Tag Archives: blaze

FGC #501 Alundra

Dream about a better lifeLet’s take a look at Alundra, the most compellingly anarchist game on the Playstation

Alundra is a 1997/98 adventure jaunt originally released on the Playstation (1). It is a generally fondly remembered title, as it’s basically the 32-bit sequel to A Link to the Past that many fans wanted, but were so cruelly denied by a certain 3-D boy with a woodwind. This is a game featuring enigmatic dungeons and dangerous foes, but it also not so subtly evokes some fairly iconic moments and items from a game released years earlier. The line between “familiar”, “homage”, and “outright plagiarism” has never been as thin as when you grab an ice wand from a mini, hidden dungeon to storm a northern volcano to take down a gigantic dragon boss. But that’s not a bad thing! Whether you’re calling it the spiritual sequel to Zelda or Landstalker (reminder: 50% of Zelda games released before ’97 involved significant amounts of jumping), Alundra is still an excellent game in its own right. These dungeons really are innovative, and Alundra deliberately sticks to its guns without delving into half-baked minigames like a lot of other games from the era. This is pure adventure gameplay from start to finish, and, considering this is a robust Playstation title, this really could be the “traditional Zelda game” that could satisfy fans for a console generation.

But that’s only half of why Alundra is so fondly remembered. Alundra is a title with a unique twist: Alundra can enter people’s dreams, and apparently everyone is dreaming about complicated dungeons filled with monsters. Thus, Alundra’s mystical hook allows for a number of exceptional areas that wouldn’t otherwise appear in this world’s vaguely tropical setting. Yes, of course we’re dealing with a videogame where an ice dungeon can be next to a fire dungeon with little to no explanation, but it’s fun when the prerequisite “four elementals” dungeon is the result of a nightmare attempting to accommodate a victim with multiple personality disorder. We’re still a few years away from full-blown Psychonauts territory, but Alundra does know how to separate its set pieces from the established obstacles of the era.

And, while innovative excuses for excellent gameplay are what established Alundra as one of the best games for the Playstation, there’s one important part of Alundra that seems to be all but forgotten: Alundra is emotionally brutal.

Yay jumpingNo one is claiming Alundra is the first videogame to include death. Alundra came hot on the heels of the likes of Final Fantasy 4, one of many games where half the playable cast is heroically killed across the adventure (they get better). And Alundra technically competed on its own system against a title featuring one of the most well-known deaths in all of gaming (I am, of course, referring to the death of the Lost Vikings franchise). Alundra was released when gaming (or its audience) was starting to find its way to some kind of emotional maturity, and that inevitably meant that fewer heroes were being “sent to another dimension” and were actually starting to feel the cold embrace of death. Alundra sees his hometown (well, “hometown”) burn. Supporting, helpful townsfolk die. Alundra’s beloved old man mentor is killed. People die, you have to deal with it, and that’s all pretty par for the course. People die, but you’ll save the world in the end. Same as it ever was.

But Alundra finds new ways to pervert traditional expectations so these deaths have an impact. Early in the adventure, Alundra is tasked with entering the dream of one critically injured miner so he can then save another trio of miners trapped in a monkey-based avalanche. Of course the critically injured miner dies, but he died imparting important information to dear Alunda. He’s going to venture right into that mine, and find… oh, one of the miners died. Another one, too? And when you find the final miner, it turns out he’s likely been dead since before this adventure started. His corpse is bloated and waterlogged. It… ain’t pretty. So congratulations, Alundra, you ventured into the mines and saved exactly no one. Death and despair are your only reward. And it won’t be the last time that happens! Alundra will venture through two entire dungeons searching for the mystical macguffins of his chosen quest, and on two separate occasions he’ll be informed that the villains beat him to the punch, and, geez, why did you even try, dude?

It is, to say the least, a little demoralizing.

DIEAnd that’s great! Well, it’s not great for Alundra or the player, but it is wonderful for setting the basic mood of desperation and sadness that permeates the events of Alundra. Alundra first encounters this dismal little hamlet when its citizenry is simply experiencing rotten dreams, but those issues seem to escalate rapidly to “deadly nightmares” and eventual “wholesale destruction”. Things are bad, and the player’s own inability to effectively curtail the horror reinforces the hopelessness of Alundra’s lot in life. By the end of the game, literally everyone you have ever saved from a bad dream is dead, save a pair of twin children who were used as a magical monkey massacre gate. And did we talk about those dreams? It’s not just a gameplay conceit: nearly everyone seems to be dreaming of “dungeons”, and when was the last time you encountered a pleasant dungeon? Want to know what I dreamed about last night? We were at my mother’s house, and for some reason one of her cats was able to talk, and the cat was really weirdly racist. It kept saying that Koreans could always be distracted by a game of chess. It was disconcerting, and I woke up troubled by whatever my subconscious is doing. But I didn’t dream about a gigantic eyeball monster surrounded by spikes and lava. That’s what everyone in Alundra is stuck with, and that is going to lead to a lot of restless nights.

