She has the appearance of a beautiful woman native to Earthrealm or Edenia. But she is not like them.
She is a demon born in the pits of the Netherrealm. Inside her lives a beast of great power and wickedness. For many years, she has fought alongside the Brotherhood of Shadows, believing she was destined for a hateful existence. But there is hope. She has found a weapon; a promise of freedom. All she needs to do is to slay the most vicious souls in the Netherrealm. Then…ascension.
That was an introduction to the conflict that defines Ashrah and makes her not only my favourite Mortal Kombat character but also one of the most well-written characters of the franchise.
Little is known about Ashrah’s early life, how old she is, or to what Netherrealm species she belongs. What we know is this: at one point, Ashrah joined the Brotherhood of Shadows, the faction created by Quan Chi to worship and free the Fallen Elder God, Shinnok.
I like to believe this decision arose from hopelessness. The Brotherhood of Shadows pretty much rules the Netherrealm, and Ashrah, unable to imagine any other path for one such as herself, joined them. However, she did not belong there. She was not a wicked assassin; she did not wish to unleash Shinnok’s evil upon the realms. So, one day, she questioned Quan Chi’s orders. Her insubordination led the Sorcerer to send one of Ashrah’s sisters to kill her. But Ashrah escaped, and in her flight, she discovered the Kriss.
And here’s where Ashrah’s story becomes one of the most tragic in Mortal Kombat. Because what’s worse than feeling you don’t belong, that your very nature is against you?
Lies. Manipulation. Deception.
After she acquired the Kriss, Ashrah realised that each time she slew a demon with the sword, she grew stronger, “purer.” She deduced that to cleanse herself of her malignant nature and escape the Netherrealm, she would need to pacify the evilest and most powerful souls inhabiting the infernal realm.
Sounds fair, right? Kill demons, purify herself of the evil within her, escape from the Netherrealm.
Except the Kriss is lying. Its name, in truth, is Datusha, and it’s not a soul-cleansing, holy weapon. Quite the contrary. It’s a mythical vampire-slaying weapon whose goal is to manipulate its wielder into believing they’re acting for the greater good. Why? Well, so the Datusha can satiate its bloodlust.
Ashrah does eventually escape the Netherrealm. The assumption is that killing demons purified her soul enough to “banish” her from hell, even though the Datusha could not leave with her. The two eventually reunited after Shujinko retrieved the Datusha. Then, Ashrah continued on her quest to slay the demons, this time on Vaeternus, the realm of the vampires, until she faced Nitara herself, who escaped. In Armageddon, Ashrah would join the Forces of Light in her attempt to absorb Blaze’s energy so she could finish Nitara and complete her ascension.
Light at the End of the Tunnel – A discussion about Ashrah’s future
Ashrah’s unique inner conflict gives her a fascinating personality. However, her story kind of wanders, and there are many gaps in her past. What was the order that made her openly question Quan Chi? Who’s the “sister” he sent to kill her — is it another follower of the Brotherhood with whom Ashrah had a certain friendship, or is it another member of Ashrah’s unknown species?
Ashrah deserves a better development, and that’s one reason I’m hoping she will be among the 3D-era characters who will return to Mortal Kombat 1.
Her quest for purification, her desire to be a better version of herself, fits like a glove the themes we’ve seen in the new game so far:
“It’s in our blood.”
“Finish the past self that no longer serves you.”
And this, which could’ve been written with Ashrah in mind:
“Test your might against your greatest enemy: yourself.”
So, what would I like to see for Ashrah in Mortal Kombat 1?
First, improve her backstory. Things will probably be different since the Brotherhood of Shadows may not exist in this New Era. Raiden was not there to banish Shinnok, after all, and Liu Kang may have found another way to deal with the rebellious Elder God. Quan Chi may not even be as influential a figure in the Netherrealm as he was in the previous timelines.
Tell us where Ashrah came from. What’s her species? Are there other demons born with the appearance of Earthrealmer/Edenian women? If she had this disconnection with her nature ever since she was born, what was her life like? Did she get exiled from her family? Did she have a family at all, or is she more of a nomad? Imagine if she’s part of a rare species of deadly demons born with the likeness of mortal women?! That would be cool! But really, give her more of a solid foundation. The Netherrealm deserves to be more than Oni and skeleton warriors; adding Ashrah’s species to the mix would benefit everyone!
