The Mortal Kombat series was at the peak of its popularity in the mid-90s. In 1995, the long-awaited Mortal Kombat 3 premiered in arcades before being ported to the Super NES, Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Game Gear, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and PC. Roughly half of the second game's cast returned, along with the secret characters. Several new characters were introduced including the cybernetic ninjas Cyrax and Sektor, the maimed warrior Kabal, the female Shokan Sheeva (a Distaff Counterpart to Goro), Badass Native Nightwolf, off-duty cop Kurtis Stryker, evil robo-centaur Motaro, and Kitana's resurrected mother Sindel.
Sindel's presence is the key to this game's story: Shao Kahn murdered her husband and Kitana's father King Jerrod before claiming her for himself, forcing Sindel to flee to Earth where she eventually died. She was resurrected and brainwashed by Shang Tsung's Shadow Priests on Earth, allowing Kahn to enter Earthrealm to reclaim his Queen...and summon his forces to conquer Earth at the same time. Raiden, unable to take an active role in Earth's defense due to his status as a god, gathers Earthrealm's best remaining fighters together in order to beat back Kahn's forces and isolate the havoc to a single U.S. city.
On the gameplay side, Mortal Kombat 3 introduced the "Run" button (along with a sprint meter), Kombat Kodes that allow players to unlock secret characters and other bonuses), chain combos (referred to as "Dial-A-Kombos"), Animalities, and character-dependent blood.
MK3 received two updates. The first, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (or Mortal Kombat 3 Ultimate), brought back all of the masked ninjas from the previous games and introduced the Ascended Meme Ermac. The second, the home-console-exclusive Mortal Kombat Trilogy, restored the remainder of the missing roster, added Goro and Kintaro as playable characters, and introduced yet another masked ninja in Chameleon/Khameleon depending on which version you're playing: The female Khameleon is exclusive to the N64 version, but the bosses are unplayable. The male Chameleon is playable in the CD versions.
- Returning from Mortal Kombat:
- 3: Liu Kang, Shang Tsung, Sonya, Kano.
- Ultimate: Masked!Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Reptile.
- Trilogy: Raiden, Johnny Cage.
- Returning from Mortal Kombat II:
- 3: Kung Lao, Jax, Noob Saibot.note
- Ultimate: Kitana, Jade.
- Trilogy: Baraka.
- 3: Unmasked!Sub-Zero, Cyber!Smoke, Cyrax, Sektor, Kabal, Sheeva, Nightwolf, Kurtis Stryker, Sindel.
- Ultimate: Ermac, Rain.
- Trilogy: Chameleon, Khameleon.
- Returning from Mortal Kombat II:
- Ultimate: Human!Smoke.
- Bosses: Goro, Kintaro, Motaro, Shao Kahn.
- the franchise's Developers' Foresight page
- the franchise's Shout Out page
- the franchise's Stage Fatality page
The game has examples of the following tropes:
- After the End: In 3, humanity is all but wiped out by the Outworld warriors. It's implied by the supplementary comic for 4 that it has managed to rebuild a great deal, and very quickly.
- It's implied that Earthrealm's victory over Shao Kahn undid all the massive soul-snatching, thus bringing the humans back to their due places (especially considering that basically 99.9999% of them were not kombatants).
- A.I. Breaker: In the CD versions of Trilogy the AI, even on the hardest difficulty, is hilariously susceptible to Rain's Mind Control Orb into Lightning Bolt combo (Or Mind Control Orb into high kick for the bosses.)
- Alien Blood: Sheeva and Motaro (and Reptile, in Ultimate) both bleed green blood, while the Lin Kuei cyborgs bleed oil. Averted with Khameleon and Chameleon, although Armageddon later retconned both to have green blood as well.
- All for Nothing: In Mortal Kombat 9, it is revealed that everything the heroes did to defeat Shao Kahn was for naught. Shao Kahn would have been stopped anyway by the Elder Gods for trying to merge realms without a victory in Mortal Kombat. To make it worse, Shao Kahn's defeat would set into motion events that would lead to the end of all realms.
