Anyone who grew up in the ’90s probably has strong memories about the Mortal Kombat franchise — whether it was strictly verboten in the house because of its groundbreaking gore, forcing players to sneak off to an arcade cabinet at the mall to get their fix, or it was seeing the movies, watching the cartoons and reading the comics — we all have Mortal Kombat Rekollections. Since the very beginning, Raiden the Thunder God has been one of the faces of the franchise. Instantly distinctive in his Taoist monk’s outfit, his blue cape or poncho, and his conical hat, his electric-crackling visage has graced (almost) every iteration of the game.
He’s a great starter character and he’s still fun to play for advanced Kombatants, and he’s the closest thing the franchise has to a consistent protagonist. Whether you’ve been rocking Raiden since ’92, or you’re just firing up Mortal Kombat X for the first time, it’s impossible not to feel a certain fondness for the baddest Elder God this side of Outworld. But in such a long and storied career, Raiden has left behind a lot of easter eggs — so let’s take a trip through the lesser known facts about everyone’s favorite Kombatant.
15. HE TURNED 25 THIS YEAR…
Raiden was one of the original seven playable characters in 1992’s Mortal Kombat, and as befits an Elder God, he looks like time has not touched him. His garb has gotten a little fancier and more intricate, and he’s had some bad spells, but he’s still the Thunder God we all know and love.
In his debut appearance, Raiden had to make do with about 64 colors and 300 frames of animation, as did the rest of the characters. The entirety of the first Mortal Kombat game was only 8MB, which is about one-and-a-half songs’ worth of data storage. Since then, he’s added Fatalities, Animalities, Friendships, Mercy, Babalities; he’s turned evil; he’s redeemed himself; he’s teamed up with Superman; and who knows what the next 25 will bring. We can’t wait to find out!
14. …BUT HE STILL CAN’T DECIDE HOW TO SPELL HIS NAME
When Raiden debuted in Mortal Kombat, his name was spelled with an “i”, to approximate the pronunciation of Raijin, a Japanese god of thunder. But when Acclaim began releasing Mortal Kombat ports for home systems, they changed the spelling of his name to “Rayden,” for reasons largely unknown to this day.
When Mortal Kombat was ported to home consoles in 1993, there were several Raidens already at play. There was also a shoot-’em-up called Raiden, and the Fatal Fury games featured a large wrestler named Raiden. Whatever the reasoning, in all the home console games up to Mortal Kombat 4 for the Nintendo 64/PlayStation, the moviesand many of the comics spelled his name “Rayden.” Luckily, this was changed with MK4, and “Raiden” has claimed a true identity in the 20 years since.
13. HE MAY OR NOT BE SHAO KAHN’S BROTHER
Viewers of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation were shocked when it was revealed that Raiden and Shao Kahn, two eternal enemies, were actually…brothers. They both sported a dragon tattoo that had protective properties for those of a certain lineage, allowing them to travel between the realms unfettered; Mileena and Cyrax had them for the duration of the film, but theirs disappeared upon their defeat. Supposedly, Raiden and Shao Kahn’s father was Shinnok, the fallen Elder God and co-ruler of Netherrealm alongside Quan Chi.
This has been cast into doubt by sheer lack of support from the games. In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and Deception, Raiden had no shoulder tattoo, and no mention has been made of their filial relationship. The Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe booklet claimed them as brothers; however, the canonical veracity of MK vs. DCU itself stands in question. The world may never know.
12. HE’S ONE OF THE WARRIORS
In Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, the second of the live-action MK films, Raiden was played by James Remar, a renowned character actor (and he was still credited as “Rayden”). Remar is most recently best-known for his performance in Dexter as Harry Morgan, Dexter’s father who taught him to channel his evil energies. Remar first rose to fame as Ajax, the leader of the Warriors in Walter Hill’s film of the same name.
Remar’s portrayal of Raiden was a serious thunder god with an undercurrent of mischief that informed many of his interactions with his team of champions. This film also tasked Remar with selling the plot point that Raiden/Rayden and Shao Kahn may actually be Shinnok’s sons, a non-canonical blindside with which many dedicated fans of the franchise were displeased with.
