Netherrealm doesn’t create characters. They create character designs. All those guys look cool on paper, fit the universe well, they’re always unique in some ways… but try to put them into a story and they lose all steam. Just look how bad the reception to MKX originals was: none of those guys are terrible, but the moment you see them in the story you just kinda feel sorry for them. And that’s just the most recent example… when you throw in the mix guys like Mavado, Hotaru, Darrius from the PS2 era things get even messier. As soon as Tobias left Midway everything took a nose dive in that department.
While not SF level, most of the early designs where great and had personality: Liu Kang is obviously the hero, Scorpion and Sub-Zero are obviously in somekind of rivalry, Johnny Cage is a cocky asshole with a heart of gold, Kano is a bad guy, Kitana and Mileena are clearly related, Baraka is a dangerous threat etc. All those things can be seen from the first glimpse.
Erron Black is the only one from the modern MK days that follows suit, since he gives off the mercenary vibe in an instant. The others? Don’t know what they’re supposed to convey even AFTER seeing their stories.
It also doesn’t help the character redesigns of the fan faves don’t usually advance their story in any way, like Sagat’s scarring, Ryu’s headband changing, Akuma’s growing demonic look, Bison’s body-hopping and even recently Guile’s promotion, Nash’s zombie look… MKers are just wearing what’s cool in the moment. It’s the reason the gear and variation systems suck ass… they promote character costumization in way that assumes players have any taste or talent… which the majority don’t. So instead of creating unique iconic designs, they just slap plaques all over and call it a day.
The PS2 era, ironically, didn’t suffer from this. Zombie Liu Kang, evil Raiden, tattoo Quan Chi (retardedly retconed)… those designs always evolved nicely from where those guys are in the story.