Go ahead, try and douse the Sacred Flame. It just ends up burning brighter.
When last we left Ophilia, she was coming off a Pyrrhic victory against her rival Cyrus that cost her three monsters and forever destroyed her Poison Posse. The attempted detour through Saffron didn’t pan out quite the way I had planned, and if she was going to keep moving forward, she was going to need to find some new potent party members, and fast.
To borrow a phrase from my short-lived YouTube series: “Without further ado, let’s get right to it.”
Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?
The first place I looked for Suzy and Bram replacements was in-house, and that led me to two possibilities: Lassie the Growlithe and Ronda the Machop. Neither were great short-term options, as Lassie needed to be Lv. 49 to earn Flamethrower before evolving, and Ronda required a trade to reach her final evolution. Still, something was better than nothing, and I trudged all the way back to Route 4 again to begin the grinding process.
Early on, Lassie seemed to have the higher ceiling of the pair, with generally higher stats are a more-divere movepool. Ronda, however, requires less experience to level up, which meant she started to reach her peak potential sooner:
The problem now was how to make her a Machamp: As part of its strict constructionist reading of Pokémon, “Trade with other Generation III games (outside this pair) is also restricted until certain requirements in the game are met.” I still had copy of Pokémon LeafGreen, but I lacked the second GBA I needed to make the deal happen. I still had my old workaround for trading between G3 titles, but…
The bottom line was that if I really wanted to fill the holes in the Phili Five, I was going to have to go the expensive route and wade into the waters of free agency. My first stop: Route 16.
New Pokémon #1: The Minister of (Special) Defense
Snorlax was another one of those monsters I had ceded to my brother back in the day, but given the luck I had with Venusaur (we’re just going to forget about Beedrill…), I decided to follow my brother’s example once again. Despite the presence of Rest, the battle went much more smoothly than I anticipated, and “Reggie” (officially named after Reggie White, not Reggie Fils-Aimé) was soon snoozing on the Sacred Flame’s time.
I harp on the importance of Speed a lot when it come to Pokémon, but if a monster doesn’t have it, it had better be able to take a punch or three. Snorlax is one of the few that pull this off credibly: Not only did Reggie have a huge tank of HP to draw from, but has Special Defense was also surprisingly good (nearly on par with Luna’s!). For striking back, he had strong STAB moves (Headbutt and Body Slam) backed by a high Attack, and the pairing of Rest and Snore/Sleep Talk meant he could heal himself without being helpless. Luna might taken over many of Suzy’s duties, but Reggie could at least share the load in a way that Lassie and Ronda could only dream of.
New Pokémon #2: Shoot Me Straight
After spreading a gospel of pain to a motorcycle gang at the top of Cycling Road, Ophilia’s next stop was the lone patch of grass in search of Bram’s replacement. Doduos were the only thing I was eligible to catch here, and I didn’t want to miss my chance.
The Doduo I found, however, got a little too excited about joining the team, and decided to force themselves onto the roster by offing their competition:
My Growlithe went from Lassie to Old Yeller in a single Tri Attack, and as annoyed as I was to lose my Fire-type, Doduo’s display of power was so impressive that I just had to have on my team. I quickly stuffed it into a Great Ball, named it “Osborne” after T.J. and John, and plugged it into Lassie’s now-vacant spot.
The bad news was that at Lv. 24, Doduo had learned so many moves that it had forgotten any Flying moves like Peck, and wouldn’t get another one until Lv. 47. The good news was a) said Lv. 47 Flying move was Drill Peck, probably my favorite one of the bunch, and b) with a move like Tri Attack in its quiver, who the heck needed a Flying move?
Right from the start, Osborne mowed down foes with ease, and while its Normal typing led to a few close calls on the way to Fuschia City, its defensive stats ended up roughly in line with Bram’s and Earl’s, and it even picked up a Dark move (Pursuit) to potentially help with Sabrina’s crew when I finally made it back to Saffron.