11. HE WAS PROMOTED TO ELDER GOD
When Raiden, Liu Kang and their team of Earthrealm heroes were able to repel the invasion of Shinnok and prevent him from becoming supreme ruler of all six realms at the end of Mortal Kombat 4, Raiden was promoted to Elder God. He appointed his friend (and god of wind) Fujin as Earthrealm’s new protector god.
As an Elder God, Raiden was no longer able to compete in Mortal Kombat tournaments, and would be forced to return to a mortal form in order to take part. This also happened at a point in time where the games were more focused on continuity, with storylines that no longer revolved around the actual Mortal Kombat competition (kompetition?), and had lingering effects into the next game beyond changes in scenery during fights. Luckily, even as an Elder God, Raiden has been able to take the reins and lead Earthrealm to victory several times.
10. OWNS THE COURT AND THE FOOTBALL FIELD
NBA Jam: Tournament Edition was a 1994 update of NBA Jam featuring three-player teams, a new soundtrack, and some deep cut hidden players. One of these is the Thunder God himself. You have to put in a code involving your initials and birthday at the opening screen to play as the protector of Earthrealm and the defender of the court.
Raiden’s stats are no better or worse than other players, and he wears all white — plus his trademark conical hat. He’s also still got lightning coursing all over his body, so you don’t want to get too close trying to get the rock from him. He is also a secret character in 1997’s NFL Blitz, but he’s just suited up like everyone else on whichever team you select him for, except he wears his hat instead of a helmet (surefire way to get CTE, bro).
9. HE’S THE MORTAL KOMBAT EQUIVALENT OF SUPERMAN
In 2008’s Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Raiden and Superman accidentally put the story into motion by repelling invasions from Shao Kahn and Darkseid, respectively. The energy of their attacks creates a dimensional shift and merges their greatest foes into Dark Kahn, a threat to Earth and Earthrealm. The game ends with Raiden and Superman joining forces to attack Dark Kahn, and results in Kahn and Darkseid both being depowered and imprisoned in their opposites’ worlds — Kahn trapped in the Phantom Zone and Darkseid in the Netherrealm.
Raiden’s ending in the game draws the comparison between Raiden and Superman in a different light. Raiden returns to Earthrealm and discovers that its yellow sun reduces his powers greatly, and he is given a glowing green stone from Quan Chi that will restore his powers — seems like the whole conflict turned Raiden into Earthrealm’s Ultraman.
8. HE’S THE HIGHLANDER AND THE KURGAN
Raiden has appeared in every alternate media appearance of the Mortal Kombat franchise, and is the face of the franchise in a way that perhaps only Liu Kang and Shao Kahn approach. In Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 Mortal Kombat film, Raiden was portrayed by the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert, who gave him a wry sense of humor that has dogged the Thunder God ever since. Forbidden from competing in the tournament, Raiden’s purpose in the film was to shepherd Liu Kang, Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage along, knowing that the fate of the realms was in one of their hands.
The year after the film, USA Network aired 13 episodes of Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, a quasi-sequel to the film and to Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Raiden was voiced by Clancy Brown, the voice of Highlander’s nemesis, The Kurgan. There can only be one, eh?
7. BASED ON LIGHTNING FROM BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
Anyone trying to track down the aesthetic DNA of the Mortal Kombat franchise has to start with John Carpenter’s 1986 cult classic, Big Trouble in Little China. The particularly salient point here is that in the film, David Lo Pan has three henchmen, Rain, Thunder and Lightning, who all resemble Raiden to some degree. All share in the traditional garb, and the conical hat, while each of the three henchmen has their own power set. Of course, Lightning was the biggest inspiration for Raiden, given his lightning-based powers.
Mortal Kombat has returned to the Big Trouble well at least twice more, with purple Mortal Kombat ninja Rain paralleling Rain (obvs), and Fujin paralleling Thunder (both of them share a suicidal finishing move, though Fujin’s is far less cartoony than Thunder’s).
6. HE’S BEEN A TV STAR TWICE (AND A WEB STAR ONCE)
With Mortal Kombat being the gargantuan media franchise that it is, there have been several attempts at creating a serial filmed version of the story. Hot on the heels of 1995’s Mortal Kombat live-action film, Threshold Entertainment created a follow-up series called Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm as a quasi-sequel to the film as well to Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. The show itself only ran for 13 episodes in 1996, back-to-back with a Street Fighter cartoon.
