Thanks goodness Ed Hochuli doesn’t referee Pokémon matches, because the Phili Six would have been tossed out of the League long before I made it to Cyrus.
When we last left Ophilia, she was standing on the doorstep of history, with only the Elite Four and Champion between victory for her and Nuzlocke redemption for me. This challenge, however, could not be taken lightly: All five Trainers had to be challenged back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, with no chance to replace any fallen monsters in between the bouts. The levels of the opponents would slowly increase every round, and while I recalled the levels from the LeafGreen challenge weren’t quite as high as those from Red, they still weren’t far from that Lv. 65 peak that had been burned into my brain twenty years ago.
The stakes were high, but the path was clear. It was time to fish or cut bait, and unfortunately it was patriarch of the team that got cut.
If you look closely at episode #9, you’ll notice that Earl is never mentioned during the battle sequences—in fact, he isn’t mentioned at all until the very end of the journal. The sad truth is that over the last few sessions, Earl’s role had grown smaller and smaller as other Pokémon stepped into the limelight. While I criticized Will earlier for being too much of a specialist (and I’ve got some more choice words for him later), Earl wound up being too much of a generalist, and while a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” can be useful, as time went on all of the things he could do wound up being done better by someone else.
To some extent, Earl’s body wound up betraying him: His typing made him a risky play against a lot of common types, and his moveset was out of step with the G3 landscape (Megahorn, for example, never seemed to be useful). Giving him Strength and Earthquake made him a great cave explorer, but the more I looked at him versus the Elite Four, the more it seemed he just didn’t have a role to play.
Cutting Earl from the Phili Six was a hard decision, so I didn’t make it. I decided that history overruled utility, and that after all he had done, he deserved a spot in the Pokémon Hall of Fame, even if his best days were behind him. He was our guy until the end.
And then it happened: While grinding in Victory Road, despite being at full health and holding a nearly ten-level advantage over his opponent, Earl was unceremoniously one-shotted by a Marowak’s Bonemerang. (I was riding in a car at the time and thus do not have a picture of the fatal blow, but perhaps it’s better this way. We should all remember Earl as he was, not as he died.)
It turns out that the Sacred Flame was as attached to Earl as I was. Within five minutes, the sky grew dark and the clouds unleashed a fury of wind and rain on the land, declaring that such a vile act would not go unanswered. As the storm raged on, a voice began echoing through my mind, and while I don’t recall its exact words, its meaning was clear: The Sacred Flame wanted in on the action, and it was waiting on Mt. Ember.
Operation Firebird, Take #2
I returned to One Island and made my way up Kindle Road, an area I had mostly ignored during my previous trip with Bill because I hadn’t yet settled on how to apply the Pokémon capture rules to this area. I found and caught a Ponyta along the way, but that wasn’t my prime target. My job was simple: Get to Mt. Ember, make liberal use of my Max Repels as I climbed to the peak, and wait for the Sacred Flame to arrive.
Of course, the Flame was already waiting for me when it arrived, and had taking the form of a bright, burning, majestic bird…
The conversation was brief:
Bird: I am the Guardian of the First Flame, sent to this world to make right was has gone wrong. Come, let us engage in a glorious battle to judge the wor—*gets sucked into Master Ball*
Me: We don’t have time for monologues. *picks up ball* I think I’ll call you ‘Pontiac.’
I was admittedly not impressed with Pontiac’s full moveset (Endure? Fire Spin? Really?), but it had Flamethrower, and with its impressive Spec. Attack, that was all it needed. I took it for a test drive out on Route 15, and wow:
With literal firepower like this on my side, I felt unstoppable…but I knew better. There was still a lot of work to be done.
The Road To Perdition Beantown
As it turned out, my employer decided to ship me out to the slightly-above-average city of Boston for much of the week. That meant a lot of time sitting around on planes, trains, and automobiles, which meant lots of time for Ask-Ketchum-approved special training sessions.
The regimen was a two-part program:
- Victory Road was a great place to hang out and level up, but only if you had a quick way of dealing with powerful Rock-types. Luna, Will, and Nessie did most of their work here.
