Never follow a dog act with a cat.
Kintaro was intended to be Goro #2, and it seems literally everyone involved regretted this choice immediately. Kintaro was initially intended to be some manner of saber-tooth tiger creature-man, but this proved to be too difficult, so that “version” of Kintaro was tossed over to Primal Rage 2 (“There was a Primal Rage 2?” “Exactly”), and we basically got “Goro, but kind of like a cat?”. Tiger Goro wound up an incredibly cheap boss in Mortal Kombat 2, which, yeah, that’s par for the course with Mortal Kombat bosses. Basically, aside from being Goro’s fursona, Kintaro has no real defining features.
And then everyone forgot he existed for years.
Kintaro appeared in the Playstation version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy, but that was more of a dream match (for Kintaro) than anything. His next kanon appearance was in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, a game that featured (nearly) every MK fighter. Kintaro’s story in Annihilation… doesn’t exist. He’s just kind of there. Like in Mortal Kombat 2! He’s consistent! But at least… uh… his ending sees him earning magical swords. That’s… kind of something?
Kintaro returns for the reboot of Mortal Kombat 9, and he is defeated by Kung Lao moments after his introduction. This would be akin to being nominated for an Emmy, but then losing the prize to a kid in Mrs. Eckerson’s drama club. Kintaro did get to return for a rad endurance match with Goro against Sub-Zero, though, so his appearance wasn’t a complete waste.
And that’s about it for Kintaro. For a final denouement, he appeared in the kanonically dubious Mortal Kombat X komics, and had his head torn off by a magically-possessed Sonya Blade. It was meant to be a noble death for the Shokan warrior, but, like everything else in his cursed life, it didn’t quite land.
Kintaro, congratulations on being the first of many “forgotten” kombatants.
But here’s a guy that no one is ever going to forget.
Not unlike over in the Street Fighter universe, the boss of the second title appears to be the one that stuck around the most. Shao Kahn isn’t always the final boss of the franchise, but he holds that honor most often. And he’s got a cool hat, too. That probably helps.
Despite being such a popular character, Shao Kahn’s origins are kind of murky. Apparently, he was originally a lesser deity of Outworld (like how Raiden is described before he ascended over the course of the series) back in the day when Onaga, the Dragon King, ruled Outworld. Shao Kahn grew jealous of the simplicity of being an interdimensional despot, though, and decided to take out Onaga with a healthy dosage of poison. Shao Kahn thus became the god-emperor of Outworld, and went on to conquer other realms. Edenia , the home universe of Kitana, was one of the earliest to fall, and Shao Kahn murdered Edenia’s king before taking the queen as his own. Queen Sindel didn’t last very long, however, as she offed herself after seeing her own prenup. This led to a germ of a plan that would eventually come to fruition a few centuries later, but, in the meanwhile, Shao Kahn primarily set his sights on Earth. Shang Tsung and Goro were dispatched to win ten generations of Mortal Kombat, and they came thiiiiiis close before Liu Kang cocked up the whole enterprise. This left Shao Kahn feeling rather lonely (he was really looking forward to marrying The Queen of Earth), so he invited the kombatants and all his closest friends to Outworld for a big party. It went… poorly.
The Mortal Kombat 2 tournament may have ended badly for Shao Kahn, but it did wonders for his reputation. Shang Tsung was a fun end boss for MK1, but he is most remembered for being a whole cast in one fight, and little more than a fireball-slinger otherwise. Shao Kahn, meanwhile, was much more in the vein of Goro: a huge, imposing monster man that was going to keep you floored. And he was an even bigger jerk than Goro, too. Shao Kahn would repeatedly taunt his prey, and hurl any number of insults that were significantly bolstered by Kahn revealing he had been the omnipresent announcer all along. Beating the hidden kharacters of MK2 offered very few pride points, but eventually triumphing and beating down the final boss and literal voice of Mortal Kombat 2 was thrilling.
And I guess defeating Shao Kahn means you saved two different dimensions? That’s pretty okay, too.
