In retrospect, it is very important that “Mortal Kombat 9” was officially titled simply “Mortal Kombat”. MK9 was a return to form for the franchise in one particular department: it was just Mortal Kombat. MK9 contained no kart racing, puzzle kombat, chess kombat, questionable JRPG/beat ‘em up hybrids, Hotaru: nothing. Mortal Kombat 9 was simply dudes punching dudes, a story mode featuring dudes punching dudes, and various “missions” that included slight (but interesting) variations on dudes punching dudes. The only mini games available where the “test your might”-style challenges found in the original Mortal Kombat, and… that was it. Some believed that this was all Mortal Kombat ever needed, and that hypothesis did seem to bear fruit when Mortal Kombat 9 wound up being possibly the most popular MK title since… ever. It didn’t introduce anything particularly new to the franchise, but it was capital M Mortal Kombat. And that’s how the franchise once again claimed a flawless victory, earning the swagger that had been missing since Mortal Kombat 4.
So somebody had the bright idea to do Mortal Kombat 4 all over again.
But wait! We are adding new things this time! For one thing, Liu Kang, the original victor of Mortal Kombat 4, is dead. In fact, he’s so dead, he’s fighting on the other team. This means that Shinnok, Lord of the Netherrealm and commander of demon hordes, decides to drop the subterfuge angle he employed in the original MK4 timeline, and just wholesale invades the realms with an army of monsters and zombies. So that leads to a lot of punching, right? Wrathful wraiths Sub-Zero and Scorpion can battle good guys like Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, and… Oops, all the rest of the heroes are dead. So when the final battle finally happens, it’s Cage vs. Shinnok. Sonya would love to help, but she winds up damseled pretty early in the battle, and Johnny is forced to summon up all his green glowy power to beat Shinnok back into his own magical amulet. The world is saved by Hollywood star power, but, more importantly, Sonya gets all hot and bothered for Mr. Cage. And you know what that means?
Offspring! Meet Cassie Cage!
Cassie (and her whole “kiddy” entourage) is something of a first for the Mortal Kombat series. Likely due to the superviolence on display, the MK franchise never really focused on a neophyte or “child” style character. While kanon ages vary across the board, the general “feeling” of most fighters in MK is that we’re dealing with adults with jobs, families, and health insurance. Jax doesn’t leave his gig at McDonald’s to raid his mini fridge for the last pizza bite; he’s a goddamn major in the United States military. Johnny Cage is an established movie star. Scorpion had a wife and child before he became a vengeance skeleton. Even the outworlders feel “adult”: Baraka is a soldier, Kitana is an established assassin, and Goro has been at the top of his field for literally centuries. The second Sub-Zero is about as close as the original crop gets to being inexperienced, but even he immediately displays his vast knowledge of ninja powers and robot programming (so he’s clearly already completed a double major). Once we include the later MK games, we can see a few attempts at a “new to this whole thing” kharacter, like Frost or Li Mei, but both of those ladies became cutthroat and murderous almost instantly. In short, Mortal Kombat resisted the existence of a Sakura or Noel Vermillion in its universe for a very long time, and Cassie seems like an abnormality as a result.
But, to be clear, Cassie is not some fighting preteen or something similar. Mortal Kombat X officially starts about 25 years after the events of its prologue, Reboot Mortal Kombat 4, so she’s in her 20’s by the time the story begins in earnest. Compared to other franchises, she’s practically an old lady for admitting she’s past her teens. But Cassie’s story is continually one of a neophyte and child: she’s good, she knows she’s good, but her parents literally repeatedly saved the world, so is she that good? Can she save the world, too? Where does she fit in in this crazy, uppercut-based universe? Give or take some specific parental issues, it’s the dilemma of a number of young adult-aimed protagonists across fiction across centuries, and it is, incidentally, the only plot available to roughly 95% of anime produced since Neon Genesis Evangelion. So, again, it’s a little bit strange that Mortal Kombat decided to introduce the story of Katniss Evercage now, nearly 25 years after launching the series. It would be like if Street Fighter 6 focused on E. Honda hosting a hot dog eating competition featuring Sakura and Karin. Who would ever claim that could be the best thing to come out of the franchise in years?
Anywho, if it sounds like I’m saying Cassie is somehow a poor fit for Mortal Kombat, that is not my intention. Cassie’s whole deal is by no means bad, it’s simply weird that this type of character/story is being introduced to the franchise this late in the game. The adults were talking this whole time, and now lil’ Cassie wants to sing a song she learned from the Teddy Bear Brigade. It… presents a slightly different tone than the usual.
