The Mortal Kombat series was at the height of its of popularity in the mid-90s; with the huge success of the first two games, another sequel was pretty much inevitable — and in 1995, Mortal Kombat 3 was launched. The game premiered in arcades before being ported to the Super NES, Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Game Gear, PlayStation, and PC. Roughly half of the second game's cast returned, along with Sonya and Kano, and several new characters were introduced, including Smoke, Cyrax, and Sektor, as well as Kabal, Sheeva, Nightwolf, Kurtis Stryker, and Kitana's resurrected mother Sindel — were introduced.
Sindel's presence is the key to this game's storyline; she was Shao Kahn's queen before her death when he murdered her husband and Kitana's father King Jerrod and claimed her for himself, causing her to escape 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 bride...and bring his forces along 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, gathered Earthrealm's best remaining fighters together in order to fight back Kahn's forces and prevent a complete apocalypse.
On the gameplay side of things, Mortal Kombat 3 introduced the "Run" button (along with a "Run" meter), Kombat Kodes (which allowed the player to access secret fights and several other bonuses), chain combos (referred to as Dial-A-Kombos), and debuted both Animalities and character-dependent blood.
The reception to this game was underwhelming, due in part to the new combo system and Run button, as well as the removal of fan-favorite characters Scorpion and Reptile in lieu of new characters who failed to measure up to MK2's memorable newcomers.
MK3 received two Updated Rereleases. The first, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (or Mortal Kombat 3 Ultimate), brought back all the masked ninjas from the previous games and introduced Ermac. The second, the home-console-exclusive Mortal Kombat Trilogy, added the remainder of the missing roster, turned Goro and Kintaro into playable characters, and introduced yet another masked ninja in Chameleon/Khameleon, depending on which version you're playingnote . It also spawned a spinoff game called Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, a Beat 'em Up that would lead to two more spinoff games before the focus returned to MK's fighting game roots.
Followed by Mortal Kombat 4.
- Returning from Mortal Kombat:
- Returning from Mortal Kombat II:
- 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 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Cyrax, Smoke and Sektor don't have the hair but they do have the color scheme.
- 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: Raiden.
- 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 Mortal Kombat 3 ending as Human Smoke, it says he vanished into the Living Forest to study the techniques of his rivals.
- 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 Khan's soul-stealing Depopulation Bomb, despite not being aligned with Khan 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 Khan's invasion is marked by nearly every human soul on Earth being stolen away, emptying entire cities. The only 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 version), in addition to alternate versions of other characters. 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.
- Dummied Out: Sheeva in the Super NES and Genesis versions of Ultimate, because of memory constraints that came with the cast expansion. To compensate, they added Noob Saibot and Rain (the purple ninja who only appeared in the game's attract mode) as playable characters, and eliminated the need for Ultimate Kombat Kodes to play with Ermac, Mileena and Classic Sub-Zero (who are available from the start). However, all of Sheeva's in-game data was kept (only her sprites were removed) and they're still accessible via hacking, allowing players to control an invisible Sheeva.
- As an interesting twist, the SNES version has a technically legitimate way to play as Sheeva, albeit limited to one mode only, and also depends on chance. If you enter Endurance VS mode (by holding L and R when you hit Start), you can hit Up + the Start button to allow random select for all eight of your characters. Sometimes one of your picks will be a blue E in a green background (the Endurance Match icon in the Arcade ladders), which corresponds to Sheeva's removed portrait sprite, and when that character comes up in your rotation, you'll be playing as her.
- A LOT got taken out in the beta build of the N64 version of Trilogy. Originally, all characters present had all of their animation frames intact, the Bank and Kahn's Arena stages were available (in the latter case, Baraka and Raiden were prisoners instead of Sonya and Kano with new sprites of course). Many of the missing male voice files were also present and accurately assigned to their original characters (but still compressed and shortened), the unmasked Sub-Zero was also fully playable with his finishers intact and the monochrome Animalities still had their morphing animations as opposed to the puff of smoke we ended up getting and the game had an overall much closer feel to UMK3 than its disc counterparts.
- Fate Worse than Death: Babalities in general.
- Fictional City: The unnamed Earthrealm City where the Bank, Streets, Rooftop, Subway, Waterfront, and Bridge stages are set seems to be none other than the Big Apple itself. What appears to be the Chrysler Building can be clearly seen in the background of the Bank/Rooftop stage. The backstory of Stryker and his partner Kabal in Mortal Kombat 9 confirms that this is indeed New York City.
- Though, in the original game's case, it could also have been Chicago, where Midway was based.
- 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 Khan 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: Show mercy on your opponent with a specific button combination and you can use an Animality on them instead.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Kano's arcade ladder ending has him betray Shao Khan and nuke his armies to oblivion, only to be messily devoured by a swarm of enslaved souls when he tries to harness Khan'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.
- 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. Within the MK3 engine, we have:
- Vanilla to Ultimate: Smoke.
- 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.
- 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. It was Trilogy that finally gave him unique specials such as his Teleport Slam and his Shadow Throw.
- The SNES version of Noob Saibot has him as a proper ninja with his trademark special moves.
- 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.