The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves
Despite Ophilia’s best efforts, the motorcycle gang loitering on Cycling Road refused to renounce their sinful ways, and continued to threaten people, demand that people hand over their possessions, and make suggestive comments that most certainly would not fly in 2018.
With three Pokémon leveling up simultaneously, I was in no mood for their shenanigans—I had work to do! However, battling wild Pokémon for the necessary experience was taking for-evvvverrrr (especially for Reggie, who seemed to need Benjamin-like amounts of experience for each level). Wasn’t there a faster way to do all this?
After thinking a moment, I recalled Zack Kephart’s sage advice from episode #4:
Don’t forget the VS Seeker in the Vermilion City Pokemon Center! There’s a girl standing there that gives it to you. If you remember it from Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, it’s the same thing and will be very helpful (hence why my favorite games to Nuzlocke are the Gen 4 games, this one and Gen 5 (Audino!).
Suddenly, I had the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: If those bikers weren’t going to repent, then they would feel the wrath of the Sacred Flame via the VS Seeker, and they’d strengthen my Pokémon in the process.
While I couldn’t put my plan in motion immediately (the weaker members of the team weren’t quite ready to take on a bunch of Koffings and Weezings, especially with the threat of Selfdestruct looming), it just meant I had to take my show on the road first and re-decimate the trainers chilling outside of Saffron and Vermilion for a while. Once my team was strong enough, I returned to Cycling Road and spent a good hour or so pummeling and re-pummeling the bikers, teaching them not to catcall underage women and threaten to take their bikes.
Storming The Poison Palace
With the Phili Five reconstructed, we made our way down Cycling Road, across Route 18, and into Fuschia City, a town abound with possibilities. Our first move was to stop and see the Fishing Guru:
While I may have replace Suzy and Bram, the one thing my team still lacked was a reliable Charizard counter, and ever since Benjamin passed on I had been waiting to find a suitable Water-type Pokémon to round out my roster.
While there were plenty of places to try out my new fishing rod, for some reason I decided not to look for a new Pokémon right away, and instead made my way over to the Fuschia Gym to claim my fifth badge.
The Trainers at Koga’s place were tough enough to make me wonder if my Saffron detour had been unnecessary, but I wiped them out one by one until I had traversed the Gym’s invisible spiral and confronted the leader.
Reggie made short work of Koga’s opening Koffing, but Will ran into a snag against his minimizing Muk, and several Sludges left the Dugtrio in bad shape. Luna was still sore about all those Selfdestructs and refused to come to his rescue, but Earl was able to step in and laugh off Muk’s attacks until he could land enough Horn Attacks.
From there, it was smooth sailing: Osborne wasted Koffing #2, and despite being one level lower than Koga’s Weezing, Luna stepped in and dropped it with a single Psychic. The Soul Badge was mine for the taking.
With Koga vanquished, I turned my attention to the Safari Zone, which contained the Hidden Machine I needed to keep going. However, there were also some Pokémon I was very interested in capturing, and I got my chance soon after steeping through the gates:
Unfortunately, Safari Zone captures are a lot trickier than regular ones, and despite my use of bait, the Exeggcute fled after only two Safari Balls. My perfect capture rate was gone, as were my short-term hopes of filling Suzy’s Grass-type shoes.
With a heavy heart, I pressed onward, eventually stumbling across the Safari Warden’s gold teeth (ew…) and the Zone’s Secret House, where I received the Surf HM. Returning the warden’s teeth earned me the Strength HM, which meant that I could now go anywhere I wanted in the game (except Cerulean Cave or the Sevii Islands, but that’s besides the point).
The road was wide open now: I could head east and sightsee along the Kanto coast, or I could head south and Surf my way to the Seafoam Islands. Instead, I picked Option #3, and headed back up Cycling Road to take care of some unfinished business in Saffron City.
New Pokémon #3: The Perfect Fit
With teeth gritted and fists balled, I stormed the Silph Co. building one last time, returning to the scene of my disastrous battle with Cyrus and Charizard. There was one other person in the room during the battle, but at the time I assumed it was another Rocket lackey or a boring NPC and left without speaking to them.