… Which is probably why Mortal Kombat X has a background plot of Outworld-based political intrigue… but I guess we have to wait for Kotal’s bio to cover that one.
Regardless, Cassie’s story is basically the story of Mortal Kombat X, so let’s see what we have here. Mortal Kombat X takes place a solid two decades (and change) after the finale of Reboot Mortal Kombat 4, which happened about two years after Reboot Mortal Kombat 1-3. This leads to a neat trick where Mortal Kombat 1 (and MK9) took place the same year MK1 was released, and MKX takes place roughly the same year as its release, too. Cassie is just about as old as Mortal Kombat! So Cassie has decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and join the Special Forces, a big ol’ American armed forces joint that sees our brave men and women fighting against the demon hordes (or whatever happens to step through a big, swirly portal). The Special Forces have been instrumental in the years following MK9 as, in Shao Kahn’s death/absence, there’s been a bit of a power vacuum in Outworld, and everyone from Mileena to a particularly irate three-headed turtle has ruled that realm at one time or another in the preceding decades. Cassie is assigned to some kind of general reconnaissance team with the rest of the new class: Jacqui Briggs (daughter of Jax), Takeda Takahashi (son of Kenshi & Scorpion [you heard me]), and Kung Jin (third cousin twice removed of Kung Lao). Together, they are Mortal Kombat: The Next Generation, and their first mission is investigating Sub-Zero (now alive again) and the Lin Kuei (not robots this week). They get their collective asses kicked, and learn a valuable lesson about teamwork and how they will never succeed if they don’t work together. Thus, it should be absolutely no surprise that the finale of this story is Cassie saving the entire universe by fighting completely alone. And that’s why Sub-Zero is a terrible dad.
Anywho, Cassie and her team then proceed to act out the general plot of about 9/10s of JRPGs, as there’s this magical medallion out there that sealed Shinnok away, and they have to reclaim it, or at least make sure the bad guys don’t get it, or at the absolute very least make sure the bad guys don’t get it and run it into the malevolent endzone of a magical temple and summon a Shinnok that is a million times more powerful than they could ever imagine, bwa ha ha and whatnot. As you might expect, the whole team puts in their best effort, but, what, did you expect the final boss to be Cassie’s crippling self doubt? Of course not. It’s revived Dracula from the prologue, and now Cassie must behold his true form and despair. But Cassie eventually succeeds because, in a lovely parallel to the prologue battle, Cassie taps into the glowing green power of her father, and defeats Shinnok in order to rescue a damseled Johnny. Does this mean Johnny is now going to fall in love with his daughter? Ha ha! That would be ridiculous! Johnny Cage isn’t president!
Anywho, the moral of Mortal Kombat X wound up being “don’t worry about measuring up to your parents, because you are your parents.” And that isn’t a horrifying parable at all!
For Mortal Kombat 11, Cassie seemed poised to be queen protagonist again. The top of MK11 sees Cassie and Sonya raiding the stronghold of the forces of the Netherrealm, but Sonya is left behind, and, on Sonya’s own orders, Cassie must detonate some explosives that leave Sonya slain (and if you die in the Netherrealm… uh… um… I really have no idea how the MK afterlife works… it’s probably not great). But Cassie barely has time to mourn her lost mother when a time-displaced version of Sonya walks straight out of a time hole. And she’s a Sonya from roughly when she was the same age as Cassie! Gasp! And now they have to compete in a mother/daughter cook-off for the mortgage to the orphanage! How are they ever going to get out of this one!? Unfortunately for Cassie’s reputation, MK11 winds up having bigger fish to fry, and the whole Cassie/Sonya/Other Sonya relationship is sidelined almost immediately by warring gods and zombie kings. I guess they both learn something new about each other? Before they’re wiped from existence? Something like that.
But that’s basically how Cassie’s life goes down: she’s a “child” character in a story full of adults, and it feels like her starring roles are constantly usurped by more interesting, adult stories. I’m not saying “the Aztec god wants to beat up that ninja lady from the Playboy” is Melville here, but I’m moderately certain people don’t play Mortal Kombat games to further explore their daddy issues. You want a dedicated story about a chosen one blonde with a ponytail that has to save the world on a routine basis while dealing poorly with authority figures, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is right there.
…. Now I’m imagining a Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossover fighting game.
… And it’s pretty great.
Bah, I’ll get to the rest of the new kids next week. I need to work out all of Willow’s special moves right now.
Next time: “So… is your dad a zombie?” “No, he’s just depressed.”