Design Evolution: Sub-Zero

Not to be left out of the E3 fighter news, Netherrealm Studios has shown off the gameplay trailer for Sub-Zero in Injustice 2.

Talk about cool, he’s literally all three of his fighting styles from Mortal Kombat X combined in one with a brand new design. Which is why we’re here, can we take a moment to talk about how one of the most iconic/generic characters in fighting games has evolved over the years? Because Nethrealm Studios has taken so many good strides in this area.


Bi-Han, Sub-Zero 1 (Mortal Kombat)


Oh Bi-Han, you started it all with your simple Blue Ninja suit. But then you died, turned all Black and samey as Noob Saibot, and now are getting replaced by the real focus of this (some things never change).

Kuai Liang, Sub-Zero 2 (Mortal Kombat 2)

In comes your brother that everyone knows because you’re too busy being dead or Noob Saibot, Kuai Liang. The first update to tell the siblings apart was simple. Longer leg guards and added padding to the main part of the uniform. Simple but effective in keeping the story idea that he is just honoring and replacing his brother. Most don’t know who he is but in the next game everyone will.

Kuai Liang, Sub-Zero 2 (Mortal Kombat 3)

At this point, Kuai Liang has changed both his look and his stance to show that he’s his own Sub-Zero. No more mask, no more standard Ninja Uniform, and more FANNNNNSERVICE! This is definitely a unique step forward but sometimes after taking a step forward you take a step backward and sideways (just roll with the metaphor).

Kuai Liang, Sub-Zero 2 (Mortal Kombat 4)

At this point, they take a step back and return to the traditional Ninja costume for Kuai Liang, but in THREEEEE DDDDDDD! Only real difference besides refining the original design was keeping the scar that became synonymous with Kuai Liang. That is until Deadly Alliance.

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All-New, All-Different Kuai Liang, Sub-Zero 2 (MK: Deadly Alliance)

Towards the end of the original MK timeline is when they really started to go for even more standout uniforms. The Ninjas by this point were nowhere near being mere palette swaps with each having their own style, stance, and motifs. Kuai Liang froze up his forearms, went back to a semi-traditional uniform albeit with tags on the shoulders and a sash with a medallion attached to it on the opposite side. His scar is less visible but Sub is now a new standout look that sets him apart from the original while calling back to it. If that wasn’t enough, there’s another alt skin where he wears one like his first proper original new.

Alt Kuai Liang (MK: Deadly Alliance)

Eventually, Sub-Zero becomes Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei and begins to strut his leadership stuff visually.

Grandmaster Kuai Liang (MK: Deception)

For a Ninja Grandmaster he looks very Samurai with the helmet but I can still see a more ornate Ninja wearing it. His arms are no longer frozen but he has spiffy dragon details added to his design, including designs on the legs, his new waist buckle, and his…bicep…pads? I’m going to call them bicep pads. He’s also rocking actual shoes now and not tabi. No point showing off Armageddon since he returns to his previous look while retaining the Deception look as an alt. Then comes the great reset button of 2011

Reboot Kuai Liang (Mortal Kombat 2011)

With the reboot it’s time to return to the more classical look but this time with hints of his later designs. He dragon emblem became a full band and his bicep pads now match his new gloves. It gives him a mix of the armored Grandmaster look and the standard Ninja which is fitting for the reboot.

Reboot Grandmaster (Mortal Kombat X)

With Mortal Kombat X they decided to go back to his MK3 look modernized with lettering on his individual chest pads being brought back and a twist on the no mask thing. Thanks to the time skip, Kuai Liang gets to show off his burly manly beard and hair once more.

Grandmaster Kuai Liang (Injustice 2)

Which brings us to our more recent look from Injustice 2. Kuai Liang, like his move set that merges his three styles from MKX (And also the fan video of Chameleon vs Akuma), merges his numerous looks. The standard Lin Kuei uniform, armor plating like Injustice 2 and his MK3 look, and frozen hands like his Deadly Alliance look. Who woulda guessed after all these years he’d go from literally one of the pioneers of the palette swap characters to someone wholly indistinguishable from the others. It’s nice to see Netherrealms attention to detail in updating one of their flagship characters. It’s almost as impressive as who I have planned next…

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We are many. You are but one.

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