Conventional wisdom dictates that “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” However, it offers no guidance as to what you should when you do succeed.
Last summer, I embarked on a Nuzlocke run in Pokémon FireRed that ended with Ophilia, The Sacred Flame, and Luna “The Hammer” Hypno triumphing over the Elite 4 of Kanto and our insufferable rival Cyrus. The run served as redemption for my failed Ultra Sun Nuzlocke, and put to rest whatever minor demons a simple 3DS game could summon. Despite the satisfying result, I was left with one lingering question: Now what?
With Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee being less than impressive, Pokémon Sword and Shield being at least several months away, and the blog being taken over by country music, I decided that the time was right to revisit the world of Pokémon and make another run at Nuzlocke glory. Although I was sick of the Kanto region after eight separate trips through it, there were plenty of other cool regions to explore, so why not take one last detour through Pokémon’s past before booking my ticket to Galar?
(For those who are unfamiliar with Pokémon Nuzlocke challenges, Adventure Rules provides a nice summary of the challenge and its numerous variations here.)
My opponent this time will be Pokémon X, an introduction to the sixth generation of Pokémon and the series’s first (and thus far only) visit to the Kalos region. Challenging this game made sense for two reasons:
- While I’ve pretty much memorized Kanto after so many trips through it, my past experience with Kalos is limited to a single trip through Pokémon Y five years ago, and frankly, I don’t remember a whole lot about the place or its inhabitants. Playing through X should offer a lot more surprises compared to FireRed, along with the opportunity to mess around with lots of different Pokémon (especially the G5 and G6 monster I barely encountered and/or mostly forgot).
- One of the major lessons I’ve learned with Nuzlocke challenges is that if you don’t have your type matchups down pat, you’re asking for trouble. In FireRed, this was not a problem: I sunk over a thousand hours into Pokémon Pearl alone, so the original G1 types and the G2 additions of Dark and Steel are not a problem. G6, however, introduced the Fairy type to the game, and retrofit a number of older monsters with this type (wait, what do you mean Jigglypuff isn’t just a Normal-type anymore?). My knowledge of Fairy-type Pokémon is considerably weaker than other types, and that came back to bite me several times in my Ultra Sun playthrough. Of course, upping the challenge level of Pokémon is kind of the point of a Nuzlocke run, so this will add an extra degree of difficulty and force me to become more familiar with Fairy Pokémon.
The rules for this game will be the same as before:
- Permadeath: If a Pokémon faints, it must either be released or permanently boxed, and can no longer be used in battles.
- One-and-done, Part I: The only Pokémon you can catch in any specific area is the first one you meet.
- One-and-done, Part II: Item use is capped at a single item per battle.
- Double Jeopardy: Pokémon used as part of a winning team in any previously-played Pokémon game are ineligible for capture and use. With both my FireRed and Let’s Go! Eevee teams added to my already-extensive block list, this means I am restricted from capturing/using a whopping 225 monsters spanning 103 evolutionary strains. Still, those numbers are heavily concentrated in the earlier generations, so that shouldn’t be that much of a problem in G6…right? (Spoiler alert: It was.)
But that’s enough pregame pageantry for one post. Fold up the flag and get the cheerleaders off of the field—it’s game time!
Pokémon X: Octo Expansion
The first big decision, of course, is naming (and kinda-sorta designing) your avatar for the journey. I based my FireRed protagonist off of a character from a game I had been playing a lot at the time (Octopath Traveler), but I’ve been playing Splatoon 2 almost exclusively for the last few months, so that trick won’t work again…or will it? This is Pokémon X after all, and I just earned my first X rank in Splatoon 2, so…perhaps my canon Octoling character is looking for a new challenge?
I’ve never actually given “OctoKyle” a proper name, but my personal headcanon is that Octoling society is fairly conservative and that Octo families prefer names that start with ‘O’. After a quick scan of several baby name websites (which means I’ll be seeing ads for formula and strollers in Firefox for the next twelve months), I christened my character “Oliver” and made my way to Vaniville Town.
Nothing To Do Town
Apparently Vaniville Town was the inspiration for Dylan Scott’s latest single, because without even a major research facility to explore, this place is more dead than Pallet Town! The game opens by leading you by the nose through the opening steps: Get dressed, talk to mom, go outside…but wait, where’s the cool starter Pokémon I was promised?
