of Bob and Doug.
Wait, those were just their production names. Meet Taven and Daegon.
Actually, let’s take another step back and talk about Mortal Kombat: Deception again. There were two significant complaints about the “adventure mode” of Deception:
1. The gameplay felt more like Fable than Mortal Kombat. Where is all the fighting in this fighting game?
2. Shujinko, the protagonist, was an enormous tool.
With these complaints in mind, it seems obvious where Armageddon’s Konquest Mode originated. First of all, aping the recent (though non-kanon) Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, MK:A decided to drop the JRPG-inspired bits, and make its Konquest Mode more akin to a beat ‘em up. Less exploring, more punching. Unfortunately, this meant that all the bad guys of the MK universe (or at least the dudes popular enough to host levels) had to hire some mooks for Taven to punch through. This would be exactly why Sektor, previously an independent, homicidal robot ninja, suddenly owned a flying airship filled with disposable, other robot ninja. And Scorpion got his clan restored to “life”, but his wish was genied to the point that all his buddies are now fire skeletons. Oh well, means that Taven is going to have a fun time roundhousing various armies full of identical opponents!
But while the gameplay of Konquest Mode seemed much more Mortal Kombat appropriate, it’s debatable on whether or not Taven was an adequate replacement for Shujinko. On one hand, Taven’s quest is a lot more straightforward, and doesn’t require a masters in MK mythology to fully grasp the century-long history of a dude punching across the universe(s). And, important bonus, Taven is not inadvertently and obviously following the advice of the main villain of the piece, so he immediately comes off as smarter than Shujinko (granted, we could apply that same description to a marginally bright species of mollusk). On the other hand, Taven might not be a complete idiot, but he is still the kind of guy that starts his epic quest across the land by demanding to speak to the manager.
What’s Taven’s beef? Well, Taven’s daddy is Argus, a major deity in Edenia (the realm of Kitana and Sindel before Shao Kahn conquered the place and merged it with Outworld). Argus was basically Edenia’s Raiden, and, hundreds of years ago, he decided to get his Zeus on with Delia, a sorceress with fire powers and questionable fashion choices. Delia also had the ability to see the future, and determined that one day in the far future, Mortal Kombat rosters would become unsustainable, and there would be too darn many people in the universe that can easily chuck fireballs around the place, so the realms would be obliterated in the biggest Mortal Kombat ever. Argus’s response was a resounding “kill ‘em all, and let me sort them out”, but Delia claimed that some of the kombatants shouldn’t be obliterated for the minor sin of being great at uppercuts, and the good fighters should be spared (even if, at this point, the last surviving non-zombie good guy was, like, Kenshi). Thus did Delia come up with the most convoluted plan ever.
Here was how it was all supposed to go down:
1. Delia and Argus screw like rabbits until at which point they have two (2) sons.
2. When both of the sons are old enough to know right from wrong (legal drinking age), they will be put in suspended animation for potentially centuries.
3. Each son will also receive one (1) guardian dragon.
4. The sons, protected by their dragons, will sleep until which time that the Mortal Kombat franchise has too many ninja running around.
5. At that point, both of the sons will awake and partake in a quest to acquire some divine items (armor, weapons) that were scattered around Earth for some reason.
6. Then both sons will scale a magical pyramid that houses a fire monster that Delia created for this exact purpose.
7. Whichever son slays the fire monster will be crowned the victor and most morally developed (because… uh… swordplay is the true judge of moral superiority), and will be responsible for using his newly acquired god-like powers to sort the good guys from the bad guys.
8. The divine victor will thus obliterate all the evil fighters, and the good fighters will, I don’t know, get to ride on the dragon or something.
Don’t judge Edenian fashion
Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan. Despite the fact that the creator of this proposal was a friggen’ sorceress with precognition, Nostradamus here didn’t foresee that Blaze, her pet fire god created for one stupid task, would be kidnapped, brainwashed, and reemployed by the forces of Onaga, the Dragon King. This unbalanced the whole stupid contest, and caused Daegon, technically the younger of the two brothers, to awaken centuries before Taven, who had mastered the art of the snooze button. Daegon woke up, assumed his quest had already begun, and enlisted the help of Shinnok, the God of Evil. Poor choice, Daegon! Apparently, this was all a misunderstanding, as Shinnok was a god in well-standing before Daegon took his little nap, but, whatever the case, it did lead to Shinnok manipulating Daegon into killing his own parents. Whoopsie! Since Daegon already crossed the moral event horizon with his bout of deicide and matricide, he decided to form an entire clan of thieves/assassins, and enslave his guardian dragon as a handy teleportation device for his new buddies. Oh, and he found the magical swords intended for him and his brother, and decided why not take both. Thus, before Taven even had time to shake off the morning sleepies, Daegon pretty much had this whole contest wrapped up.