The show was a mostly forgettable adventure show, but it did introduce Quan Chi, who would go on to become a major antagonist. There have been two attempts at live-action Mortal Kombat shows, the first being Conquest (or Konquest, according to the title card), which was a notable misfire, and the live-action webseries, Legacy.
5. HE CAN TURN INTO AN ELECTRIC EEL
In 1995’s Mortal Kombat 3, developers made a new addition to the exhaustive list of moves you could use to murder someone in the Kombat Arena — the Animality. In the third round of a fight, the player has to perform a Mercy on a stunned opponent (also a new addition to MK3), then beat them again before using the Animality. This would later go on to become an integral part of the plot in 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, as well.
Raiden’s Animality turns him into the undisputed thunder god of the seven seas, the electric eel. He wraps his opponents up and shocks them until they literally explode in a shower of blood and body parts. It’s over the top, but all the best Mortal Kombat moments are.
4. HE’S BFF WITH NIGHTWOLF
Out of the entire Mortal Kombat roster, Raiden tends to spend the most time with Shaolin fighters like Liu Kang and Kung Lao, but his real best-friend-forever is Nightwolf. Nightwolf is a generic pastiche of many Native American cultures (although his reference to Raiden as “Haokah” seems to imply a Lakota heritage), but he has become a stalwart part of the series out of sheer longevity.
Nightwolf first appeared in Mortal Kombat 3 as a shaman, historian and reluctant combatant aiding Earthrealm’s forces in repelling Shao Kahn’s invasion. His Friendship move in his first appearance was to turn into Raiden. This friendship was later acknowledged in the 2011 reboot, Mortal Kombat; during the game’s story mode, as Raiden tries to fix the past and prevent Shao Kahn’s victory in the future, his second-in-command and trusted lieutenant is none other than Nightwolf.
3. HIS FAVORITE FOOD IS NUCLEAR BUFFALO WINGS
Even a thunder god has to eat sometime, between tournaments and while the realms are all separated and playing nicely together. According to Brady Games’ Mortal Kombat 4 Official Fighter’s Kompanion, Raiden’s delicacy of choice when he’s got a minute to spare are “nuclear buffalo wings.” No restaurant is specified, nor is a recipe, and there is a slight chance that these buffalo wings are actually radioactive — Raiden is a god, after all.
Part of the experience of Mortal Kombat coming to home systems was the rise of the game companion guide. Suddenly, there were dozens of characters, who each had dozens of moves, including the frustratingly-intricate Fatalities for which the game was known. Who would have known we’d get all that info, plus culinary preferences?
2. ALSO KNOWN AS RAIJIN AND HAOKAH
Raiden isn’t just some random thunder deity in the Mortal Kombat universe. In the 2011 reboot, Mortal Kombat, Nightwolf specifically references the fact that Raiden is also Haokah (or Heyoka) the Lakota thunder god. In Lakota tradition, heyoka can be either sacred clowns/prophets who teach others with extreme opposites in behavior (walking around naked in freezing weather, piling on blankets in a heatwave, etc), or it can be the proper name for an actual thunder god.
Raiden’s name is also intended to mirror the word raijin, the Shinto god of thunder and lightning. According to Shinto tradition, Raijin was birthed from Izanagi and Izanami, the two gods who created Japan, to harness its thunder and lightning alongside Raijin’s brother, Fujin, who controlled the winds and is constant competition with Raijin for superiority (sounds familiar, right?)
1. HE LOVES MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL
2011’s Mortal Kombat was a reboot/retcon of the entire series with an almost-defeated Raiden sending a message back through time to himself at the beginning of the first Mortal Kombat. The rebooted game was seen as a return to form, and earned high praise for its graphics and gameplay, as well as its ability to retell the first three MK games without getting stale.
The game also introduced one of Raiden’s new Fatalities, “Just a Scratch,” in which he uses his lightning to shoot off his opponents arms, then their legs, before grabbing them by the neck and slamming them, headfirst into the ground. The dismemberment paired with the name shows Raiden for the real fan of British comedy that he is, as a clear reference to the Black Knight in Monty Python & The Holy Grail.
Which of these facts about Raiden surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments section!
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