Skullgirls might have gained notoriety for carrying an all-female roster, but including a female fighter - lest multiple - in a fighting game was a rarity at the early years of the genre. Mortal Kombat was the first mainstream fighting game that boasted a bevy of female fighters. In the earlier titles they were just palette swaps of the same model, but hey, it's still variety, right?
Fighters’ First Lady: Chun-Li
Video games as a whole have few female characters. This was not as pervasive as today, but in the 80s and 90s, one was going to be hard-pressed in finding a controllable female character in video games.
Hence, it was such a cultural phenomenon when Samus was revealed to be a woman in Metroid. The Street Fighter franchise did a lot of good things for the genre, and one of them was introducing the first woman fighter—Chun-Li.
Chun-Li’s legacy was unparalleled. She is one of the few female characters that were not to be saved like a damsel in distress or that have been sexualized with skimpy costumes and oversized breasts.
Unlike all the female characters at that time, even those that come after her that feature gratuitous sexualization, Chun-Li looked and acted like she was there to fight. Admittedly, Mortal Kombat’s female characters are hypersexualized, it was part of the whole shtick of the franchise for being over the top in all facets.
Better Late than Never: Sonya Blade
Sonya Blade was a late addition to the original Mortal Kombat game. She was only included since the original roster had no female representation. Sonya Blade followed Chun Li in the design department - She was outfitted to fight instead of being overly objectified.
Although in the first Mortal Kombat game she looked like she was an 80’s jazzercise instructor, it seemed accurate as she was beating up other fighters in a deadly tournament. Modern Mortal Kombat titles had her don a vest and dark green-and-black leather pants, and knee pads—showing off the least amount of skin.
Aside from being the first female character in the Mortal Kombat franchise, she also enjoyed being one of the main casts who was expected to show up in every title. Granted, Mortal Kombat’s narrative was as chaotic as its fights, but Sonya was one of the consistent characters in terms of appearance and that is a testament to the characters’ appeal.
Sonya is a brawler— players choosing her should put Sonya up close and personal with opponents and not give any space between them. Sonya has weak missile attacks and lacks burst damage – instead she prefers quick kicks and punches. This is consistent with her being a “normal” human being in a world full of ninjas, robots, and wizards.
Palette Swap Sisterhood: Kitana, Mileena, Jade, Khameleon, and Skarlet
Mortal Kombat was legendary for its palette swaps. Using a palette swap was seen as a cheap tactic or a lazy workaround, but MK came out unscathed. Mortal Kombat did the palette swap most creatively as it was not just the physical appearances that differentiate the characters, but also how they play.
Kitana was the most important character of all the palette swap women in Mortal Kombat. She was a central character in the Mortal Kombat universe. A princess aged 10,000 years old, Kitana was royalty who changed teams in the middle of the warring factions. She started as an antagonist but later became one of the best allies of the Eatherealm warriors.
Kitana, unlike Sonya Blade, has projectiles and is good at zoning. Yet she is best used in close combat because of her potential to string extended combos. Her overreliance on close combat and the potential temptation of getting close to an opponent to land combos make her vulnerable to counterattacks.
Mileena, on the other hand, was evil by default. Anyone who has played any of the Mortal Kombat games with her on the roster knows that this girl was irredeemable and will be in the foreseeable future. This did not mean that no one likes her. Mileena was the most requested character in the latest Mortal Kombat title.
Traditionally, Mileena has a tele-kick as her part of the arsenal. This is an effective anti-air attack. However, it is easy to beat when used against an opponent which is not airborne. Mileena is great when she is mixing overhead and low mixup combos. While her greatest move is anti-air, her fighting style favors low attacks.
Jade was one of the first secret characters that became playable. She was first found in Mortal Kombat II as a hidden and unplayable character, and had the same moveset as Kitana. When she was introduced in Ultimate Mortal Kombat III, Jade lost her near
-invincibility in the immediately preceding title and became the Jade that is known today.
Jade is both one of the most difficult characters to control in Mortal Kombat, as well as one of the most technical fighters in the series, a very rare characteristic. Her fighting philosophy is to parry incoming projectiles, retaining this particular strength that she had in her first appearance in Mortal Kombat II. Jade is very vulnerable when opponents just bully her position.
Khameleon is another secret character that made her first appearance in the Nintendo 64 version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and she has had sporadic appearances across the franchise since. Unfortunately, Khameleon is yet to be picked up in modern titles and this is a shame since she has a unique gimmick of changing colors and wielding the movesets and skillsets of the other ninja women. Balancing her may be the problem in allowing her to reign in the modern titles.
Skarlet started as an urban legend. She was “leaked” by creative rumormongers as a coding glitch that wielded a red Kitana, and for the longest time, Skarlet remained a rumor with no actual appearance in the games. This changed when she became a playable character upon her debut in the Mortal Kombat reboot as DLC.
Skarlet is a mid-range fighter even though her weapon of choice is a dagger. She prefers getting close to her opponent, in order to string together one of her big combos. Otherwise, Skarlet is easily susceptible to counterattack without a safe plan B, as most of her initiating attacks are in the mid-range.