MONKEY!But this all pales to the general perversion of prophecy in Alundra. Sybill is a character that imparts her visionary dreams to Alundra and the player. And we all know how this one goes, right? She predicts something is going to happen, and, because this is a videogame, that thing eventually happens, despite everything you do to prevent it. It is how videogame prophecies work. It is how prophecies work in all of fiction. So you’re shown a vision of a man sacrificing himself so your buddy will then create a powerful magical sword. It’s sad, someone is going to die, but at least you’ll get the Master Sword that can defeat Ganon. Guys, act surprised when it happens, that way we won’t have to scream “spoilers” at a little prophetess.

And then someone kills the prophetess, because of course that happens.

And then someone saves the guy that is supposed to die. Okay, that was unexpected, but…

Oh, and then someone kills the dude that was supposed to forge the evil-busting sword. And the pattern of him making useful items for you after every villager’s death is broken because he’s super dead. His funeral was really long, and he isn’t coming back.

Sorry, player, no awesome new sword for you, because everybody is dead. Nothing you could do. Nothing you can ever do. Loser.

So what do you do? As is often the answer, you beat the shit out of god.

Except, if you follow the details of this story, you realize god isn’t so much god in this story. He’s the ruling class.

It's a pipeAlundra has a fairly robust mythological backstory for a game featuring a gigantic gorilla that can only travel by twirling its fists. In short, Alundra’s world used to have a collection of colossi as its gods, but they wound up fighting over the honor of being the one god among gods, and, yada yada yada, they’re all dead. And, what’s more, by the time they had finished fighting, all of humanity had forgotten they were useful gods anyway, so their whole conflict was kind of a wash. Enter Melzas, the antagonist of this tale, a creature that came from beyond the stars and thought he could give this whole “become as gods” thing a shot. He granted wonderful dreams to the local royalty, and managed to get the population on board with building shrines and statues in his honor. This worked out really well until about five years ago, when Melzas slipped up and the king somehow found out he was worshipping a malevolent alien. All of the churches and alters dedicated to Melzas were smashed, and poor ol’ Melly had to manipulate his remaining followers from the shadows. He didn’t want to wind up like those poor giants that came before, so he hatched a plan to scare the locals into praying to him. This worked for a time, but then Alundra, a dude that could stomp out these scary dreams, showed up. This meant Melzas had to upgrade the horrors being visited upon the townsfolk, and that eventually led to a pretty healthy body count. By the time Alundra has to storm Melzas’s sunken castle, the whole of the world as Alundra knows it has turned against their god, and they have chosen Alundra as their new protector and “hero”.

Wet DreamAnd, while that seems to be a pretty typical JRPG finale (time to fight god again), something very important happens here: it’s not just the hero fighting, it’s the people rebelling. When this story begins, everyone is worshipping Melzas as a god, because that is what they have always done, and they believe Melzas has their best interest at heart. Over the course of the adventure, the people find that Melzas would gladly sacrifice as many people as it takes to maintain his power. Sorry, children, grandma has to die, because Melzas thinks it is in Melzas’s best interest. This happens over and over again: death and destruction, and their god does nothing. When it’s revealed that this “god” is responsible, it’s almost a relief for his pitiable “followers”. He wasn’t helping them because he was the cause of their woes. All the misery visited upon everyone (Alundra and the player included!) was thanks to one despot that keeps claiming he’s going to make Inoa great again, but never does. The only one that was actually helping was Alundra! Let’s help Alundra! Let’s give him all of our prayers! Because the guy we were following sucks.

And then Alundra wins! Good times forever! And maybe… anarchy?

The ending seems to imply that Alundra defeated Melzas, returned to the village for a little wine, women, and song, and then headed out to do the typical hero adventurer thing. Other dungeons to conquer, other villages to save, talk to you guys later. Is there a replacement god for Melzas? Nope. Every remotely divine being in the area has already been slain. The demons are dead, but the gods are, too. And good riddance! Melzas and every other wannabe god in this story caused nothing but unhappiness or relied entirely on Alundra. God is dead, Alundra killed him, and we’re all going to be better off without him.