But! Defeating Shao Kahn did not save any universes at all. Shao Kahn was immediately revived after his MK2 defeat (MK9 seemed to imply that Quan Chi was involved), and he decided to cheat the universe at large by reviving his Queen Sindel on Earth. This apparently granted Shao Kahn carte blanche to set foot on Earth and reclaim his bride. And since Shao was on Earth anyway, he may as well use dark magic to merge the realms, suck up the soul of literally everyone on the planet, and dispatch centaur death squads to round up any survivors. This was perhaps not in the spirit of the original “just swing by and pick up your zombie wife” plan, but it wound up working out for Earth, as Liu Kang again challenged and defeated Shao Kahn. This pulled a big ol’ CTRL+Z on Shao Kahn’s invasion, and everything went back to normal for a solid couple of minutes. Shao Kahn also managed to survive his encounter with Liu Kang, and skulked back to Outworld to chill for the entirety of Mortal Kombat 4.
Shao Kahn was on something of a losing streak, what with personally losing two MK tournaments and Sindel/Kitana liberating Edenia and turning the Shokan and other Outworld tribes against him, so it kind of made sense when Shang Tsung and Quan Chi killed Shao Kahn to kick off their Deadly Alliance. But it was all a trick! Shao Kahn was never dumb enough to just hang out and get murdered on his own throne, and it was just an after-image, ha ha, you fools, Shao Kahn lives. Thus, Shao Kahn and the similarly presumed dead Goro teamed up for the Gamecube version of Mortal Kombat: Deception. They marched on the Dragon King… but didn’t make it in time to re-kill Shao Kahn’s revived predecessor. As a consolation prize, Shao Kahn decided to take back his old castle, so Shao ‘n Goro reconquered Outworld, and started Mortal Kombat: Armageddon in the literal seat of power.
And then, in a surprise turnaround for the series, Shao Kahn won MK:A. He defeated everybody! He beat Blaze, earned nigh-omnipotent power, and the only other warrior left standing was the divine (and also recently resurrected) Raiden. Shao Kahn was on the cusp of conquering the whole of the universe (which, according to his MK:A ending, would eventually bore him to literal insanity), but that wily Raiden sent a message back in time, and Shao Kahn was forced to forget his greatest triumph in a rebooted universe. Boo.
The rebooted Mortal Kombat 1-3 of Mortal Kombat 9 is basically all the same for Shao Kahn. He gets a clean kill on Kung Lao and a powered-up demon wife, but, other than that, it’s pretty much more of the same for ol’ Shao. Damn that Liu Kang! Well, until Liu Kang is literally damned by Raiden accidentally barbecuing the would-be hero. This leaves Raiden to battle Shao Kahn alone, but (future) Raiden actually comes up with a pretty great idea. Remember how that whole “Shao Kahn conquers Earth while picking up his wife” plan sounded like a major slight against the rules of Mortal Kombat? Well it was! And all it took for the Elder Gods to notice was Raiden getting the thunder kicked out of him. Thus, for transgressions against the spirit of Mortal Kombat (or something), Shao Kahn was instantly dragged to Hell by the all-powerful gods of the universe. So Shao Kahn does not survive past Mortal Kombat 3 (redux), and can never go on to achieve his supreme victory during Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Of course, a redux of Armageddon would likely go differently anyway, as Shao Kahn killed pretty much everybody over the course of MK9. C’est la vie.
Being obliterated by divinity kept Shao Kahn down for Mortal Kombat X, but he returned for Mortal Kombat 11. In this tale, the Shao Kahn of MK2’s finale is sucked through a time portal to the present (incidentally thanks to one of those gods that eradicated him a few decades earlier), when Kotal Kahn has ascended to the throne. Shao Kahn is having none of that, so he decides, once again, to conquer Outworld all over again. He recruits some time-displaced Tarkatans (Barakas), and starts tearing up the place in a manner appropriate to a kahn. Unfortunately, this Shao Kahn kind of comes off as a stooge, as he’s distinctly working for a nigh-omnipotent time goddess, and he is eventually defeated by Kitana, who is one of those “assassins” that is only ever capable of killing like one person (and it was her own clone, so that was arguably more suicide than assassination). By the finale of MK11, Shao Kahn is left alive and still out-of-time, but blinded by Kitana’s vengeful fan swiping. A crippled, convalescing Shao Kahn might be an interesting next step for the tyrant, but the universe ends with MK11, so we’re unlikely to see the next phase in Shao’s life. But whatever happens next in the Mortal Kombat universe, you can bet this dork with a hammer will be there!
Next time: Mortal Kombat 3! Let’s start the parade of forgettable kharacters!