Mortal Kombat was developed as a reaction to the popular Capcom fighting game Street Fighter II, with digitized graphics of real game actors as opposed to animated cartoon graphics. The Mortal Kombat storyline and gameplay were conceived in 1989, but not released into arcades until 1992. Critics said the game's graphic violence was gratuitous and was only included in order to generate a public outcry and controversy that would garner publicity for the game. Although highly controversial, the mix of realism and violence propelled Mortal Kombat to widespread and historic renown. Games that tried to emulate its success include the (never released) Tattoo Assassins and Street Fighter: The Movie, and it probably inspired the Atari Falcon game Aazohm Krypht.
Throughout the series, the game was known for its over-the-top violence which included fatalities, uppercuts that sprayed blood and launched players into the air, its theatrical special moves, as well as a tendency to replace instances of the hard c sound with the letter "K" in its written lexicon. The fatalities were so extreme that they, in part, led to the founding of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, and the Mortal Kombat games were the first to be not only indicted, but also seized by German authorities.
500 years ago, the annual Shaolin Tournament, the most prestigious fighting tournament in the world, was interrupted by the appearance of an old sorcerer and a strange four-armed creature, who entered the tournament and defeated the Great Kung Lao. This Shokan warrior was the half-human, half-dragon fighter named Goro, who became the ultimate fighting champion for the next five hundred years. This was all part of Shang Tsung's plan to tip the balance into chaos and help Outworld conquer the Earth Realm.
Liu Kang would go to the tournament with the intent to restore balance. A martial artist/movie star Johnny Cage also entered the tournament and befriended Liu when a fight broke out between himself and Kano. Lin Kuei warrior Sub-Zero was invited to join the tournament by Shang Tsung himself, two years earlier after his ordeal with Shinnok's Amulet. The undead Shirai Ryu ninja Scorpion entered the tournament intending to kill Sub-Zero, believing Sub-Zero to be responsible for killing him. Raiden, the God of Thunder, was also asked personally by Shang Tsung himself, and Raiden himself boasted that "all those who would oppose Raiden would be crushed." He took the form of a human in order to participate in the tournament.
Kano, the Black Dragon's most diabolical thug, was being chased by a U.S. Special Forces Unit, led by Lt. Sonya Blade, when he managed to get onto the boat leading to the tournament; his goal in the tournament was to loot Shang Tsung's Palace (where the walls are rumored to be made of gold). Once Sonya and her men arrived, Shang Tsung had his personal army ambush them. The Special Forces Unit got caught in the surprise attack, so Sonya had no choice but to take part in the tournament in order to save her team. Thus the tournament was set.
With Outworld already having won nine tournaments in a row, the heroes would have to avoid handing Earth Realm its tenth loss, or all of humanity would crumble into the darkness of the Outworld.
The text on this page is based in part on the two Wikipedia articles linked below.