While Oliver was important enough to entrust with the job of completing a Pokédex, he apparently wasn’t important enough for Professor Sycamore to deliver the news and equipment himself. (Then again, if he was stuck with the same teaching load that I had this spring, I don’t blame him—those assignments aren’t going to grade themselves!) Instead, we are greeted by Serena and Shauna, our “rivals” and the first members of our eventual posse. The pair directed Ollie to a real town (Aquacorde) via a not-real route (Route 1 has no monsters at all? Seriously?), where he would be further briefed on his mission and allowed to choose a starter Pokémon. With few other options, Oliver eventually made his way north to “Aqua-Vegas” to see what the fuss was all about.
Ocean’s Oliver’s Five
Once in Aquacorde Town, we were formally introduced to the two other members of Ollie’s entourage:
- Tierno, an impulsive ball of energy more who’s more interested in dancing than battling.
- Trevor, a reticent, diminutive scientist-wannabe who keeps his statements brief and to the point.
I didn’t pay them much attention, as a) I don’t recall them having a huge role in the story in Y, and b) I’m more focused on the big decision here: Which starter Pokémon should I choose?
Unlike in FireRed, I actually have a choice this time around: Only Fennekin is blocked by my Y playthrough, so both Froakie and Chespin are possible options. However, my choice was actually made in Saffron City last year:
Suzy was a pillar of my FireRed team until her untimely demise at Silph Co., and I would have killed for a second chance with a Bulbasaur…and if there’s one thing I remember about Pokémon Y, it’s that I got a chance to select a Kanto starter for my team sometime in the first half of the journey. I was getting another Bulbasaur (Squirtle and Charmander were still off-limits anyway), and it was getting a slot on my top line, making a Grass-type like Chespin redundant. In other words…
Next came the question of the Pokémon’s sex: Every starter I’d gotten before Pokémon Moon had been male, but every starter I’d gotten since had been female, with Eva the Eevee extending my streak to four in a row. Would Froakie make it five?
As for the name, I decided to stick with the same convention as FireRed and name Froakie after one of my favorite female country singers. (My apologies to Patty Loveless.)
With no other business, the meeting adjourned and Oliver headed back home to bid his mother farewell…until Shauna stopped him and demanded the customary “I just got a Pokémon, I need to have someone bash its brains in” opening battle.
Unfortunately for Shauna, she was cast in the Dawn/Bianca/Hau “inferior” rival role, putting her Fennekin at a type disadvantage against my Froakie…and unlike Suzy, Patty knew an elemental move (Bubble) from the start. You can probably guess the rest.
R U SRS?!
After a quick trip back home to talk to Mom and a quicker trip to the store for some Poké Balls, I stepped onto Route 2 ready for some action. There were some cool G6 Pokémon just waiting to be caught, and Ollie was just the Octoling to catch them!
However, there was a flip side to playing a G6 game: Sure, there were G6 monsters to catch, but there were also five generations worth of monsters that could be recycled and repurposed (hence the title of this post), and my enthusiasm was quickly tempered the long parade of Pidgeys and Zigzagoons that kept crossing my path. (I saw a lot of Scatterbugs too, but those were blocked by my Vivillon from Y.) Thankfully, I had already used these monsters in past games (heck, Pidgeot has made my top six on three separate occasions), so eventually I had to see a cool G6 monster, right?
Really?! Seven-hundred-plus monsters to choose from, and the RNG gods stick me with this POS?
Those who remember my last Nuzlocke might also remember Reed the Beedrill (I obviously didn’t, because I thought I called it “Reese” and decided the name was gender-neutral enough to reuse) and how much I griped about it how weak it was, how long it took to make it gain a level, etc. I shed few tears when Reed met his end in Cerulean City, but some bigwig in the universe decided the whole thing was funny enough to order a sequel, and Ophilia’s curse was now Oliver’s as well. Just luckin’ fovely.
(Oh, and when a Fletchling appeared in the very next battle…let’s just say it’s a good thing that neither Splatoon 2 nor Pokémon X has voice chat.)
Unfortunately, “one-and-done” means “one-and-done,” and just like in FireRed, I really didn’t have any option but to keep the stupid thing on the top line, and…ugh. Beedrills may have gotten a slight buff since G3 (+10 base attack, access to Poison Jab and some decent TMs) and Poison as a type got an indirect buff by being strong against Fairy-types, but Weedle and Kakuna were as weak and slow to level up as ever, and I grumbled about Reese all the way to Santalune Forest.