- From the motorcycle gang on Route 16 to the Snorlax on Route 12 (with a little detour through the Power Plant), southern mainland Kanto had smorgasbord of Trainers looking for their own chances for revenge. With a little help from the VS Seeker, Osborne, Reggie, and Pontiac were more than willing to oblige.
After about eight hours of crossing both Kanto and the United States, I arrived home with a fearsome and formidable squad, with five monsters at Lv. 63 and one (The Hammer, of course!) at Lv. 64.
Of course, while I was happy with my team comp, I was less satisfied with some of their stats and movesets. Luckily, unlike in most professional sports, there are no rules against performance enhancers in Pokémon, and I’d built up quite a collection of goodies during my travels.
Among the Rare Candies, Technical Machines, and stat boosters I deployed, two monsters stand out:
- Pontiac: I turned the Sacred Flame into an Inspector Gadget-like freak of nature, feeding it several Calciums, teaching it Aerial Ace and Fire Blast to go along with Flamethrower, and tossing a Rare Candy at it for good measure.
- Nessie: As good as Pontiac was, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to use it against Lorelei, as most of the Pokémon I recalled on her team were at least half-Water. However, my trip through the Power Plant had turned up a TM for Thunder, a super-powerful Electric attack with terrible accuracy…unless Rain Dance was active, in which case it was 100% accurate. I was already planning to use a weather-control strategy with Nessie, so giving her Thunder (combined with her natural resistances to Water and Ice moves) made her the go-to monster against Lorelei. (She also got a Rare Candy, because why not?)
When the dust finally settled, this is the picture that emerged:
There was nothing more to say. I picked up a boatload of healing supplies at the Pokémon League shop, paid my respects to the spectators, and walked through the door to face my destiny.
Round #1: The Thunder Rolls
With the new and improved Nessie leading off, the plan was simple: Make it rain, call down the lightning, and cut through Lorelei’s team as quick as possible. Easy enough, right?
And then the battle started…and Lorelei opts to use the same darn strategy, using her opening Dewgong to make it hail. Because Nessie is faster, the hail overrides the rain and I’m back at square one. Just wonderful…
Dewgong couldn’t touch Nessie with its attacks, however, so sneaking by it was a matter of gaming the AI: Use Rain Dance while it’s hailing, then drop Thunder before Dewgong can make it hail again. Unfortunately, Dewgong was pretty buff itself (and Lorelei was unafraid to drop Hyper Potions early), so it took nearly all of my Rain Dances to land enough Thunders to knock the creature out.
Once Dewgong fell, the dominoes finally began to topple, as both Cloyster and Slowbro were dropped in one hit. At this point, I began to worry that the rain would stop, and I only had one PP left for the move. Applying Snorlax to a problem, however, is never a bad move, and so I switched to Reggie to Body Slam Jynx and Hyper Beam Lorelei’s Lapras into submission.
Round #2: Flipping The Bird
Bruno came at me with a mixture of Fighting- and Rock-type Pokémon, but I noticed that the order of Lorelei’s Pokémon was the same as in Pokémon Red, and correctly guessed that Onix would be the first monster on the battlefield. Nessie was there to greet him with a Surf, putting Bruno on his heels early.
Hitmonchan was next, and one Osborne Drill Peck later, it was history. Bruno then threw me a curveball in the form of Machamp, but I decided to meet fire with fire and unleash Pontiac on the poor four-armed monstrosity. Two Aerial Aces did the trick, and one more Osborne Drill Peck clobbered the Hitmonlee that followed.
This is where things got concerning: I decided to let Will handle the last Onix, but for the first time he failed to come through in the clutch and one-shot the rock snake with Earthquake. The Onix responded with a STAB Earthquake of his own, and for a moment I thought Will was history. Amazingly, Will’s health bar didn’t even turn yellow, and Bruno’s use of a Hyper Potion gave Will the opening he needed to pull off a Mud-Slap/Earthquake combo for the win.
Will made it through this round, but his power failure was a sign of bad things to come.