Regardless of what happens to her in her early life, it’s safe to assume that Ashrah will eventually find the Kriss (I’ll be calling it “Kriss” because that’s what Ashrah would call it). In the original timeline, we know Ashrah fought against Ermac, Noob Saibot, and Nitara, but we haven’t seen any of that except in her arcade ending.
This is Ashrah’s chance to play a much bigger role in the MK storyline. Instead of limiting the Kriss’ bloodlust to “demons/vampires,” make it hunt down “evil” in general. Ed Boon hinted that we’ll see various villains in the game, which gives Ashrah a good character pool to work with. And, of course, she doesn’t need to be limited to fighting villains. She shouldn’t be limited to fighting villains. After all, the appeal of the Kriss is that it’s a bloodthirsty weapon that chose Ashrah precisely because her goal of purification makes her so gullible.
Ashrah should start the story as a kind of antihero. But she shouldn’t end the story in the same position. Because while her premise is fascinating, the biggest problem with her character (lore-wise) in the previous timeline was that she never moved forward. This time, she should find the Kriss and be manipulated by it, yes, but eventually figure out that the Kriss is lying and overpower the weapon’s influence.
That’s what happened to Kahil Grigesh, the vampire who first (maybe first?) wield the Datusha: he slayed many of his kin before realising his mistake. He went to the Netherrealm to commit hara-kiri and trap the Datusha away. While Ashrah shouldn’t kill herself, she should be able to break the sword’s hold on her. And if Nitara is in the game too (I hope she is!), then we have here yet another opportunity to turn former enemies into allies. Perhaps Ashrah would pursue Nitara for a time, but Nitara would ultimately help her understand how treacherous the Kriss is.
And I would love to see this progression, this redemption arc, on-screen. Naivety vs. wisdom, vice vs. virtue, self-possession vs. self-betrayal; Ashrah has so many layers it would honestly be quite easy to make her a memorable character! I would also like to have the mythology of the Kriss further explored. Who created this weapon? What sort of evil magic powers it? It doesn’t need to be anything too elaborate, just a few juicy details!
But apart from her personal journey, what role could she play in the story? That’s a little harder to theorise since we know nothing about Netherrealm in this New Era. Even the antagonists who are confirmed or heavily implied—Shang Tsung, General Shao, Reiko, Onaga—aren’t associated with the Netherrealm. While Reiko was a member of the Brotherhood of Shadows, he’s from Outworld, and there are reasons to believe he’ll be there in Mortal Kombat 1. Depending on who’s governing the Netherrealm, and what the realm looks like in this New Era, it could drastically affect Ashrah’s journey. There is, however, one theory that I’ve seen around and think is worth sharing. It all started when someone screenshot a piece of dialogue from Deception. In it, Ashrah says to a young Shujinko: “That Tarkatan was not a pure demon, but a mutated hybrid of demon and mortal…”
Remind you of someone? Yes, Mileena. No longer a clone in this New Era, Mileena is Kitana’s (older) twin sister who has been affected by the Tarkat disease, turning her mouth into… well, that wonderful thing we saw in the Kombat Kast! Leaving aside the discussion of whether the Tarkat really is a disease or some kind of curse, Mileena might need help to control her bestial side. And that’s where Ashrah comes in.
I like this theory for two reasons.
First, assuming that Ashrah can teach someone to control their inner demon, then it means that Ashrah has learned to control her own demonic nature. It agrees with what I wrote earlier, that in this new game, Ashrah should be able to move past her initial conflict.
Second, it suggests that Mileena will not turn into the maniac creature we know from past games. Mileena is my second favourite character, and I’d love to see her growing beyond that version of herself. While her condition should create conflict between her and Kitana and shake the imperial court in Edenia/Outworld, I’d prefer to have Mileena as more of a hero character by the end of Mortal Kombat 1. And if Ashrah can help… why not?! I have one misgiving about this theory, though. Yes, I love the idea that Ashrah has grown so much that she can teach someone self-control, but I want to see Ashrah’s development. I would feel a little bad if, in the story mode, the first time we saw Ashrah was already her wiser version. No, let me see her finding inner peace first, and then teaching Mileena.
