We interrupt your regularly-scheduled programming to bring you the following important announcement:
On that note…welcome to the first edition of Kyle’s Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke journal! I have to say, after six separate trips through Kanto, I thought I’d seen everything that this region had to offer. I was wrong.
Anyone who’s ever picked up a Nintendo handheld is familiar with the classic Pokémon formula: Find six cool creatures, grind until they’re OP, lay waste to everything that stands in your way, and save the region/world/universe. Pokémon has never been known for its difficulty, and after beating seventeen different games, I could probably walk through any iteration of the Elite Four with my eyes closed.
Over the years, however, smarter trainers than I have come up with custom rule sets to inject some difficulty (not to mention some life) into the Pokémon series, all loosely grouped under the umbrella of Nuzlocke challenges. (Adventure Rules provides a nice summary of both the history of Nuzlocke challenges and some of the more-popular rulesets.) For those unfamiliar with the idea, Nuzlocke challenges are centered around two concepts:
- Permadeath: If a Pokémon faints, it must either be released or permanently boxed, and can no longer be used in battles.
- One-and-done: The only Pokémon you can catch in any specific area is the first one you meet.
Other rules involving nicknames, item restrictions, and tighter restrictions on usable Pokémon are often thrown in as well.
While I was a devoted watcher of Derrick Bitner’s Nuzlocke streams (and would still be a devoted watcher if I had better Internet), my only firsthand experience with a Nuzlocke run came earlier this year with Pokémon Ultra Sun, which went smoothly overall but came to an abrupt halt the moment I ran into Ultra Necrozma. Now, with everything healed up except my pride, I decided to take another crack at the Nuzlocke challenge and attempt to redeem myself for my Ultra Sun failure.
My opponent this time would be Pokémon FireRed, a GBA remake of the Kanto region that I picked up over a decade for the sole purpose of obtaining G1 starters for my Pokémon Pearl Pokédex. I’m probably a bit too familiar with the region from Pokémon Red/Yellow/Gold/LeafGreen/HeartGold/SoulSilver, and while I’m already on record saying I’m not terribly excited to go back through it again for Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee, I figured a Nuzlocke challenge might be just the thing to spice up an old region, especially with the right rules.
While this challenge is just a vanilla Nuzlocke run at its core, I also included the following additional rules:
- The boring rule: Item use is capped at a single item per battle. It’s no fun if you can just spam Full Restores all the time, right?
- The interesting rule: Pokémon used as part of a winning team in any previously-played Pokémon game are ineligible for capture and use. What that means for me is, well…
More specifically, I’m explicitly restricted from using 50 G1 monsters, and implicitly blocked from three others (Raichu, Poliwrath, and Dragonite are still technically usable, but if all their pre-evolutions are blocked, how am I supposed to get them?) In a mostly-G1 game, this was going to lead to some interesting scenarios, especially early on.
With the rules and the game selected, all that was left to do was name my character and get this show on the road! Since I’d been playing a bunch of Octopath Traveler, I decide to name my Trainer “Ophilia” in homage to everyone’s favorite follower of the Sacred Flame. Sure, it’s a fake religion worshipping a nonexistent deity, but when it comes to Nuzlocke runs, you need all the help you can get.
I (Have To) Choose You…
After the requisite opening speech from Professor Oak, I was dropped into Pallet Town and directed to Oak’s lab to get my very first Pokémon! While there are lots of different ways to choose a starter for a Nuzlocke run, I had no choice in the matter at all: Charizard anchored my LeafGreen team, and Blastoise has shown up in my top six in three different games (#TeamSquirtle for life). Guess who that left me?
My brother was (and remains) one of the five Bulbasaur fans on the planet, so in the past I had always traded mine to him to raise. I immediately called him and asked if he would raise this one for me, but he claimed he was too busy raising my six-month-old niece, so I was on my own. *sigh*
Next came the gender reveal, in which two competing trends went head-to-head:
- In all my G1 – G6 playthroughs, I had never gotten a female starter.
- However, in my last two playthroughs (Moon and Ultra Sun), both my starters had been female. Could I get three in a row?
Drum roll please…
My plan was always to name my new monster after one of my favorite country music artists, but I’ll admit that I didn’t ever expect to name a Bulbasaur after Suzy Bogguss.
How Quickly Can A Nuzlocke End?
Believe it or not, I was really nervous about my first battle versus my Charmander-toting rival Cyrus (named after the academic from Octopath Traveler, not the boss of Team Galactic). When I originally picked Bulbasaur to transfer to Pokémon Pearl years ago, not only did I lose this initial battle (Oak covers your prize money, for what it’s worth), but the poor thing then got absolutely rekted by the Pidgeys and Rattatas of Route 1, fainting 2-3 times before I could catch enough Pokémon to make a full G4 transfer!