Big dudeWhat did this ruler ever do for his people? Nothing. And no one is anxious to hire another god to see the same thing happen again. Alundra is the last man standing that received any prayers, and he’s blown this popsicle stand. What does this village have left? Who is in control of their lives now?

No gods, no masters, only Alundra.

FGC #501 Alundra

  • System: Playstation and Playstation 3 (through PSN). I’m not sure what it would require, but somebody please go ahead and get this on the Switch.
  • Number of players: Alundra is number one!
  • Say something mean: Alundra’s overworld is expansive and just plain fun to explore, but it reminds me a bit too much of Link’s Awakening… and not in a good way. It is a royal pain to have to switch your weapons and items every three seconds because you encounter four different, continually respawning obstacles on your way to the west, and I would be much happier with something approaching a “ring menu” or L/R weapon switching or… something. Exploring the world is fun! But could we maybe not have to juggle between fire rod and mace every seven seconds?
  • You don't know how hard it was to pull this offMagic Hour: Alunda can use magic! … But you only ever attain a maximum of four charges, so it’s kind of useless. And your magic points are displayed as a collection of miniature, rotating crystals, which I can assure you distract my wandering eyes at all times. I keep expecting a quartet of tiny Light Warriors to invade my HUD!
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: First of all, you can’t tell me Meia, the only other dreamwalker in this world, wasn’t designed as Alundra’s player two. Those two have sprites that are way too similar for a pair of wannabe lovers. Beyond that, Meia is done dirty by the plot, as exactly when you discover that she has a tragic backstory involving religious persecution and more than a little stake-burning, she becomes super-duper useless, and never does anything ever again save offer advice like “fight bad dreams” or whatever. She was just getting interesting! And now she’s forced to stand around in town with all the other doomed villagers and pray to Alundra? Lame! Give her the leading role in Alundra 2! She’s so much more interesting than the main elf.
  • For the sequel: Which reminds me, there is no Alundra 2. Never been such an animal on this earth. More of a cryptid, really.
  • Back to Work: This is another Working Designs localization, so expect enemies to take way too much damage, and more than a few “translations” that maybe weren’t there in the original text. A few highlights include…

    Hey stupid

    The occasional hurtful insult…

    He's dead now

    Hurtful insults toward extremely specific individuals…

    Blaze it

    And opinions on whether or not Alundra should, as the kids say, blaze it. Thanks, Vic!

  • Goggle Bob Fact: My raw, unbridled hatred for ice-block pushing in puzzle-esque games stems from this very title. I want to say the Ice Manor is the first area that all but required a teenage Goggle Bob to hang out on Gamefaqs begging for tips straight from the non-pros. The age of strategy guides was over… Or at least online resources were a lot cheaper.
  • Did you know? The best weapon in Alundra is the Legend Sword, which technically has a little over triple the attack power of the next best weapon. The catch? You can only obtain it through dying and “quick restarting” sixteen times. It’s the “you suck, here’s the assist block” of 1997. But when you consider how much HP some of these bosses have, well…
  • Would I play again: This is a great game that is long and strong and down to get the gameplay on. I will play it again within my lifetime… it just might not be immediately. The last dungeon is a bit too time consuming for me to jump right back in again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Day Dreamin’ Davey for the NES! Wow, ROB, that’s some surprisingly effective dream synergy between titles. You get an extra pork roll as a treat, and we get a NES game that has been all but forgotten. Please look forward to it!

Toasty

MKK: Taven & Daegon

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!

Watch where you're going

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.

Look at 'em all

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.

But daaaaaaaaad

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.

Mom, really?
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.

What is happening here?

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.

Lookit dem swords

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.

Swoosh

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!

Make your own damn hero

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….

MKK: Smoke & Blaze

Here’s your ninja cowboy robot demon cyborg for the franchise.

He's human!

Smoke was introduced as Hidden Ninja Male #2. Like Reptile, he was intended to be little more than a playground rumor, and could be battled by pressing down + start on both controllers when the digitized head of Dan “Toasty” Forden appeared on the screen (a random occurrence usually prompted by an uppercut). –Look, it was the 90’s. There was weirder stuff in NBA Jam. It had Hilary Clinton.– Anywho, Smoke was simply a gray palette-swap of Scorpion, and his defining trait was that he was enveloped in the “smoke” graphical effect that was usually reserved for a few toasty fatalities. Like when his fellow hidden characters initially appeared, there was no real explanation for Smoke’s existence.