- An Axe to Grind: All of the Palette Swap male ninjas use an axe in some of their combos. Also, Nightwolf's hatchet.
- Animated Adaptation: Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm took a few elements from this game.
- Artifact Title: According to the series canon, this is the first game where this applies, as there is no "Mortal Kombat" tournament being contested at all. The tournament would not return to canon until Mortal Kombat 9 (which itself is just a retelling of the original game anyway and the tournament is once again done away with once the timeline arrives to the point at which Mortal Kombat 3 happens. There is a tournament going on in Deadly Alliance, but it's not a Mortal Kombat tournament).
- Attract Mode: This was the first game to feature a ratings board advisory screen. It also had the largest number of screens dedicated to the game's backstory than the other two, albeit you'd have to wait through the whole thing for the next slide to show up. Trilogy did something similar, although the plot was relayed as scrolling text with Goro's Lair as the background.
- Awesome, but Impractical: Pulling off a Brutality requires the player to input a combo of 10 to 12 buttons, which differs from character to character, not to mention the possibility of accidentally dropping the opponent with one hit. The end result, however, is pretty jaw-dropping.
- Barred from the Afterlife: This is how Johnny Cage is back among the living in Trilogy, due to Shao Kahn's invasion destabilizing the connection between the realms of the living and the afterlife; thus ironically, the same event that led to his death is what's preventing his spirit from passing on.
- Ceiling Smash: You can uppercut an opponent through the ceiling in certain stages. Also in the Kombat Tomb and Goro's Lair allowed you to uppercut your opponent into the spiked ceiling for a Stage Fatality.
- The Chooser of the One: Until Trilogy made him playable in the MK3 storyline again, this was all Raiden could do for the warriors of earth due to deity laws.
- Chromatic Arrangement: The Cyber Ninjas; Sektor (red), Smoke (blue), and Cyrax (yellow).
- Composite Character: Due to memory limitations, the N64 version of Trilogy only features one Sub-Zero — the masked "Classic" version with his moves, fatalities and ending, but who can also use Unmasked Sub-Zero's Ice Shower and Ice Clone moves.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Probably one of the most infamous examples is MK3 and its updates, due to the CPU reading the player's controls and countering every move. And then there are moves that simply can't be done by a human player that are done effortlessly by the CPU, such as performing Jade's projectile invulnerability on reaction or Liu Kang's Bicycle Kick twice in a row.
- Continuity Nod:
- In his Ultimate MK3 ending as Human Smoke, it says he vanished into the Hidden Forest to study the techniques of his rivals and can compete in Mortal Kombat 4. However, the character wasn't included in the sequel.
- Classic Sub-Zero from Ultimate MK3 is a reference to the fact that there are two Sub-Zeros in canon. The first one becomes Noob Saibot, but we don't learn that until Deception.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: The Cyber Ninjas. Smoke's case also includes Brainwashed and Crazy. This trope taken literally is the reason the cyber ninjas survived Shao Kahn's soul-stealing Depopulation Bomb, despite not being aligned with Kahn or Raiden.
- Darker and Edgier: Continuing the trend from 2, which was itself this compared to the original game. Rather than a formalized tournament setting, Mortal Kombat 3 opens with Earthrealm being invaded and conquered near-effortlessly by Outworld, wiping out nearly all of humanity with a soul-stealing Depopulation Bomb. Earthrealm's chosen kombatants are only spared thanks to Raiden's magic, leaving them alone amid the ruins of Hell on Earth.
- Denser and Wackier: Paradoxically, MK3 is this, too. It also added in far more cheesy character designs and intentionally silly "-alities" than the first two games combined.
- Defeat Means... Friendship? Again?
- Demoted to Extra
- Raiden, who appears only in the attract sequence to explain that God's Hands Are Tied. He returned as a playable character in Trilogy.
- Kitana shows up in Liu Kang's ending before she was made into a playable character in Ultimate.
- Depopulation Bomb: Shao Kahn's invasion is marked by nearly every human soul on Earth being stolen away, emptying entire cities. The only earthborn survivors are the warriors chosen by Raiden to fight in Mortal Kombat, and the Lin Kuei's cyborg ninjas (who simply lack souls to steal).