But let’s look at Daegon in the greater mythology of Mortal Kombat villains. Yes, Daegon has a beef with the main kharacter (he killed his parents!), they’re literally related, and he committed the unforgivable sin of grand theft cool sword. However, beyond that, Daegon is… just a dude with a scar. Nearly every previous Mortal Kombat made the effort to create a new and greater threat than the last (evil wizard was followed by his boss who was followed by his old, immortal boss, and there was an evil god in there for good measure), and later installments would eventually escalate things to fighting the God(dess) of All Time. Daegon is… a dude. He might be half-god, but he literally cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the hulking Shao Kahn, left alone that enormous dragon that ruled the previous installment. And it appears there is an attempt to tie him to the greater MK mythologies by positioning him as the immortal founder of the Red Dragons… but do you, dear reader, even remember who the Red Dragons are? They’re Kano’s rival gang of thieves. They were introduced in MK: Deadly Alliance, and every one of them was kanonically killed during that adventure. The only Red Dragon in MK: Deception appeared as a corpse. At best, the Red Dragons only ever achieved threat level: nuisance. And this is their leader? Oh boy! Wonder who’s gonna instantly kill him?
It’s no wonder Blaze was the final boss of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon’s arcade mode, even if his role in the story is basically magical speed bump. Dude at least looked cool.
Anywho, Taven eventually wakes up when he’s supposed to (after Shujinko defeats the Dragon King, causing Stryker to decide to rejoin the fray, so there’s too many fighters now), and, after some discussion with his stupid dragon, sets off on his quest to figure out what the hell is going on. Unfortunately, he’s immediately kidnapped by robot ninja (Delia, come on, girl, you couldn’t foresee that one?). He escapes, finds his way to Sub-Zero’s digs, and learns that, while his Master Sword may have been stolen by Daegon, his Blue Tunic is still available in the Lin Kuei temple. Bad news, though, as the Lin Kuei are currently dealing with Frost murdering everybody and another, different tribe of robot demon ninja are attacking the place. Busy day! Taven obtains his magical armor and saves Sub-Zero from Noob Saibot (aw, brother parallels), so Subs sends Taven on the trail of the Red Dragons. Taven takes about ten minutes to find the lair of the thieves that are supposed to have been operating in secret for centuries, and he finally confronts his malicious bro. Daegon filled his brother in on the plot so far (“Mom’s dead. I killed her.” “Bogus!”), and then teleported away to the final boss room. Taven was left to sulk and rescue Kano from some dungeon with a peculiarly sticky floor. And then he rescued Daegon’s pet dragon, which was much more of a win for everybody. Daegon’s dragon was rightly pissed off, so he stayed behind at the Red Dragon stronghold to wreck up the place while Taven went to Hell. Literally. Shinnok, evil god trapped in Hell, successfully tricked the other brother, and had Taven wander around Hell defeating illusions for a while. And every MK hero is contractually obligated to visit Outworld, so he wound up sneaking around Shao Kahn’s castle for the flimsiest of reasons. And when Taven finally found his way back to his home realm of Edenia, Scorpion of all people (wraiths) tried to stop him. And, naturally, Scorpion got nowhere. After that, Taven finally confronted Daegon, and, in the end, he defeated his brother, because…. Uh… Guess he was better at punching.
Unfortunately, Taven’s quest somehow psychically resonated with all the kombatants he encountered (or some other excuse), and literally every fighter gathered at the final pyramid in Edenia to fight every other fighter for the right to fight the fire dude. Thus, there was a fine excuse for the real “arcade mode” of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, and, specifically in the kanon of this one game, Taven defeated everybody, ascended the pyramid, defeated Blaze, and attained the Boon-given right to obliterate MK kharacters at will.
Except in the ongoing kanon of Mortal Kombat, Taven actually lost to Shao Kahn, ol’ Kahn obtained Blaze’s power, and he conquered the universe. Way to whiff it, Taven.
And, yes, in general, Taven certainly did whiff it. He wasn’t nearly as stupid as Shujinko, but if it seems like his “biography” is just a series of “he went there and did this thing” reports, then you see the problem. He might have starred in a modern (for the time) beat ‘em up, but Taven was a hero in the silent JRPG protagonist mold, and his only two settings were “confused” and “angry”. And when you’re supposed to stand proudly with other kharacters that have had seven games worth of development, you’re not going to shine like a star. In fact, Taven looks more like a tourist. He isn’t the hero! He’s just some yokel visiting Mortal Kombat Land for the afternoon! The poor, sweating park employee in the rubber Johnny Cage costume makes more of an impression.
So, as you may expect, Taven doesn’t return after the Mortal Kombat reboot. He appeared in exactly one game, and that’s it. Technically, his whole stupid backstory did occur, though, as evil brother Daegon appears in the comics as the leader of the Red Dragons. He’s responsible for killing Kenshi’s wife/baby mama, but, since no one cares about Kenshi or his son past Mortal Kombat X, that thread is left unexplored.
So Taven and Daegon were MK: A’s only new kharacters, and they’re the most forgettable bros in the franchise. Kind of par for the course with this generation of Mortal Kombat kharacters. But have no fear! The developers realized this issue, and MK: A is the only MK with a Kreate a Kharacter option!
You can set their moves, name their fighting style, and dial up a new fatality any time you want. And if you think this plot is so stupid, smart guy, you can just write your own ending that will appear at the end of your kharacter’s arcade mode. Yes, that’s right! Mortal Kombat is tired of making new kharacters, so why the hell don’t you do it!?
Next time: Or why don’t we just import a bunch of characters that are already established? Hmmmm….