Round #3: I See Dead Pokémon
Next on the docket was Agatha, a Ghost/Poison-type master who was dealt a pretty rotten hand by the G1 gods: The Gastly-to-Gengar line is the only Ghost one in the game, and its marriage to the Poison type meant that the one thing it could conceivably counter (Psychic types) was also super-effectiv against it. That was my angle going in: Confident that Gengars didn’t learn Shadow Ball, Luna would lead off and look for a clean sweep using her Psychic attack.
The first Gengar posed no threat and went down in a single shot. The Golbat that came out next, however, caused some trouble by using Confuse Ray, which in turn caused Luna to damage herself three turns in a row before taking the bat out of the air. “The Hammer” bounced back to one-shot the Haunter that followed, but her health was low enough that I decided to explore other options for the rest of the match.
I gave Will another shot at redemption against Agatha’s Arbok, but he again needed two shots to knock it out, making the matchup more tense than it should have been. With the final Gengar, I decided to brute force the problem and sent out Pontiac, who leveled the specter with a single Fire Blast.
Were were over halfway home now, but things hadn’t quite gone according to plan, which made me a little nervous about the next battle…
Round #4: Icing The Competition
…which turned out to be the easiest one of the five.
The play here was simple: Nessie now, Nessie later, and Nessie forever. She had the Ice to handle the dragons, the Water to deal with the Aerodactyls, and the Thunder to shock the Gyarados.
The only nervous moment was when I opened when Thunder against Gyarados immediately, taking a chance on its 70% accuracy. The move connected, however, and the ball kept rolling from there. Nessie laughed off a Rock Blast to wash away Aerodactyl, and then punched out both Dragonairs and the Dragonite was a single Ice Beam apiece. It was an even more dominating performance than Reggie’s conquering of the Saffron Gym, and made Nessie the leader in the clubhouse for the Conn Smythe trophy.
I broke out a final round of healing items (and made history by using an Ether for the first time in any Pokémon game to refill Nessie’s Rain Dance), and walked through the final door. I had one last score to settle.
Round #5: One Last Bloodbath
Cyrus was his usual egotistical self when I met him in the final room, but there was nothing left to discuss. I knew exactly what I had to do, exactly what was coming, and exactly how I planned to deal with it. We just had to roll out the ball and get started.
I decided to introduce Cyrus to the Sacred Flame early, and brought Pontiac out to face his Pidgeot. One Flamethrower wasn’t quite enough to KO it, but after Cyrus countered with a Sand-Attack and a Full Restore, Pontiac yawned and Aerial Aced it to death.
Gyarados was next, and while I brought Nessie in to face it, I decided not to tempt fate with Thunder again rather than lead off with Rain Dance (despite the fact that I had plenty of them). This time it came back to bit me: It took three shots to land one blow, and Gyarados knocked Nessie down to 50% health in the meantime. This turned out to be a pivotal moment later on, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
Nessie stuck around just long enough to one-shot Rhydon into oblivion, and then gave way to Osborne when Exeggutor stepped into the ring. After waffling between Fly and Drill Peck for a few seconds, I chose the latter, which wasn’t quite enough to bring the Grass-type down. It responded with a successful Sleep Powder, forcing me to switch back to Pontiac to take it down with Flamethrower.
Alakazam was next, and it was here that Will failed me for the last time: Despite cleaning the Psychic-type’s clock several times in the past, Earthquake one again didn’t have enough mustard to knock it out this time, and its use of Reflect and Recover completely nullified my Dugtrio’s ability to deal damage. Reggie had to step in, and while he did the job, he shot himself in the foot in the process by paralyzing Alakazam with Body Slam, which was promptly returned to Reggie via Alakazam’s Sychronize ability.
Charizard was now the only thing standing in our way, but fighting the rest of Cyrus’s team had taken its toll. Nessie’s health was just low enough to make me question whether she could withstand a full-force Flamethrower to set up Rain Dance, and Reggie’s paralysis made him a risky play as well. I decided to meet fire with fire instead, and sent Pontiac out to take out the dreaded fire lizard.
Unfortunately, this was the point in the movie where the benevolent omnipresent force says to the protagonist, “I have done all I can; you must do the rest.” In the biggest surprise of the battle, Charizard completely overpowered Moltres, using Slashes and Fire Blasts to bring the bird to its knees. This couldn’t be happening again, could it?