- Divergent Character Evolution: Played straight with the unmasked Sub-Zero and robot version of Smoke in the original MK3 and then subverted with the addition of their masked variants in Ultimate (as far as their character designs are concerned, since everyone have the same basic moves anyway and only differ in special moves and fatalities).
- Double Unlock: One Kombat Kode simply prints "Hold Flipper Buttons During Casino Run" on the screen. Any normal player would be baffled as to what "Casino Run" is, but some people would figure out that it means "play the almost completely unrelated pinball game Jack*Bot and hold the flippers at the start of "Casino Run"... sometimes".
- One of the Kombat Kodes feature a reference to No Fear: Dangerous Sports: "No Fear: EB Button, Skydive, Max Countdown".
- Dream Match Game: Trilogy is a rare American example. It follows the same basic story as Mortal Kombat 3, but includes a few characters from the first two who were missing from the Ultimate roster (namely Johnny Cage, Baraka and Raiden, plus Goro and Kintaro in the PS1, Saturn and PC versions), in addition to alternate versions of other characters in the CD based systems. Since Johnny Cage was killed off in Mortal Kombat 3, they try to explain his presence in Trilogy by claiming that he was temporarily brought back to life so he could assist in the efforts against Shao Kahn, because his invasion affected so much the dimensional barriers that Johnny was basically Barred from the Afterlife. Raiden's appearance is explained as him giving up his godhood to join the Earth heroes in their fight against the Outworld invaders. Baraka's bio, though, simply ignores his absence from previous versions of the game.
- Early Installment Weirdness: This is the only game where Sheeva has green blood.
- Fate Worse than Death: Babalities in general.
- Fictional City: While it can be assumed that the unnamed Earthrealm City where the Bank, Streets, Rooftop, Subway, Waterfront, and Bridge stages are set seems to be Chicago, where Midway was based, the presence of the Chrysler Building in the background of the Bank and Rooftop stages suggests its none other than the Big Apple itself. The backstory for Stryker and his partner Kabal in Mortal Kombat 9 confirms that this is indeed New York City.
- God's Hands Are Tied: Until Trilogy, Raiden could not help repel Shao Kahn's invasion, claiming that Earth "is now ruled by the Outworld Gods." By Trilogy, he simply gives up his immortality to muck in with the troops.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Scorpion and Classic Sub-Zero both have a fatality that cuts to black. Scorpion summons about 20 clones (or fellow Shirai Ryu) to brutally do God knows what to an opponent, while Sub-Zero's spine rip is not shown for a more practical reason; the game didn't have an existing spine rip animation in MK3, so this was a way around it when it came to UMK3.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Players themselves could actually get hit with this trope; instead of performing a Fatality against an opponent, a player, through a button combo, could grant "Mercy" which would allow the opportunity to perform an Animality, but it also gave the opponent a little bit of a second wind, making it possible to mount a comeback and beat the player who granted mercy.
- I Shall Taunt You: Shao Kahn taunts you throughout the final battle.It's official: you suck!
- La Résistance: Liu Kang, Sub-Zero, Sonya, Nightwolf, Kabal, Jax, Kung Lao and Stryker. Later also Kitana and possibly Jade. And counting Trilogy, there's also the resurrected Johnny Cage and, once he decides he can't just sit on his duff while all hell is breaking loose on Earthrealm, Raiden.
- Late-Arrival Spoiler: In Ultimate, a new stage set in a desert was added. Cyrax can be seen in the background, trapped in the sand; this is a reference to his ending.
- Lighter and Softer: Friendships and Babalities again.
- Mercy Rewarded: This game introduced the Mercy finisher, which would not be seen again until decades later in Mortal Kombat 11. Show mercy on your opponent with a specific button combination and you can use an Animality on them instead.
- A Molten Date with Death: In Scorpion's Lair in UMK3 and Trilogy, performing a stage fatality will have you uppercutting your opponent through the ceiling and he'll fall through the other side and fall into the lava.