Easy Mode Activated
A common complain about later Pokémon generations is that they do a lot more hand-holding than early games and reduce the challenge even further, and nowhere is that more apparent that the player’s first trip through Santalune Forest. Shauna meets you at the entrance and ends up traveling with you throughout the area, offering to heal your Pokémon on demand and pretty much eliminating any chance of your monsters actually dying here. Patty didn’t really need the help, but it was a godsend for Reese, who could only go one or two battles without needing to be restored. It also saved me a lot of time running back to the Aquacorde Pokémon Center, so what the heck, I’m in favor of increased efficiency.
While there were a ton of off-limits recycled monsters here as well (Pikachus, Caterpies, Weedles, Pansears, and Panpours), the universe decided to do me a solid after getting a laugh out of my Weedle reaction, and tossed me the Fletchling I missed before.
Unlike Reese, “Birdo” (yeah, I know, very original) came out firing from the start, wailing on Bug- and Grass-type monsters even before it learned a Flying-type move and gaining levels much faster than Reese could ever dream of. With a pocket Mercy Shauna keeping everyone their feet, Ollie quickly bumped up his entire trio to Lv. 10 (giving him both Peck and a Beedrill in case Serena and Chespin decided to step to his team) and sped through the forest with great haste.
Route 3…well, it was pretty much the same story: Lots of recycled monsters I couldn’t catch (Pidgeys, Fletchlings, and now Bidoofs), and few threats to the well-being of my team. I did, however, find another useful addition to Ollie’s growing squad:
I was hoping to find a Ground-type that would counter the Pikachus that made Patty and Birdo nervous, but while “Thumper” ended up being a Normal-type, he was still a solid upgrade over Reese, even if it took a while for him to gain enough strength to actually thump the competition. (He also struggled on defense quite a bit, despite it being one of his higher stats.) After a little grinding and a lot of complaining about Burmy and its Protect-only moveset, I soon had four that were Lv. 10 or higher and ready to take on the game’s first big challenge.
From N-Zap to Bug-Zap
By the time Ollie reached Santalune City, I was getting a little restless over the seemingly-slow pace of the game. The town didn’t really offer much more than its predecessors: I healed my team, picked up a new hat and a set of roller skates, and…that’s about it. After a quick scouting of Route 22 (I decided to save the next Pokémon reveal for episode #2 and avoided the tall grass entirely) and a harrowing moment or two (that Lv. 9 Riolu scared me for a moment, but Patty avoided it Counters by bubbling it to death), I stepped into the Santalune Gym and demanded an audience with Viola, the gym’s leader.
While Nuzlocke runs are meant to inject added suspense and excitement into a generally-relaxed game, most of the time it just incentivizes people to play Pokémon like they’re Mitch McConnell (i.e., as conservatively as possible). I took no chances in Viola’s gym: While I let Thumper handle most of her underlings, I switched in Birdo the moment things even remotely looked dicey (that Lv. 10 Spewpa was a real pain), and even burned a few Potions when I couldn’t find a way to exit the Gym and heal before facing Viola (a wise move in hindsight). With the team at full strength, I stepped up and called out Viola for my first Badge.
Despite Viola having near-parity with the level of Ollie’s monsters, the outcome of the battle was never really in doubt. Reese quickly ground Surskit into dust, and Birdo shook off several Infestations to knock Vivillon out of the air. Ollie went through the entire Gym without even cracking Patty’s Poké Ball open, and earned a shiny Bug Badge to distract attention away from his terrible Clam Blitz rank.
Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot to see her: I caught a few monsters, whined about all the reused Pokémon, and never faced a significant challenge, even in the first Gym. While I’m still salty about Reese and don’t foresee them holding a spot in my top six long-term, I’ve been pretty happy with everyone else’s performance (Patty and Birdo are definitely keepers, and Thumper held his own after a while). Although I hope my future captures swing towards the newer Pokémon generations as the game goes along (I know a Zubat is coming, but at least Bram was useful in FireRed, and they won’t be restricted from becoming a Crobat this time), the law of averages says that I should end up with at least some interesting new monsters to mess around with, and at this point, that’s all I can ask for.
Tune in next week for…well, I actually have no idea what’s coming next week! Professor Sycamore will likely appear and Serena will probably want to battle, but I’m going to try to avoid spoilers beyond what I can remember from Pokémon Y, and enjoy the surprises along with the challenges.
(…but seriously, no more Weedles, okay?)