Mortal Kombat: Who is Raiden? (2024)

By Renaldo Matadeen

Mortal Kombat 1 has fans excited for the new Raiden, but given the character's storied past, it's worth dissecting his depictions in past media.

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With MortalKombat 1 right around the corner, fans are excited to see fresh faces in the mix, including underused characters such as Li Mei. It helps freshen the series while honoring what came before. Admittedly, many loyalists to the 3D era are stoked, as the inclusion of these fighters and the likes of Ashrah and Darrius helps course-correct the lack of nuance of old.

However, there are classic characters returning as well. In the Kameo Mode, the likes of Jax and Kano are present. Plus, in the main mode, Reptile and Baraka, who now have a tragic twist, are included. One of the series' mainstays is also back with a revamp in the form of Raiden. This time, he's got a series of huge updates, so it's important to dissect the Thunder God's past, his depictions in previous media, and how he's evolved for the new dynasty.

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Lord Raiden Is One of Earthrealm's Biggest Defenders

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Raiden was involved in the first two games, staking his claim as a staunch defender of Earthrealm. Creatively, he was put into the game to mimic the Japanese thunder and lightning god, Raijin, but the developers added a more human touch to him. They wanted Raiden to seem kinder, which is why he'd be clad in inviting colors (white and blue) while having his iconic hat. Simply put, this crafted a warm protector.

And that's what Raiden enveloped in the early tournaments — someone who participated to act as a watchdog and ensure realms weren't raided and invaded unjustly. He fought to keep an eye on Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn, but in time, Raiden became disappointed the Elder Gods let the villains break the rules. Little did Raiden know Shinnok was manipulating things so he could work with the likes of Quan Chi and gain ultimate power.

Raiden Became a Villain

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Unfortunately, Raiden succumbed to the very darkness he fought against. He became a ruthless, sinister puppet master after the DeadlyAlliance era. He realized that while he had formidable warriors such as Earthrealm's champion, Liu Kang, and the likes of Sonya Blade's Special Forces, he needed to manipulate things from within the belly of the beast. In time, Dark Raiden would emerge, using Shinnok's mystical amulet to tinker with space and time.

Dark Raiden thought he was saving the future, but no matter what, he'd doom his people. Liu Kang and Kitana would become revenants, while many others would perish. It reinforced something Raiden struggled with — not even a god should tamper with fate. It broke him because he gave up his immortality to fight with Liu Kang and Co. He brokered a sinister deal with Shao Kahn to steal Blaze's power, but all these shenanigans led to one thing: death, dishonor, and destruction.

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Raiden Angered the Goddess of Time

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Raiden's actions gave way to MKX and MK11, with the latter leading to a resetting of the timeline. Raiden's past reality reboot failed, so Kronika, the Keeper of the Hourglass and mistress of the Sands of Time, began messing with the temporal fabric of existence to teach him a lesson. This included returning a younger, more cognizant Raiden to reality since she couldn't undo his essence as a god.

Kronika thought this more humble Raiden would falter, but he learned from his mistakes, helping Liu Kang defeat Kronika, Geras, Cetrion, and Shang Tsung. Liu Kang would eventually become the Fire God, which has now led to him using the Sands, reshaping reality and creating the MK1 realm. As for Raiden, Liu Kang acknowledged his deeds were misunderstood and came from a good place, so he turned Raiden into his Champion. Raiden is now Earthrealm's defender and the Chosen One Liu Kang wants to use to defeat the mysterious forces encroaching on the new world.

Mortal Kombat Adaptations Have Wildly Altered Raiden

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Now, while the Mortal Kombat games have been consistent with Raiden, it's not always been that way in pop culture. For example, in the movies, representation was an issue. It echoed sentiments of old, where folks felt Raiden was too gimmicky at times. Even his yells and moves weren't authentic Japanese, which left people wondering why something more genuine couldn't be crafted. MK1 and Annihilation didn't do any favors, with the white Christopher Lambert and James Remar portraying the character: an Elder God who rebelled against his own. He fought against his father, Shinnok, and Shao Kahn (his brother) in a story that still botched its nuance.

The cartoon (Defenders of the Realm) did a much better job, nodding to the Malibu books where Raiden was constantly found plotting against Shao Kahn. Sadly, the live-action series Mortal Kombat: Conquest and the web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy continued to regress and depict Raiden as a white guy. The former had him more sarcastic, training Kung Lao, while the latter had him as a person receiving mental health treatment. Many thought he was hallucinating his power, nodding to Marvel's Ultimate Thor arc. Thankfully, Tadanobu Asano portrayed Raiden in the new movie, while the MKLegends animated films pay greater reverence to Raiden's celestial essence.

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Where Mortal Kombat 1 Will Take Raiden

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With Raiden finally feeling finessed in the public eye, MK1 has Raiden training with Kung Lao, standing up for poor people. He's warring with the Lin Kuei, hating how they shake down businesses for money. It reiterates he's more human, truly understanding what it's like to be from Earthrealm and someone who sticks up for the weak and downtrodden.

Liu Kang's there to mentor Raiden, proud that this better Thunder God is ready and mature enough to face the likes of Shao Kahn in Outworld. However, an old rivalry could be restarted, with a 17-minute story mode preview confirming Kronika is back and meddling with reality. Ultimately, it suggests this new Raiden will have old demons to put to bed, but he will certainly have Liu Kang and fans backing his evolution.

Mortal Kombat 1 releases on Sept. 19, 2023, for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Mortal Kombat: Who is Raiden? (2024)

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