Swords and Dolls
Now, I hear you thinking, “What about gameplay? What will she do?”
Ashrah, like other 3D-era characters, suffered from gameplay limitations and some poor design choices. But, taking a closer look at her, we can see that she has all the tools to be extremely fun to play with.
One item in her arsenal is obvious: the Kriss/Datusha. Even after Ashrah discovers the Kriss’ true and perverse identity, she can keep the sword. She would, after all, learn to control it and use its power in her favour. The Kriss (based on an Indonesian sword named kris/keris) is this long, wavy sword that I imagine has fast slashes and some graceful spins. Perhaps it could also have one or two special moves associated with it.
Another element is her inner demon. It would be a waste to not incorporate this in her gameplay. Demon attacks can make Ashrah a lot more unique and powerful, giving her some nasty one-on-one potential.
Ashrah’s old move set had a lot of “Light” projectiles and moves that were admittedly generic. They must change this. Don’t give her pure Light attacks; instead, mingle them with her demonic self, creating a more unique form of energy. She could, of course, have one pure Light attack, but I’d prefer to see her two sides working more in harmony.
Last but not least—voodoo! In Mortal Kombat: Deception, Ashrah had a Fatality in which she brought out a voodoo doll to kill the opponent. For some reason (perhaps technical difficulties), her voodoo powers were never incorporated into her gameplay. Here’s the chance to fix this. Voodoo powers are quite unique and could add a compelling dynamic to her move list! Oh, and I wouldn’t say no to another voodoo Fatality 😀
A lot of what I wrote for her story and gameplay translates into her design, but I’d like to touch on this subject before I conclude the article. Ashrah’s original design was fairly good already. What it needs is an update and some enhancements.
In the past, Ashrah’s design went all-in on her “pure” side with an entirely white outfit and the hat. Ideally, her new design will merge her two sides: the graceful, naïve, beautiful woman, and the more animalistic, horrifying demon.
We never got to see what kind of demon lurks inside her soul. On the bright side, NetherRealm now has full creative freedom to create her demonic persona. In Balinese mythology, we have two entities known as Barong and Rangda. Barong has a form that resembles a mix of lion and dragon with a long mane. He presents both good and evil since the Balinese believe that those forces can exist in someone at the same time. Rangda is Barong’s enemy, the embodiment of demonic power, and is characterised by long, mammoth-like husks. Not only do these two beings embody the themes we see in Ashrah, but they could also provide inspiration for her demonic form. This is, of course, going with the Indonesian roots of the Datusha’s design. However, her name could either be Arabic (meaning “tenth”) or, as I prefer to believe because it’s a lot cooler, a reference to the Asuras of Hindu mythology. Her hat also has a kanji that means “demon” or “ghost.” Both Hindu and Japanese mythologies (Arabic as well, I believe, though I know little about it) have many frightening demons that could be used as an inspiration for Ashrah’s “inner devil”!
As a not-so-popular character, Ashrah didn’t enjoy many fan art over the years. However, some of the fan concepts she does have are phenomenal! I want to draw your attention to two of the best:
The first design is a little more traditional, while the second takes more creative freedom (I absolutely love the loooong braid!). But notice how both designs perfectly capture this blend of woman and demon. The second one even drew an expression that hints at Ashrah’s inner pain. Curious enough, the two of them (as well as a third design I found) use one of Ashrah’s arms to represent her demonic nature, and I find it brilliant. It embodies her demon without compromising her other features, making this “hidden” part of herself sort of mysterious, eerie. And that’s precisely what NetherRealm Studios should aim to accomplish!
Thank you to those who read all of this! If you’re an Ashrah fan, I hope you enjoyed this discussion of her past and her future. If you’re not a fan, I hope this at least gave you some insight into how much she could bring into this franchise we love.
Fingers crossed for Ashrah! 🤞 Be sure to join our incredible kommunity by joining our Discord server (partnered with the Netherkast) and following us on our social media accounts, which include Twitter, Instagram, Threads and YouTube.