Sprung about from their popularity in the 80s and 90s, Ninjas quickly became a cultural touchstone for many teenagers. Some of those decades' most popular animated shows used the warriors: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I Joe, and even Batman Beyond. Not only that, nearly every arcade would have a game related to ninjas, be it Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon, and of course, Mortal Kombat.
We are taking a deep look into the history of Ninjas in the Mortal Kombat Franchise. From the cookie-cutter beginnings as easy-to-make fighters to the more nuanced and exciting evolutions we see in the later games.
For this mini series, we will only look at the current, rebooted, timeline of events for each Mortal Kombat Ninja. Although the original timeline differs, they often share common elements. Still, if you would like to see a similar series of videos for it, then let us know in the comments!
Part One is going to focus on how Ninjas came to be in the Mortal Kombat universe and the stories of the two best known ninjas in the series, Sub-Zero and Scorpion.
The Full Stories of Mortal Kombat Ninjas | Part 1: Sub-Zero & Scorpion | DashFight
Ninjas in the Mortal Kombat Universe
Ninjas, or Shinobis, was a broad term for certain mercenaries in Feudal Japan. Often taking on the role of spies, bodyguards, or infiltrators, a ninja was a tool to engage in irregular warfare. However, the role of a ninja was not limited to the island nation of Japan, as records exist of similar mercenaries all across the East Asian world.
When it comes to Mortal Kombat, who is and isn't a ninja is more complicated. Looking at the first few games in the series. The use of Ninjas for those games was clearly born out of a technological limitation first, As noted in the various documentaries and Ed Boon’s interviews over the years.
The most significant of which was the memory available to run the games in Arcade machines. If bytes could be saved, they would be. The Ninjas in the original Mortal Kombat were actually just one sprite with a color swap and a few extra moves to make them somewhat unique. This meant they could save on animation space, as they shared many moves, as well as color information since they could simply swap them as needed.
Another contributing factor was the number of actors needed. The first few MK titles used rotoscoping for their animation. Meaning actors performed the moves in front of a green or blue screen, and then Midway’s artist would trace their outline and translate the pixel information from their digital cameras down to the sprites used.
Since the ninjas could be color-swapped, Midway only needed one actor to perform the base moves and the specials, and they would have all the material necessary for two or more characters.
According to Daniel Pesina, he, his brother Carlos, and Rich, who played Raiden, all pitched a fighting game to Ed Boon and the rest of Midway. One centered around Chinese Ninjas. Although rejected at first, Midway eventually came around to it, and thus, the original Mortal Kombbat got its start.
For the 1992 original title, Daniel Pesina would play both Scorpion and Sub-Zero. For Mortal Kombat 2, a year later, he would perform the moves for Johnny Cage, on top of all the ninjas: Reptile, Scorpion, Sub-zero, and the two hidden ninjas Noob Saibot and Smoke.
Coming into Mortal Kombat 3, the original cast of actors would leave Midway amidst royalty disputes, and thus the Ninjas would now be portrayed by John Turk as Sub-zero and Sal Divita as Smoke.
Starting with MK3, Ninjas would begin developing a greater sense of uniqueness. Although ever since the first, they had some unique moves for each, they all shared the same sprite. But by the time MK3 was released in 1995, they all had different garments altogether. This was also due to a new set of characters entering the MK universe. Cyber Assassins. Ninjas that had been converted to cyborgs and thus featured some of the mystical elements of the Ninjas alongside futuristic ones.
After Mortal Kombat 3, all mainline MK titles would use 3D models; actors became less relevant until mocap technology became cheap and reliable enough to use in MK's modern installments. Production-wise, there was no longer a need to minimize the space used on disc for the characters as home consoles became commonplace, coinciding with Arcade machines slow fade out.
Given that by early 2000 the series was becoming a franchise, and players had taken an interest in the world Ed Boon and the Midway team were building. The ninja clans, their family feuds, and alliances became a running subplot of most Mortal Kombat titles and the topic we are exploring next.
The Ninja Stories: Sub-Zero
Bi-Han, the original Sub-Zero was tasked by his clan, the Lin Kuei, to assassinate Shang Tsung, the organizer of the Mortal Kombat tournament. In doing so, Sub-Zero was killed by Scorpion, the last of the Shirai Ryu, a rival ninja Clan that had been wiped out by Quan Chi.