And then things got real complicated, real fast.

It was revealed that Smoke, like Sub-Zero, was a member of the Lin Kuei assassin’s guild. And, like Sub-Zero, he was bumming around Mortal Kombat 2 to complete a hit on Shang Tsung. But, as everyone noticed Shang Tsung continued to be alive after two separate tournaments, the Lin Kuei started to lose face on account of their blemished kill count. Lin Kuei leadership decided that robots were the answer, and, after “cyberizing” two willing participants, Smoke and Sub-Zero were next on the chopping (off flesh) block. Smoke and Sub-Zero attempted to escape, but only Sub-Zero was successful. Smoke was captured, and transformed into a vaguely blue-gray robot in need of a decent muffler.

He's a robot!

Smoke was different from the other metal boys, though. Smoke, unlike Cyrax and Sector, retained his soul and some level of autonomy. He was still programmed to hunt and kill Sub-Zero the (fleshy) traitor, but, upon finding his former blood brother, he broke free of Lin Kuei control, and officially joined the forces of good. Hooray! Unfortunately, Smoke was still kind of a crappy ninja-robot, and he was defeated by Shao Kahn’s hordes somewhere along the way. He was dragged back to Outworld (maybe as a trophy, or maybe so Kano could have a new robot buddy), and Sub-Zero… kinda forgot Smoke ever existed. Maybe he just assumed the poor ‘bot exploded while no one was looking? I don’t know. Point is that Smoke was deactivated and left in Shao Kahn’s tower for a solid number of games.

While Smoke’s robot brothers saw a few more adventures over the course of the franchise, Smoke himself did not return until Mortal Kombat: Deception (basically MK6). By this point, Noob Saibot (the original Sub-Zero and another hidden character of Mortal Kombat 2) was unemployed and looking for a new startup opportunity. He decided robots were the future, and stumbled upon the deactivated Smoke. Noob decided he was going to start his own robot ninja army, and chose to revive Smoke with a new, demonic upgrade. What is the kanon explanation for how the undead ninja transformed and resurrected a long-dead cyborg? I think you know!

NANOMACHINES!

So Cyborg-Ninja-Demon Smoke was reborn as Noob’s slave, and the duo became a tag team that wound up dominating the coveted “sub boss” rung on the ladder of Mortal Kombat: Deception. However, technically, they had nothing to do with the big bad of that adventure (The Dragon King), and, aside from generally menacing Sub-Zero (II), they didn’t really do much together. They returned as separate characters with similar goals in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, and Smoke started to regrow his own conscience/consciousness when Sub-Zero once again appealed to his cyber-humanity. Smoke was theoretically free of Noob’s influence by the end of MK:A… but then the universe reset, so it didn’t matter a puff.
He's a demon robot!

Mortal Kombat 9 was “only” a modified retelling of Mortal Kombat 1-3, but the title also decided to provide a complete backstory for Smoke. Smoke has always had smoke-based magic, and, like Sub-Zero’s ice or Liu Kang’s fire, it was always kind of assumed this was just some special power, and, who cares how he got it? I saw a yogi breathe fire once, it doesn’t matter if it was because he ate too much curry or was blessed by a god. But, for whatever reason, Smoke was granted a backstory that apparently went back to his infancy. Smoke was once a wee baby named Tom, but was abducted by a cult (it’s the MK Universe, so we’re going to assume this was a cult of ninja), and sacrificed to some generic demon. Tommy Boy died, but his physical form returned as an enenra (a “real” Japanese mythical creature/yōkai), a sort of smoke monster. The enenra killed everyone in the room, and then returned to simply being baby Tomas. Some Lin Kuei were in the next apartment over, heard the carnage caused by one hell of a baby, and decided to adopt and raise the demon child. Couple in some random amnesia that was caused by the whole situation, and Tomas grew up believing he was simply a normal boy ninja that incidentally possessed magical smoke powers.

He's human!  Kinda!

So, to be clear, Smoke has apparently been an undead smoke demon from day one. This will be important in a minute.

Back to what actually happens during Mortal Kombat 9. During this iteration of Mortal Kombat 2/3, Sub-Zero is captured by the Lin Kuei, and Smoke escapes (mostly thanks to Raiden attempting to stymy the annoying unlock conditions for Cyber Smoke). So, on the surface level, their roles are reversed: a human Smoke revives the humanity within a Cyber Sub-Zero. Cool! Then, just when things are looking up for Smoke (for once!), he gets his fool ass killed in a battle with Sindel, Queen of the Banshees. Like all of the other defeated heroes, Smoke is revived by Quan-Chi as an undead servant in his armies.