Sure enough, Cyrus’s Charmander did just enough damage with Scratch to keep the battle close, and when it landed a critical hit in Round 3, I wondered if history was about to repeat itself.
Thankfully, Suzy’s Speed advantage carried the day, and I defeated Cyrus with only a single HP to spare. Did the developers give me a helping hand to spare me the humiliation of failure? Perhaps, but I’ll totally take it.
Look, But Don’t Touch
After my just-barely-a-victory, it was off to Route 1, the land of wimpy little Rattatas and Pidgeys that are just perfect for a rookie trainer’s first catch! …Except that my Raticate from Pokémon Yellow and Pidgeots from Pokémon Red and LeafGreen meant that every monster here was off-limits for my Nuzlocke run. Until I could get to Route 22 with a few Poké Balls, Suzy would be on her own.
Thankfully, Suzy fared a bit better than the last Bulbasaur I had dragged through here, and the local wildlife didn’t put up too much of a fight. I made it to Viridian City without much trouble, picked up Professor Oak’s custom Poké Ball, walked back down the Route 1 gauntlet to pick up my Pokédex, Poké Balls, and Town Map, and then went back up the road a third time to put my Poké Balls to use. By the time I got to Viridian City, Suzy was starting to feel OP, as her shiny new Vine Whip attack let her tap into both her Special Attack stat and her STAB bonus.
Wait, What Are You Doing Here?
My recollection from Pokémon Red was that Route 22 was a plentiful land of Spearows and Nidorans, and with Fearows featured on both my Red and HeartGold teams, I had resigned myself to adding a Nidoran of some sort to my party. I walked into the grass (but not too far in; I knew my rival was around there somewhere), took a few cautious steps, and then…
A postgame check on Serebii revealed that not only do Mankeys have a 45% chance of appearing on Route 22 in FireRed, but that neither male nor female Nidorans appear at all! Regardless, I was excited to add a fearsome Fighting-type Pokémon to the squad instead of another Poison type, and one Leech Seed and seven Growls later, “Hulk” (named as both a tribute to Hulk Hogan and the green Marvel superhero) was added to the team.
Unfortunately, at Lv. 3 with almost no Defense, Hulk fought more like Bruce Banner as first, and was nearly one-shotted by several Rattatas and Pidgeys when I went back to Route 1 for further grinding. Suzy took a lot of switch-in punishment for those first few levels, but eventually Hulk learned Low Kick and starting pulling his own weight.
It’s Better To Be Lucky Than Good
My last task before leaving Viridian City was to dig up Cyrus on Route 22 and once again show him whose side the Sacred Flame was on. I knew he’d be carrying two Pokémon somewhere around Lv. 10 with him this time, so I didn’t go back to Route 22 until I had a Lv. 10 Hulk to go along with a Lv. 12 Suzy. He was a bit farther down the path than I recalled, but he was there, and we quickly got down to business.
I knew I was in trouble the moment Cyrus tossed out a Lv. 9 Pidgey to match Hulk. Pidgeys know Gust by then, which meant that it was super-effective against every monster I had. That thing was about to wreck my entire party, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the Pidgey opened with a Sand-Attack (which ended up being meaningless) and then proceeded to Tackle Hulk repeatedly until I Low Kicked it into submission. The Sacred Flame was in my corner after all!
…Except that Hulk’s terrible Defense meant his health bar was almost red now, which meant (gulp) that Suzy had to come in to take on a Lv. 9 Charmander. This was it: Suzy would be force-fed a couple of Embers, and I’d have to administer last rites.
Four Scratches later, Cyrus was out of Pokémon, and I was really confused. He never used Ember at all! Not only was Suzy not rekted, but thanks to an early Leech Seed, she still had full health when the fight ended! I don’t know if the developers were afraid that new players wouldn’t have grasped the type system by this point and didn’t want to punish them, but I went into battle with the worst matchups possible and still walked away with an easy win.
In the end, though, I didn’t really care why I still had all my Pokémon. I was just happy that I did.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my team’s performance, and I think I’m set up pretty well for the next few challenges. Suzy is on her way to becoming the kind of all-around solid Pokémon that can anchor a six stack, and Hulk seems to be a classic “glass cannon” that gives me another feasible option against Brock when I get to his Rock-type gym. Over the long haul, though, I need to be careful about my team’s typing balance: Having Suzy, Hulk, and the inevitable Beedrill from Viridian Forest on the same team makes me really vulnerable to Flying types, and not every trainer will let off the gas the way Cyrus’s Pidgey did.
Tune in next time for more heart-stopping action as we make our way north towards Pewter City and our first gym badge!