The mission was still incomplete, and the task now fell into the hands of Bi-Han's younger brother Kuai Liang, who took on the mantle of Sub-Zero. He, along with Smoke, joined the second Mortal Kombat tournament.
After failing once more, they began to return to their clan, and on their way they were confronted by Cyrax, a cyborg ninja. He explains that the Lin Kuei had started to convert their warriors into cyborgs and he was there to take both back for that process.
Sub-Zero defeated him, crossing paths with Jax and Sonya soon after, from whom he learned the truth about Bi-Han’s death at the hands of Scorpion. He traveled to the Coliseum to take revenge, seeking an audience with Shao Khan to be allowed to fight Scorpion who was under Quan Chi's command.
Once there, Shang Tsung first forced him to fight Reptile, and only after clenching his victory does Quan Chi summon Scorpion for the fight, one that Sub-Zero would win.
Although ready to take Scorpion’s life, the cyber Lin Kuei would intervene, and capture sub-zero, pledging alliance to Shao Khan and the outworld in the process.
Sub-Zero would then be made into a cyborg against his will. Inhibitors in his brain forced him to follow Shao Khan’s commands, and it would take Smoke and Earthrealm special forces to rescue Sub-Zero and disable his inhibitors. Once he regained his free will, he helped the Earthrealm forces by spying on the Lin Kuei. After fighting Sektor, who had been able to sus him out as a spy, he learned of a group of tortured soldiers held up in a tower by Kano, Kintaro, and Goro.
After saving the soldiers, Sub-zero learns the location of Quan Chi and goes after him alone. There he faces Noob Saibot, one of Quan Chi’s many reanimated fighters. In said battle he learns of Saibot’s true identity, Bi-Han. Sub-Zero tries to speak with his brother, get him to break free from QuanChi’s orders but is not able. As the two exchange blows, it is Sub-Zero who would claim victory.
A bittersweet victory that would not last long either since after reporting to Raiden, he and Nightwolf would be ambushed by Sindel’s and Cyber Lin Kuei ninjas, killing Sub-Zero and handing him off to Quan Chi to serve under him.
Sub-Zero would wake up in the Netherrealm under the control of the sorcerer. Here, his cybernetic body would be destroyed and, through Quan Chi’s magic, be reborn of flesh.
As Raiden and Earthrealm special forces mounted an attack on Quan Chi. Sub-Zero was knocked out in the fight and rescued once more by Raiden. Waking up in the Sky Temple, Sub-Zero broke free from the controlling force of Quan Chi and worked with Raiden to retrieve a powerful dagger, Kamidogu’s dagger.
Unfortunately, Kano had taken the dagger first and waited to ambush Sub-Zero, cutting him with the dagger and stabbing him in the shoulder. In doing so, he explained that the dagger will possess Sub-Zero, and that only death will free him from it.
A weakened Sub-Zero lashes back at Kano, and flees with the dagger at hand. For years, Sub-Zero would run from the Lin Kuei. Eventually being cornered by them, in desperation Sub-Zero drew the dagger and offered his blood for the power needed to escape. Awakening the demon inside it. Sub-Zero Froze over the entire city that day, killing thousands.
Scorpion and Takeda sought out a possessed Sub-Zero to try to free him from the Demon’s control and reclaim the dagger. Scorpion and Sub-Zero clashed, the Demon mocking and egging Scorpion on, mentioning his dead Clan and his failure to stop it. For a moment, however, the dagger slipped from Sub-Zero’s hands in fear, the demon used the last of his powers to create a massive ice explosion.
Sub-Zero slowly regained control of himself, even so, once Scorpion broke free from the ice, he impaled a pleading Sub-Zero; only Takeda’s words calmed him down enough to spare him, left bleeding, reeling in pain.
Soon after, a stranger named Bo' Rai Cho would nurse him back to health in Bali, allowing him to prepare and reflect on his life. Armed with a virus-infected flash drive, Sub-Zero traveled to the Lin Kuei’s Cyborg factory in China.
During the assault on the base, he would discover that now the clan had resorted to clones to fill out its ranks of cybernetic ninjas. He reached the site's mainframe and injected the virus just in time before being captured by Cyborgs and brought in front of Sektor and Cyrax.