Said NPC, however, turned out to be Santa Claus, because he gave me the very thing that had been on top of my wish list:
Despite the fact that Lapras is the Pokémon people associate with Surfing (it’s even a Ride Pokémon in Sun and Moon), I had pretty much forgotten about it during this playthrough, dreaming instead of weaker monsters like Goldeens and Horseas. Not only did it have the bulk and the Water typing I needed to face down Cyrus, but its Ice typing meant that if it lived long enough to face the Elite Four, it would absolutely wreck Lance’s dragons. It was here that Ronda’s tenure on my top six came to an end, as “Nessie” was immediately slotted into my starting lineup.
Before I could make the switch official, I had to wipe the smile from Giovanni’s face one more time:
Unfortunately for Mr. Rocket Boss, he was essentially a weaker version of Koga, and his team met the same fate: Reggie walloped the Nidorino, Earl KO’d Kangaskhan, Will dug a grave for Rhyhorn, and Luna “The Hammer” Hypno made Nidoqueen blast off like it was Jesse and James.
Once again Team Rocket was sent packing, and Ophilia earned a Master Ball and the undying gratitude of Silph Co. in return. Our quest for redemption, however, was far from over.
Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting
Our next stop was the Fighting Dojo next to the Saffron Gym, and while my unexpected Lapras acquisition meant that I could no longer have Hitmonlee or Hitmonchan, I wasn’t about to let this many experience points go to waste. While the Pokémon were a bit tougher than I expected…
…you can only be so scared of a Fighting Dojo when “The Hammer” has your back. Luna hit the the Dojo Master’s monsters like a freight train, and although I walked away empty-handed, I was smiling when I did so.
Psyching Out Sabrina
Finally, I made my way inside the Saffron Gym, which had loomed large in my mind’s eye since I first formed the Poison Posse. Unfortunately for the psychics and channelers inside, my rival’s decimation of my team meant that Earl was the only posse member left, and the replacements I had found were more than ready for the challenge.
As I worked my way to Sabrina, however, some nagging doubts remained. Luna’s Psychic strength would be nuetralized by the same-type matchup, Earl wouldn’t be a viable option even with his new Megahorn attack, and Will’s general fragility made him a risky play without the right setup. As I stepped forward to face the Gym leader, I decided to open with Reggie just as I had in Fuschia City, and be ready with Osborne and Luna if anything went wrong.
What happened next would be replayed and re-hashed in dusty bars across the nation for the next several decades.
I braced myself for Kadabra’s opening Psybeam…which bounced off Reggie like a pebble off a bulldozer. He responded by yawning, stretching, and Body Slamming the poor Kadabra into dust. It was a strong show of force, and it set an ominous tone for Sabrina’s squad.
Mr. Mime? It barely scratched Reggie before biting the dust. Venomoth? Pancaked in a single shot. Sabrina’s vaunted Lv. 43 Alakazam? It got a participation trophy for landing a critical-hit Psychic, but the belly-flop Body Slam it ate in return meant it only participated in one round. Snorlax’s wiped out Sabrina’s entire team with an incredible display of power, and what I thought would be the hardest Gym battle of my playthrough ended up being arguably my easiest.
Cyrus, you are officially put on notice: Reggie is coming for you, and it’s going to take a lot more than Charizard’s Flamethrower to stop him.
With two Gyms left to go, my confidence in the Phili Five is back to its pre-Saffron levels, and when Nessie levels up enough to make them the Phili Six, I might just have my final six-stack ready to go. I imagine I might do some tweaking around the edges (A Tangela from Route 21? An Electabuzz from the Power Plant? A Fire-type to be named later? You know, Moltres wouldn’t be a bad option there…), but as I look ahead to Blaine, Giovanni, and the Elite Four, I think I’ll have a credible matchup against them all…and if I don’t, I’ll just toss out Luna and Reggie and hammer away until the bad guys say uncle.
Tune in next week as we go coastal on Routes 12-15, Surf our way to the Seafoam Islands, and hopefully pay a visit to the Cinnabar Gym!