So Mortal Kombat 4, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, Mortal Kombat Advance (don’t ask), and most of all Mortal Kombat: Special Forces combined to form an evil Voltron (Sincline) that ultimately killed the Mortal Kombat franchise for a good number of years. There was a two year gap between Special Forces and any sort of MK game, and a four year gap between fighting game installments. Four years might not seem like a long time to old and wizened gamers such as ourselves, but, to put that timespan in perspective, it only took a little over four years for Mario to de-age from a perfectly competent plumber to a useless, football-esque infant. Can you imagine what could happen to the Mortal Kombat franchise in that same span of time? Johnny Cage might become some manner of fighting fetus!
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance was the first fighting game to see the return of the franchise. It was the official fifth game in the franchise (the logo looked like a deadly roman numeral), and it sought to right what once went wrong with Mortal Kombat 4. First of all, MK: DA ported the familiar fighters of Mortal Kombat into the third dimension in a way that didn’t completely suck. Finally, MK had graduated to graphical fidelity that would put War Gods to shame. And the gameplay had improved in this strange new dimension, too. Moving in 3-D space was bizarre and clunky (klunky?) in MK4, but MK: DA included side-stepping that actually felt smooth and remotely natural. MK was (and, seemingly, always would be) a 2-D affair (there are too many flying spears that would have to be adjusted to be infinitely wide to truly be 3-D), but MK: DA faked it well enough to make us all believe Mortal Kombat had entered the 21st century with uppercuts a-blazin’.
But the other gigantic change to the Mortal Kombat formula was that MK: Deadly Alliance was the first MK title to introduce a little bit of variety to the fighters. Previously, every kharacter had unique special moves, combos, and fatalities, but possessed “basic” movesets that were exactly the same. Sonya Blade’s roundhouse was exactly the same as Kano’s. Give or take a few pixels, every combatant was virtually identical when using anything but their generally unique fireballs and alike. MK4 made the babiest of baby steps toward some differentiation by granting each fighter a unique weapon… but this was unbalanced to the point that Fujin could snipe his opponents with a crossbow while Kai stumbled around with a staff. MK: DA, meanwhile, granted everyone an exclusive weapon and two distinctive fighting styles. Everyone was now completely dissimilar, random select felt more diverse than ever, and style switching was optimized for home console controllers, so going from roundhouses to sword slices was just a shoulder button away. This was a whole new era for Mortal Kombat!
Of course, not everyone liked it. One could easily argue that the appeal of the old MK system was that the fighters weren’t distinct, and claiming Scorpion or Kitana as your favorite didn’t mean you had to relearn how to play the game. Now, if you chose Reptile for his sweet acid spits, you had to also learn how to effectively use his crab fighting style, and restrain your laughter as this Yoshi-looking mofo scuttled across the battlefield. Fighters now had an “ease of use” rating, and, let me tell you, you didn’t used to have to figure out whether or not “ice throwing guy” was going to properly conform to your “playstyle”. In short, taking every kharacter from “0 variety” to “3 fighting styles each” very possibly overcomplicated the previously straightforward gameplay of the franchise.
And, heralding this brave new day of density is Kenshi Takahashi, the most complicated new fighter from the era.
Kenshi must possess the most archetypes crammed into any one fighter’s backstory. Kenshi was originally a Ryu-esque world warrior looking to be the best fighter. He eventually stumbled upon a helpful old man that claimed he could help Kenshi find a magical sword worthy of his fighting prowess. Unfortunately, that old man proved to be Shang Tsung, who was using Kenshi to uncover some magical crypt of fighting ancestors. Kenshi gained his own private Excalibur, but a curse upon the sword blinded the fighter, so now he was stuck with being a sightless master for the rest of his days. Shang Tsung ate some souls, but whatever leftovers were around possessed the sword and guided Kenshi, so he’s also got some soulcalibur wiz biz going on. And, as any Neurospear will tell you (I have decided to go all in on esoteric references now), losing your sight will increase your telepathic abilities, so Kenshi possesses both telekinesis and general mind control powers. And he’s probably really good at making sushi. And if he was on the Star Trek Enterprise, everyone would be his friend, and he’d totally be running the place by the end of the week. Captain Picard would cry happy tears.