My remedy now, just as it was then, was to send out Will to remove Charizard’s last few HP points with Slash. Unfortunately, Cyrus countered with another Full Restore, rendering the strategy moot. I had always pulled Will out of situations like this in the past, but this time a mixture of frustration and disappointment made me leave him in to Slash away futilely until he gave up the ghost. Will had not lived up to his side of any bargain since entering the Pokémon League, and unlike Earl, I was not sad to see him go.
I picked up the phone and made one last call to the bullpen. Technically I had four options left, but three weren’t really options at all: Osborne was asleep, Reggie couldn’t move, and Nessie looked a little pale after tangling with Gyarados.
Option four…was The Hammer. It was the only option I needed.
Charizard was gassed by this point, and it offered only a meek Aerial Ace as if to concede defeat. One last Psychic, and it was over.
At long last, the ghosts of Suzy, Earl, Bram, Oscar, Benjamin, Reed, and Ultra Necrozma were put to rest. Ophilia and I were Nuzlocke champions.
As the confetti falls and the championship hats and shirts are passed around, it’s time to tally up the votes and hand out some awards to the notable performers during this Nuzlocke run.
First, the playoff MVP: To the surprise of no one, it’s Nessie the Lapras.
She set the table against Lorelei, she ran the table against Lance, she pitched in against Bruno, and the reason she didn’t see action against Charizard was because she’d already knocked out two other monsters! I searched for a suitable Water-type for a looooong time, and I’m glad I stopped to talk to that random Silph Co. employee back in Saffron City.
But that was an easy one. What about the MVP of the entire run? Here’s how I would rank them:
- #5: Reggie the Snorlax. His performance at the Saffron Gym alone nets him a nomination, but he performed admirably whenever he was called upon. Honestly, his problem was that I didn’t call on him enough, as his Normal typing meant I kept overlooking him in favor of a more-favorable matchup.
- #4: Suzy the Bulbasaur. She was the unquestioned leader of the Poison Posse until her demise in Saffron, but her placement here goes far beyond her battle prowess. Her Leech Seed/Sleep Powder combination meant she was an excellent choice for capture battles, no matter how big the level difference was. (Two of the Pokémon she caught with still with me in the final battle!) I had a 100% success rate in normal capture battles (i.e., anything outside the Safari Zone), and Suzy was a big reason why.
- #3: Cyrus’s Charizard. Let’s give some credit where credit is due: I lost nine Pokémon during this Nuzlocke run, and six of them were to this bozo. No one else on Cyrus’s team came close to causing as much damage and creating so much fear as this blasted fire lizard, and for that I must tip my cap to it.
- #2: Nessie the Lapras. Her incredible playoff run was not an aberration. From the moment Nessie joined the squad, she was a force to be reckoned with, playing major roles in every Gym, rival, and League battle she participated in. She also took over Suzy’s role as the primary Pokémon catcher, and managed to maintain our incredible success rate! Her biggest impact, however, is that I will never, never, never scoff at Rain Dance ever again.
And now, the envelope please…
- #1: “The Hammer,” Luna the Hypno. Good Pokémon have one nickname, but only the greatest ones have two. (Had Kevin Harvick not already laid claim to the nickname, I probably would have called her “The Closer” too.)From about the Game Corner onwards, it seemed like every time I needed a big defensive stand or to drive the final nail into some poor Trainer’s coffin, Luna was the one to do it. She was a credible matchup against dang near every freaking monster in the game, and “use Psychic until it dies” was way more effective than it had any right to be. Reggie and Nessie may have had more bulk, Osborne and Pontiac may have had more punch, and Earl and Will may have had more seniority, but for my money, “The Hammer” was the one Pokémon to rule them all.
Tune in next week when we…wait, I guess there isn’t a “next week” anymore. With my eighteenth Pokémon journey in the books and Ophilia returning to her Sacred Flame pilgrimage, I don’t have anything to post on Mondays anymore!
Then again…there is that copy of Pokémon X I haven’t got around to playing yet…