But… wait.

Smoke was already an undead demon, he just happened to possess a human form thanks to what appeared to be an unholy clerical error. And we can’t even claim this was some kind of unintended retkon, as this whole “undead” thing happened in the very title where his demonic origins were introduced. And, while Smoke is not a playable character in Mortal Kombat X, he returns during story mode just long enough to claim he will no longer be known as “Smoke”, but is now “Enenra” (dude is not great at coming up with interesting codenames). So the Mortal Kombat writers are leaning completely into this “revelation”.

He's demon human!

What does this mean? Basically, Smoke is a former-robot ninja undead smoke demon that died and came back as a double-undead demon from hell.

He’s one of Mortal Kombat’s more straightforward kharacters.

Next time: We’ll cover the four-armed subboss of… Wait. There’s another hidden character? No, that can’t be right. We just covered Jade and Smoke, and Noob Saibot appeared during the Sub-Zero I rundown. There’s another one? Can I get a picture?

Look closer...

No. We already covered those doofs. What? Zoom in and enhance?

There he is!

Oh! Right! It’s 4:20 somewhere, let’s cover Blaze.

Blaze’s backstory goes way back to the beginning of the MK Universe, and we’ll cover the finer details of that story when we cover Edenia’s two large adult sons in a few game’s time. For right now, we’ll look at the basics: Blaze is a fire elemental (shocking, I know), and it was his job to be involved in the single stupidest idea the gods of the MK Universe (who already base dimensional conquest on fighting tournaments) ever devised. When the time was right, Blaze was destined to “awaken” and battle some random dudes to determine the fate of the universe as we know it.

Unfortunately, Blaze got kidnapped like seven seconds into this plan, and, geez, you’d really think someone would have made sure that wouldn’t happen. Come on, gods, could you guys have set up like one firewall for your firedude?

Toasty!

Anyway, Blaze got brainwashed, and was forced to guard the egg of the Dragon King, the only way for Onaga to revive after his untimely death of being poisoned and smacked around with a hammer by Shao Kahn for a solid two days. Blaze was stuck hanging around some lava and guarding the egg, but he did get a brief sabbatical during Mortal Kombat 2 to go out and play in the background of the Pit II stage. Incidentally, some versions of Blaze’s story claim that he was kidnapped after that fight in Mortal Kombat 2, but MK: Armageddon clearly states that Blaze got stuck guarding the egg hundreds of years ago (when the antagonist of that tale awakens and founds the Red Dragons), and MK Kontinuity would never have such a glaring error. It just isn’t done!

Onaga’s Egg becomes a plot point during MK: Deadly Alliance, and Blaze becomes an actual playable (though extremely hidden) kharacter. This was all meant to be a lead-up to the finale of the PS2-era MK trilogy, and certainly wasn’t an excuse for Boon to once again introduce a hidden kharacter that he could claim was “there all along”. Blaze is distinctly introduced as an amnesiac, and, having been freed from his egg-duty by completely failing to guard the egg against a vampire, lizard, and robot, Blaze was free to roam the countryside and beat up random kombatants. He also returned for MK: Deception’s PSP-based revision, Unchained, and, since the plot of MK: Annihilation was starting to coalesce, Blaze finally remembered it was his job to fight dudes to find the dudest of them all. Sweet! He’s been kind of doing his job all along!

He's fiery!

Blaze became the final boss of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation when he happened to remember that he had nigh-infinite, literally godly power. Blaze was only supposed to test the mettle of a pair of cranky brothers, but, since he had spent the previous two games getting pistol-whipped by the likes of Kano and Kobra, Blaze decided to invite literally everybody in the Mortal Kombat universe to his special fighting ziggurat. Everybody killed everybody else for the glory of finally battling Blaze, and, in the end, Shao Kahn managed to win the tournament after nearly killing Raiden. This would have led to Shao Kahn gaining Blaze’s nigh-omnipotent (though apparently easily forgotten) power, so Raiden called a do-over on the whole universe.

He's tiny!

Now Blaze is back to hanging out in Pit backgrounds and guarding dragon eggs in the “new” Mortal Kombat universe. Sorry, you not-so-human torch.

Next time: The boss(es) of the place.