Up next on the list of Mortal Kombat X history lessons is Ermac, the crimson master of souls. Originally a false rumor that gained enough steam, Ermac became a lazy inclusion into the Mortal Kombat franchise before transforming into one of the series’ most dynamic characters. Hey, there’s a reason he’s #6 on the Den of Geek list that ranks the entire Mortal Kombat cast!
Ermac began as a legend and an understandable one at that. In the first Mortal Kombat, the arcade machine had a diagnostics screen that kept track of stuff like how many times Reptile was found, how many times Shang Tsung had been defeated, and so on. At the bottom of the list was “ERMACS,” which was short for “error macros,” instances when the game completely glitched up. With Reptile on the mind, people speculated that Ermac was yet another secret character.
Electronics Gaming Monthly featured a letter from a fan claiming that he and his friend saw Ermac. After winning a match with two perfect rounds using only punches in the Warrior’s Shrine stage, he was challenged by Ermac, who utterly annihilated him. A doctored photo was sent in, showing Ermac as a red ninja, doing a victory pose. Some people took this at face value.
Another version of the rumor was that sometimes the game would glitch up and Scorpion’s sprite would become red with “ERROR MACRO” flashing on the screen and his health bar would say “ERMAC.” This was also false, but the idea of a fourth ninja stuck around.
Then again, what the hell is an Ermac? Like, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Reptile are all named after actual things that coincide with their colors or powers. At least when Mortal Kombat II had the false rumor character Red Robin (also a red ninja), it had a leg up by being named after something that ties into the outfit.
Sometimes in Mortal Kombat II, when Shao Kahn is defeated, messages would appear at the bottom of the screen. Occasionally, they would be scrambled. For instance, “CEAMR DOSE NTO EXITS,” would pop up at times, meaning “ERMAC DOES NOT EXIST.” Considering how the game tried to trick people into thinking that Shang Tsung could transform into Kano and Goro was somewhere in the game, they really must have been tired of people bugging them about Ermac.
Ermac finally became a character in 1995’s Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, played by John Turk. The upgrade introduced a handful of characters even though they were only variations of male ninjas (Scorpion, Classic Sub-Zero, Reptile, Human Smoke, Ermac) and female ninjas (Kitana, Mileena, Jade). Ermac’s main ability was telekinesis, which was just one of Scorpion’s poses accompanied by the opponent flailing around. Even lazier was Ermac’s attempt at a story. Here’s his ending in full:
Having been in hiding since the first Mortal Kombat, neither the Earth nor the Outworld has recognized this elusive ninja. Ermac uses his victory in the tournament to prove his existence…as well as a warning that he will return as an unstoppable force in the fourth Mortal Kombat.
Yes, his ending is summed up with, “He exists now. That’s as far as we got. Check back later. I don’t know.”
Ermac’s vagueness translated to the animated series Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, played by veteran voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson (also known as Cleveland Jr. and the movie version of Goro). Ermac was given the role of one of Shao Kahn’s lieutenants with his own army of red ninjas. Otherwise, Ermac did zero of note and even the writers forgot he existed. I’m not kidding. There’s a part where Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, and Stryker are fighting the red ninjas and before leaving them, Kitana warns them that Ermac is coming and they better watch out. Since this isn’t the main plot, the episode moves away from this and when they come back, it’s just the heroes fighting random red ninjas with no sign or mention of Ermac whatsoever.
Interestingly enough, the cartoon includes Ermac without a mask on at certain points, which was the only time we had ever seen Ermac’s face in any version of the franchise for years until the recent Mortal Kombat: Legacy II. He has a soul patch, which is the most fitting thing ever.
In the movie Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Ermac was included as one of Shao Kahn’s grunts, this time played by John Medlen. Again, he’s mostly forgettable with the only notable moment being his fight with Sonya Blade. It’s a very, very, ugly-looking fight scene. After being chumped out by Sonya, Ermac then splits into a second being, Noob Saibot. The two beat on Sonya until she calls for Jax’s help (which is literally the climax of her character arc), and he runs over to beat up Noob. Sonya then snaps Ermac’s neck with her ankles. Bad as it was, it likely helped inspire the one-man-tag-team gimmick that Noob Saibot had in Mortal Kombat 9.
Mortal Kombat Trilogy updated Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and finally gave Ermac an actual story. No longer was he just some mysterious guy in red. He was introduced as a living weapon created by Shao Kahn, a being made entirely out of the souls of dead warriors. Ermac is under Kahn’s control, but has enough willpower to fight him for the sake of self-preservation, if need be. That turns out not to be the case when Kahn is canonically defeated by Liu Kang.
While he isn’t in the game itself, Ermac’s story is continued in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance during Kenshi’s trials in Konquest (training mode). In Outworld, Ermac crosses paths with the blind swordsman and fellow telekinetic warrior Kenshi, who sympathizes with Ermac’s existence. Kenshi is able to help free Ermac from the mind-control and gives him free will. Ermac becomes eternally grateful and briefly mentors Kenshi, teaching him the Telekinetic Slam attack.
Ermac would return in the next game, Mortal Kombat: Deception, where he’s finally given a unique appearance. In the game’s story, Raiden has been reborn as a more violent and unsavory god, leaving a big vacuum for someone to take up the role of the overpowered, heroic mentor. Things are looking pretty dark as not only is Onaga the Dragon King back, but most of the heroes from the last game have been killed, resurrected, and used as Onaga’s pawns. Ermac is visited by the ghost of Liu Kang, who asks for help in saving his friends. Ermac wants to redeem himself for all the crap he did as Kahn’s flunky, so he gladly goes along.