As Sektor pressured Sub-Zero for the virus details, Cyrax began to break away from the slaving protocols that controlled him and eventually fought side by side with Sub-Zero to take down Sektor and become the new leader of the Lin Kuei Cyborgs.
However, realizing that the Lin Kuei that once was is lost forever, Cyrax initiated the self-destruction protocol and in his final moments, bestowed the leadership of the clan to Sub-Zero so that it may be reborn anew.
With this and much more in his mind, Sub-Zero set off to Arctika, creating a new fortress for the Lin Kuei in the blizzard conditions of the site, and before long, a group of warriors sent by Raiden arrived wishing to join the Lin Kuei. Among them was a young woman, Frost.
During this time, Sub-Zero would seek peace with Scorpion, as Sektor’s head held memories of Quan Chi’s plans, Scorpion was finally able to realize he had been manipulated by Quan Chi, and became allies with Sub-Zero. Although in the process, Sub-Zero had to freeze his pupil Frost as she attempted to attack Scorpion, risking the tenuous peace they had made.
In the years that followed, Sub-Zero worked with Earthrealm special forces to help train their troops. That is where he would meat Johnny’s and Sonya’s child, Cassie Cage.
Outworld would attempt to invade Earthrealm once more, in that Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei would fight alongside Raiden and other Earthrealm forces to to protect it. Though peace would not last long.
Due to Kronika’s time quake, Cyrax and Sektor are pulled into the timeline, where a disgruntled Frost would build up the Lin Kuei’s cyborg initiative once again with their help, becoming partially cybernized in the process.
Sub-Zero eventually realizes this and calls on Scorpion’s help to stop it. Although they destroyed the factory, Frost and Sektor get away with Cyrax. Knowing they can’t let them start another factory, they chase them until Noob Saibot and Sektor confronts them. Sub-Zero and Scorpion overcome him and rescue Cyrax.
Still, the Lin Kuei had been compromised under Frost’s guidance, and Sub-Zero was now entangled fighting alongside the Earthrealm forces to stop Kronika. With them, he would plan an assault on Kronika’s Keep and stop her from resetting the timeline.
The Ninja Stories: Scorpion
Hanzo Hasashi, a member of the Japanese ninja clan Shirai Ryu, was killed by Bi-Han during a mission. His soul would rest in the Netherrealm until Quan Chi revived him, intrigued by his ability to tame the Hell fire, and lied to him about the death of his clan stating that the Lin Kuei and Sub-Zero were responsible for it.
Seeking revenge, Scorpion joined the first Mortal Kombat tournament and demanded that Shang Tsung allow him to fight Sub-Zero. His request was twice denied but ultimately accepted after defeating Kung Lao and Nightwolf.
While waiting for his match, Raiden spoke with Scorpion and offered him a deal. If Sub-Zero were defeated but not killed, Raiden would ask the Elder gods for the lives of the Shirai Ryu, bringing them back to life. Apprehensive at first, Scorpion agrees to it.
Scorpion is ambushed by Cyrax and Sektor. The two mock the loss of his clan, and anger Scorpion into a fight. An already enraged Scorpion is summoned by Shang Tsung to fight Sub-Zero, who, like Cyrax and Sektor, continuously reminds Scorpion of his clan and his failures.
The two battle in NetherRealm, with Scorpion coming out victorious and, in keeping with his promise, he is ready to spare Bi-Han, but Quan Chi gives him visions of the Lin Kuei attacking the Shirai Ryu breaking and already broken Hanzo further, prompting him to strike Bi-Han, killing him.
In the next Mortal Kombat tournament, Scorpion was called upon again to fight Sub-Zero. As you know, this was Bi-Han’s younger brother Kuai Liang. Scorpion was defeated, in part from his surprised and slight remorse at the sight of Kuai Liang, but escaped after Cyrax and Sektor distracted Sub-Zero.
Scorpion would spend most of his days in the NetherRealm even after being relieved of his duty under Quan Chi. After a time, he would come to meet and make friends with a blind warrior, Kenshi, who would encourage him to remake the Shirai Ryu clan.
In doing so, Scorpion would participate in the NetherRealm Wars and protect Earthrealm and Takeda, Kenshi’s son who would become Scorpion’s pupil.
