The essence of any fighting game is that exhilarating feeling of becoming fully lost in battle. Facing down your opponent, 1v1, with nothing more than some button combinations and a vague strategy is almost like a game of chess: You think you know what to expect, but you have to be ready for anything. It’s a singular feeling that has been captivating players of fighting games for decades, and chief among those games is the long-running franchise, Mortal Kombat.
But to fully transport players into distant dueling realms both visceral and filled with brutality, it takes more than just a few uppercuts and special moves. Music plays a central role in Mortal Kombat, helping to get us away from our TV screens and into these iconic mortal duels. Mortal Kombat games have always had killer music—and the soundtrack of Mortal Kombat 11 is no exception.
As the medium of video games becomes more aesthetically and graphically complex, so do the demands on soundtracks. Games have had memorable—even iconic—soundtracks for decades (almost everyone can recognize the Super Mario Bros. theme), but in today’s console era, when video games are rivaling the cinematic experience of films themselves, a game needs a full-on orchestrated track list just to keep up. And fortunately enough for us, when a legendary franchise needs kickass music, there are some amazing modern-day composers to answer the call. The ravishing orchestral soundscape in NetherRealm’s best-selling Mortal Kombat sequel was created by longtime video game composer Wilbert Roget II.
Roget is no stranger to re-conceptualizing massively well-known music cues for modern-day franchise updates. He composed the video game soundtracks for Call of Duty: WWII, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, and most recently, Vader Immortal, the hot new Star Wars VR game. He has made something of a name for himself in taking recognizable soundtracks and reworking them for new iterations in gaming. According to Roget, to take a well-known property and make a formidable new soundtrack for it, being a big fan of the franchise really helps.
“Any new project within a beloved franchise is a challenge,” he told me over email. “But as a lifelong fan of the series, I was in a particularly serendipitous position scoring Mortal Kombat 11. I think that my familiarity with the games and their scores dating back 20 years, in addition to being a fan of the present-day competitive fighting game community, helped me determine what musical approach would work best.”
The Mortal Kombat 11 soundtrack takes the Eastern influence of the long-running franchise and brings it into a cinematic new era that is similar in texture to the recent Godzilla: King of the Monsters soundtrack, or the legendary work of composer Hans Zimmer. It’s menacing, warrior-like, but also has a deep feeling of lore and ancient history—all things that easily come to the surface when thinking about the enduring legacy of Mortal Kombat overall.
Roget and Rich Carle, the director of audio over at NetherRealm, were able to expand on that broad-ranging tradition in their music, and it’s cool as hell to hear that diversity of cultural sounds was a priority for the team.
“The Mortal Kombat 2 and 3 game scores were some of my most important influences on this soundtrack, and they combined the symphonic orchestra with Eastern instrumentation, as well as various forms of electronic production,” Roget said. “I expanded on that vibe, writing not only with classic Hollywood-style orchestration but also incorporating detailed analog hardware synthesis, as well as world instruments and vocals. And because of the diversity of characters, I used not only East Asian instruments (such as the guzheng and xiao), but also Middle Eastern, North African, and Armenian instruments, and even Scandinavian ‘kulning’ vocals.”
In particular, Carle wanted to reflect Mortal Kombat‘s Eastern influences in the music with string and wind instruments, and percussion.
“For stages such as the Wu Shi Dragon Grotto and the Shaolin Trap Dungeon, we leaned more heavily on Eastern instrumentation,” he said. “The Mortal Kombat 11 game soundtrack features a stage track by Mathias Wolf in which he made extensive use of the Chinese erhu. This traditional, bowed, string instrument has a very emotional flow to it and instantly evokes the beauty of China.”
The soundtrack for Mortal Kombat 11 will be available to stream on June 28, but we’ve got four exclusive tracks to share with you right now (check them out above). The most recognizable of the batch is the “A Matter of Time” main theme, which can be heard on the menu screen of the game. If you played MK11, hearing it for a few moments will probably have you wishing that you were at home kicking some fiery, blood-soaked monster ass instead of staring at this screen right now. “Finish him!!”
This story has been updated with quotes from Roget and Carle. A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that Roget composed the video game soundtracks for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Indiana Jones and the Staff of Fire. Roget was the music editor/implementer for those titles, not composer.