In Ermac’s ending, which is canon, he’s able to fight off the mind-controlled Kung Lao, Jax, Sonya, Kitana, and Johnny Cage all at the same time, as Liu Kang’s ghost gradually fixes their minds. They probably weren’t 100% fighting-wise, but that’s still pretty impressive. Onaga is defeated, but Ermac can sense that there’s more to this adventure. Onaga is merely a puppet for something more fearsome, which we’ve yet to ever see get revealed.
Still, considering Ermac’s origins and the way Kenshi saved him, this act is a pretty perfect way for Ermac to try to make up for his past.
In the game Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, Ermac appears as a hidden boss. Since the game’s alternate take on Mortal Kombat canon takes place directly after the first game, they have all the various backgrounds from Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II as landmarks. This includes the Warrior’s Shrine from the first Mortal Kombat. In the original game, the Warrior’s Shrine statues featured everyone except Shang Tsung, but there was only one ninja statue. As it turns out, it wasn’t meant to represent Scorpion, Sub-Zero, or even Reptile, but Ermac, hiding in plain sight. That’s where you end up summoning him for the boss fight, which is a pretty sly reference to the original rumor that gave him life. His telekinetic powers are given a slight upgrade here. He’s even able to give life to the other statues and make them fight for him.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon plays up a big final battle between the forces of good and evil with Ermac siding with the good guys. He doesn’t have much of a role here other than dying along with nearly everyone else. There’s a moment in the opening cinematic where it appears that Ermac’s betrayed Kenshi, but it’s really Shang Tsung in disguise.
That brings us to Mortal Kombat 9, the big reboot that retells the events of the first three games. Ermac is introduced late into the first tournament as a major challenge, but Liu Kang defeats him. Since Ermac doesn’t get his own chapter in story mode, logic would dictate that he would get his ass handed to him constantly. Despite that, the game treats him as outright menacing, even if Sub-Zero is able to hand him his ass on two separate occasions.
Ermac defeats Johnny Cage during the Mortal Kombat II tournament, but his big moment comes a bit earlier. Jax and Sonya meet the second Sub-Zero for the first time and explain his brother’s fate. Just then, Ermac appears before them, claiming that they’ve interrupted his slumber. Jax goes after him, but Ermac uses his telekinesis to pull Jax back and explode his arms. After all these years, we finally get official confirmation on why Jax is wearing metal arms in Mortal Kombat 3 and every game after. It was Ermac.
To add some creepiness, despite Ermac being almost a blank slate in terms of personality, he reacts to the act by actually cracking a smile.
It’s…more noticeable in action.
While Ermac remains on Kahn’s side in the game, his arcade mode ending has him destroy Kahn, and he immediately begins to freak out. Without Kahn to solidify the many souls making up Ermac, his mind becomes completely chaotic. All the various warriors start battling it out for dominance. Soon one stands above all the rest, and we discover a great twist that makes absolute perfect sense: Ermac has been home to the soul of Jerrod, the king who ruled Edenia alongside Sindel until Shao Kahn came and conquered them. Jerrod takes control of Ermac’s body, reunites with his wife and daughter, and brings unity to both himself and the realms.
The live-action web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy featured Ermac in the second season, where he was portrayed by Kim Do Nguyen. Ermac is less of a mummy-like ninja and more of a ghoul dressed in rags with nothing covering his face. In this version of the story, Ermac is a guardian to the mystical sword Sento, which was forged by Kahn himself. Whenever somebody enters this one cave and grabs the handle, Ermac will appear, fight them, and eat their soul. Because apparently Shao Kahn has nothing better for him to do. You’d think Kahn could have just thrown the sword in his closet and called it a day or something.
Kenshi is a ronin from feudal Japan who is told of the sword. He brashly enters the cave, goes for the sword, and confronts Ermac. Although Kenshi escapes with Sento, it’s at the expense of his eyes. He lives for hundreds of years – probably due to the sword’s magical nature – and survives despite his complete lack of sight. When Raiden brings him into the Mortal Kombat tournament (which is really just the Hunger Games instead of an actual tournament), Kenshi has a rematch with Ermac. It’s a pretty sweet fight scene between the two featuring sword-swinging, hand-to-hand, and telekinesis vs. telekinesis. Kenshi ends up killing Ermac by impaling him with the sword using his mind.
With Mortal Kombat X, Ermac returns once more. You would think that with Shao Kahn dead as of the last game, Ermac would be on the side of good. After all, wouldn’t Jerrod just take over as explained in his Mortal Kombat 9 ending? Not quite. In a bit of a curveball, Shao Kahn’s soul has joined with Ermac and is part of that big ghost party going on under the flesh. Although Kahn isn’t 100% in control, he’s still skewing Ermac towards evil and it looks like he wants to dethrone current ruler of Outworld Kotal Kahn.
When Ermac takes on Kitana, he remarks in a moment of confusion that he recognizes her somehow. Considering Kahn and Jerrod are both behind the wheel, it’s disturbing how ambiguous it is.
It’s pretty great how one of the most derivative, cookie-cutter characters in the series has really come into his own as someone unique. No longer is Ermac just an altered Scorpion/Sub-Zero sprite with a lazily-animated psychic attack. Now he’s a floating phantom, surrounded by souls and completely unpredictable. Just goes to show that even the lamest character can be fixed with a good hook.
For more on Mortal Kombat X and more of these character history lessons, check out our coverage hub.
Gavin Jasper imagines that mask must get really gross when Ermac has a runny nose. Follow him on Twitter!