As you might expect from that origin story, Kenshi really wants to stab Shang Tsung but good, and he’s willing to use his two separate fighting styles and one magic sword-based weapon style to do it. He joined up with Sonya and the Special Forces sometime around Deadly Alliance in order to gain access to Outworld (apparently generating portals is one of the few powers he does not possess), and volunteered to help out Cyrax in exchange for access to sweet, sweet Shang Tsung murder. Better men than you have tried, Kenshi! Unfortunately, Kenshi never gets his chance, as Mavado (look forward to that bio!) was tasked with killing the swordsman, and world class fighter Kenshi here got his ass kicked. Kenshi spent the finale of Deadly Alliance lying dead in a ditch, but was rescued by Sub-Zero, who was similarly waylaid on his way to the final battle. They instantly became sword buddies, and ventured around having whacky adventures and distributing snow cones to Outworld children. So all Kenshi did during Mortal Kombat: Deception was bump around in the dark like some kind of dude with severe vision impairment.
But things were really looking up in Mortal Kombat Armageddon! Kenshi found his way back home, and decided to drop the pretense and just straight up become Daredevil. He dismantled criminal empires “from the shadows”, and probably would have had time to complete his law degree if another stupid Mortal Kombat tournament didn’t pop up. Kenshi actively decided to refuse the call when he not only heard murmurings of the Armageddon plot amongst the criminal elements, but also when Johnny Cage straight up invited the dude to come along and fight for the forces of good. But Kenshi’s ol’ reliable psychic powers kicked in when the battle began in earnest, so he turned his car around and lead the forces of good at Armageddon (which is apparently in Edenia). Kenshi probably did lead the armies of general friendliness well, but he definitely died, too, so he couldn’t have been that great of a general.
Not like it mattered, though, as Kenshi got a second shot as one of the few “later” MK kharacters to appear in the rebooted universe. That’s right, boys and girls, we’re almost out of fighters that bother to show up for MK9 and later! Kenshi was DLC for MK9, and only appeared in the storymode as a name check during nuMK2. But his DLC appearance confirms that he has the same backstory, and he’s out to get all blind justice on Shang Tsung. Unfortunately, he whiffs that blow again, and is now 0 for 2 in two different universes on actually exacting vengeance. That’s a fairly impressive loss record when you consider how many times Shang Tsung has been killed by other people.
Smarting from that loss, Kenshi decided to find comfort in the arms of a woman. Or maybe he did earlier? Look, what’s important is that Kenshi met a woman by the name of Suchin, had wild, probably telekinetic sex, and then didn’t think to use any of his powers for birth control. Suchin had a kid a few (probably, like, nine) months later, but, by that time, Kenshi had already knocked off to the pub for a cig. Kenshi did not learn of his son, Takeda, until years later when Suchin was murdered for the crime of being a woman in a man’s story. Kenshi was then granted custody of his only son… and immediately dropped the kid off with Scorpion. Scorpion. You know, the one guy in Mortal Kombat who kanonically got his son killed as a result of being an assassin for hire (or whatever the hell he was doing in MK Mythologies). Father of the freaking year. No, I don’t care if he’s a recovering fire skeleton that needs something new to focus on. That is a poor choice, Kenshi. Regardless, Takeda winds up in the care of Scorpion so he can become the next generation of Shirai Ryu ninja, and Kenshi ventures forth to knock off to the pub for a cig avenge his baby mama’s death. Unfortunately, the outcome of that quest was lost with the cancelation of the Mortal Kombat X comic book, but let’s just go ahead and assume Kenshi failed yet again.
Kenshi was moonlighting with the Special Forces again all this time, though, so he had an excuse to participate in the prologue and main bits of Mortal Kombat X’s story. He’s instrumental in stopping Shinnok’s initial invasion, as his magical sword directs the party to a magical elevator. Seriously. That’s a thing that happens. It’s supposed to be triumphant or something. Then he spends most of the “present” of MKX telepathically informing his son that he’d love to swing by and help, but the pub has got so many cigs, and he’s gotta go get them, and he’ll be back to help just as soon as he’s done. Kenshi is last seen being knocked out by a revived Shinnok, and does not appear again even after his son leaves with the other newbies to save the world. Kenshi and his son don’t appear in Mortal Kombat 11, leaving Frost as the only MK: Deadly Alliance protagonist to carry the torch into the final reboot.
In the end, that’s a pretty complicated life for a guy whose name just means “dude with sword”.
Next time: Ice to meet a chill fighter.