Sometime after, he would be contacted by Raiden to safeguard one of the Kamidogu daggers. Unfortunately, one of his students, Fox, became corrupted by the dagger and wiped out the Shirai Ryu except for Scorpion and Takeda.
Raiden explained to him that the daggers are a key to an even stronger relic, Shinnok’s amulet and that they must be kept safe at all costs. He also reveals the location of the other dagger, the one Sub-Zero had.
Their confrontation left a wounded Sub-Zero, while scorpion and Takeda made their way back to the Sky Temple and to Raiden, who informed them of the location of the last Dagger inside Chaosrealm.
Protecting the relic were Shujinko and Havik. Unbeknownst to Scorpion at first, Havik had been the Demonic voice possessing Fox and Sub-Zero. After setting him aside to talk one-on-one, Havik attempts to convince him that Raiden has been looking for the daggers to grow his own power. Failing to do so, Havik turns to violence, striking Scorpion and threatening to kill Takeda.
As Takeda was still away with Shujinko, and without wanting to risk his friend’s life, Scorpion let himself be killed by Havik, who was looking to revive Scorpion’s Hellfire demon. In his dying breaths, he warns Takeda, who runs out of the temple.
Although dead, Hanzo’s soul is restless. Its two personas, Hanzo Hasashi and Scorpion, begin to fight. In between punches, the two speak of their views. Hanzo feels guilty and impotent, unable to change the world for the better or even control Scorpion’s power. On the other hand, Scorpion is fueled by vengeance, the anger of losing his family and his clan. Accepting that the two are part of him, Hanzo regains his life, stronger than before.
With his newfound strength, he sought out Havik and killed him, ripping out his head just in time to save Takeda. Scorpion then teleports to the Netherrealm with Havik’s head so that it may be tortured for eternity.
He would spend many years after that training with Takeda until Sub-Zero invited him to discuss peace terms between their clans. As you know, Forst attacked him during it, but was frozen solid by Sub-Zero, who explained that Quan Chi was the one behind the Shirai Ryu’s massacre.
Scorpion then goes to face Quan Chi, who the Earthrealm special forces had captured. As he beats the sorcerer to a pulp, D’vorah breaks through and hands over Shinnok's amulet to Quan Chi, who Scorpion swiftly kills, finally avenging his family’s death, but not before the sorcerer was able to release Shinnok into the world. Weakend by the fight, Scorpion retreats, leaving the Earthrealm team to deal with the Elder God.
After Kornika’s time quake, a younger Scorpion is placed in the timeline before he can fight and kill Bi-Han. Manipulated by Kronika to do her bidding in exchange for resetting the timeline and bringing back his family.
Current time Scorpion would helped Sub-Zero destroy the newly founded cyber Lin Kuei factories. Afterward, he goes to speak with Kharon to convince him to join the Earthrealm forces. But he is confronted by D’Vorah and the time-displaced version of himself.
The two fight and current timeline Scorpion is able to speak reason into his counterpart. If Kronika were successful, she would unleash Shinnok and simply let loose the god that killed their clan once again.
As their fight ends, D’Vorah poisons the older Scorpion, killing him. In his final moments, he asks the younger Scorpion to join the Earthrealm forces and stop Kronika. Scorpion would take part in the Fleet battle against Kronika’s armies and ultimately help stop her. Beyond that, however, the story of Hanzo is yet to come to a close.
The Ninja Stories: Noob Saibot
To tie off the lose end from Sub-Zero story we want to tell you about Bi-Han, the original Sub-Zero. As you know, he was murdered at the hands of Scorpion during the first Mortal Kombat tournament and was later resurrected by the sorcerer Quan Chi.
Although we don’t know much of Noob Saibot’s whereabouts during many of the events in the series, it is clear that he has never so much thought of betraying Quan Chi. Unlike Scorpion, Noob Saibot never attempted to reconcile his life with his death. He has fully embraced his new form under the servitude of Quan Chi.
That is not to say he has no ambitions, as Kronika offered him his own clan of shadow Ninjas for his loyalty, seeing as Quan Chi was no longer in control of Noob Saibot. But like all of Kronika’s allies, he was defeated, although likely not dead for good.
As we said at the start, this is part one of a mini-series looking at the stories of all Ninjas in the Mortal Kombat franchise that have a part in the current timeline of events.