- Mythology Gag: Insomuch as anything about Mortal Kombat Advance could be considered thoughtful, Ermac's Friendship has him open a jack-in-the-box which produces a computer, a nod to his origins as a bit of debugging text that took on a life of its own.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Kano's arcade ladder ending has him betray Shao Kahn and nuke his armies to oblivion, only to be messily devoured by a swarm of enslaved souls when he tries to harness Kahn's magic for his own gain. The text notes that Kano's greed had ironically saved the very world he was hoping to conquer.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The Brutalities, the new finishers in the 16-bit versions of Ultimate and in Trilogy: they consist of the winner assaulting the loser with a 20-something hit combo before finishing with an uppercut that explodes the enemy into the trademark Ludicrous Gibs.
- No Ontological Inertia: Defeating Shao Kahn is implied to reverse the damage, deaths and resurrections caused by the invasion.
- Non-Indicative Name: Mortal Kombat Trilogy is a name that implies its a Compilation Rerelease of the first three games. In reality, it's merely an updated version of 3, story and all, that adds Johnny Cage, Baraka, Raiden, MK1 and 2 versions of Raiden, Kano, Kung Lao and Jax, and almost every other arena from the previous games.
- The Power of Friendship: Lampshaded. In response to parents complaining about the grotesque violence of the Fatality finishing moves, the second and third installments added a finishing move called Friendship, which would allow you to win the match without killing the opponent, along with showing an animation of your character doing something sickeningly friendly. Although one has to consider that Scorpion, Classic Sub-Zero, Reptile's and Ermac's UMK3 Friendships weren't very nice, since the opponent runs off scared by the jack-in-the-box (especially since Scorpion has a skull in the box) and in Ermac's case, turns the poor guy into a bunny wabbit."Friendship! ...Friendship?! AGAIN?"
- Promoted to Playable: Series-wide, Jade, who went from a secret CPU-only challenger in Mortal Kombat II to starting character in UMK3. Also, Goro and Kintaro in the CD-based versions of Trilogy. Within the MK3 engine, we have:
- Vanilla to Ultimate: Human Smoke. While Cyber Smoke was unlockable in the vanilla version, Human Smoke required a bit more work in this one.
- Arcade/Saturn Ultimate to 16-bit Ultimate: Noob Saibot and Rain. Also, Classic Sub-Zero, Mileena and Ermac are made playable from the start rather than unlockable.
- Vanilla and Ultimate to Trilogy: Motaro and Shao Kahn.
- Remixed Level: The Nintendo 64 version of Trilogy includes what is billed as a brand new stage, the Star Bridge, but in practice is just The Pit II given a starry sky texture.
- Same Character, but Different: In vanilla MK3, Noob Saibot can be fought, but in a far cry from his original incarnation, he was an all-black palette swap of Kano. He used Kano's combos and could move very quickly, but had no special moves at all. Ultimate returned him to being a proper ninja, though still with no specials. The console versions of UMK3 (except the Saturn port where he was somehow still an all-black Kano) gave him unique specials such as his Teleport Slam and his Shadow Throw along with endings tying into the then-in development Mortal Kombat 4.
- Shout-Out: Shang Tsungs Friendship has him turn into the player character from Joust, another Midway title.
- Sliding Scale of Realistic vs. Fantastic: Most of the series sits on fantastic, but this game sits on the surreal end thanks to how bizarre the finishing moves can be.
- Take That, Audience!: Shao Kahn's taunt to the player is an unmistakable "You Suck". The iPhone version made this an achievement for losing to him 3 times in a row, as well as one called "No, YOU Suck!" for beating him.
- Tournament Arc: Averted. This time, Shao Kahn is simply invading Earthrealm without a Mortal Kombat tournament.
- Unwilling Roboticization: The Lin Kuei have begun turning their members into cyborgs. Most were willing, but Sub-Zero and Smoke were not. Sub-Zero escaped, but Smoke was not so lucky.
- Your Soul is Mine!: According to the game's Attract Mode, Shao Kahn managed to pull this on almost the entire population of Earthrealm. The moment he invaded, he started stealing every single soul that wasn't nailed down or protected by Raiden.
The Elder Gods now descend upon your world to grant you eternal power.