Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #1: Over Before It Starts?

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.

Yay, the name fits!

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…

Girl power!

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.

Things got real in a hurry.

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…

Huh, that’s the oddest-looking Nidoran I’ve ever seen.

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.

Luck!? I’m calling BS on that one. The game totally pulled its punches.

In the end, though, I didn’t really care why I still had all my Pokémon. I was just happy that I did.

Conclusions

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!

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Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon: Is It Worth Buying?

Yes, I know I’m a month or so late with this post, but let’s pretend it’s still relevant, shall we?

Nintendo can be a bit unpredictable when it comes to “post-intro-gen” Pokémon releases. For any given generation, we could get:

  1. An official sequel (Pokémon Black/White 2).
  2. An updated version with a tweaked storyline (Pokémon Emerald).
  3. A remake of an old generation (Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire).
  4. Both #1 and #2 (G4 got Pokémon Platinum and Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver).

For Pokémon Sun/Moon, Nintendo went with option #2 and gave us Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, a slight reimagining of the original games with some new features tossed in for flavor. Whether or not these updates are enough for me to recommend purchasing these games, however, depends on what you’re looking to do with the game.

Let’s address some of the changes individually:

  • As is the standard with third versions, the variety of Pokémon you can find and catch is much larger than in Sun and Moon. This is generally a good thing and I appreciate the different monsters that are now included (including brand new ‘mons like Poipole!), but for someone like me (a Pokémon veteran attempting a Nuzlocke run), it means I seem to get stuck catching a bunch of G1 stalwarts that I’ve been avoiding for the past 20 years.
  • The story has technically changed between Sun/Moon and Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon, but it takes a long time to notice it. I’m working my way through island #4 right now, and aside from different totem Pokémon and a few new characters that pop up occasionally, the story is essentially unchanged from Sun and Moon. I know there’s some exciting bits involving Necrozma and Ultra Space coming up, but otherwise it feels like Pokémon Platinum (i.e. Pokémon Pearl with more snow and the Distortion World) all over again.
  • A few new minigames have been introduced (such as Mantine Surfing), and while I could see some people enjoying then, they really didn’t catch my interest. Same with the interactive Pokémon and the Alolan Photo Club: Some people will have a blast with it, but most of the world will yawn and move on.
  • Remember how annoying the SOS mechanic was in Sun and Moon? It’s been dialed back a ton in the Ultra versison, giving enemy Pokémon a single chance to call an ally (and also seemingly reducing the chance that an ally will actually appear), putting an end to the frustratingly-endless battles of the first games.
  • Remember how annoying often you would receive phone calls in the original Pokémon Gold/Silver games? The Rotom in your Ultra Sun/Moon Pokédex is worse: It just. Won’t. Stop. Talking!!!  It cycles through the same basic advice constantly, and starts talking every you time you close the menu or finish the battle. (There’s also a Pokémon Refresh-like system that encourages you to interact even more with Rotom to get special Roto powers, but it’s feels really intrusive and I never actually got around to ever using the powers.) By the time you’re through a few islands, you’re wishing the game had stuck with the non-sentient Pokédexes of the past.

Now, despite everything I’ve said about the game thus far, at its core it’s still a Pokémon game. You’re still catching, training, and battling monsters just you always do, and it’s just as addictive and fun as it always is. I would still recommend playing Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon, but with a few caveats:

  • If you’ve already played Pokémon Sun/Moon, getting the Ultra versions isn’t really necessary given the similarities between the games.
  • If you’re planning on doing a Nuzlocke run, I would recommend playing the original Sun/Moon games, since its focus on G7 monsters helps keep you from getting stuck with a team dominated by past generations.

In the end, you can’t go wrong with trying out either the ultra or non-ultra versions of Sun and Moon, but one run through Alola is probably enough.

Pokémon Face-Off: Necrozma vs. Mew

While Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are introducing a few new Pokémon to the franchise, the real star of the upcoming releases is Necrozma, a bizarre light-stealing creature likely created by Lex Luthor (with all the light gone, he can finally defeat Superman!). Necrozma could be found randomly at Ten Carat Hill in Sun and Moon (with no explanation besides Looker’s “That’s not an Ultra Beast”), but the Ultra remakes flesh out the Pokémon’s backstory and make it the focal point of the story, dragging the player on an interdimensional journey to save Sogaleo/Lunala and thwart Necrozma’s evil plans.

As a pure Psychic-type Pokémon with a 600 stat count, a natural comparison to Necrozma is Mew, the original extra Pokémon from Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow. (While Necrozma’s antagonistic backstory is more reminiscent of Mewtwo, the latter has a signifcant stat advantage.) How might the G7 legendary hold up against its super-flexible G1 counterpart? You know the drill by now: it’s face-off time!

(As always, the data in the following analysis comes from the good folks at Serebii.net.)

The Stats

Statistic Necrozma Mew
HP 97 100
Attack 107 100
Defense 101 100
Spec. Attack 127 100
Spec. Defense 89 100
Speed 79 100
Total 600 600

While the type comparison is a dead heat (again, both are pure Psychic types), the stat comparison is an interesting one. Mew is best known for its moveset flexibility, but its across-the-board 100s (each a respectable score in its own right) make it a viable choice for nearly any situation. Although Necrozma can dish out a bit more pain than Mew (especially with special attacks), it comes at the cost of a noticeable Spec. Defense deficit and a major Speed disadvantage. Power is only useful if you’re fast or bulky enough to use it, so Mew walks away with the victory here.

Advantage: Mew

The Abilities

Necrozma Mew
Prism Armor Sychronize

Sychronize is a decent ability by itself, but it can be worked around it certain circumstances (for example, Fire-type Pokémon can’t be burned by it) if the opponent knows that it’s there. Prism Armor, however, reduces the power of super-effective moves against Necrozma by 25%, so opponents either have to use neutral moves or swallow the damage reduction regardless of circumstance. Throw in the fact that Necrozma’s Spec. Defense is a little shaky and makes Prism Armor all the more critical, and the armor is a clear win here.

Advantage: Necrozma

The Moves

Chesnaught Decidueye
Top 3 STAB Attacks
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Prismatic Laser Psychic 160 S Psychic Psychic 90 S
Psycho Cut Psychic 70 P
Confusion Psychic 50 S
Top 3 Non-STAB Attacks
Wring Out Normal Opp. HP S Aura Sphere Fighting 80 S
Power Gem Rock 80 S Mega Punch Normal 80 P
Night Slash Dark 70 P Ancient Power Rock 60 S
Other Notable Moves
Moonlight Restores 1/2 HP Amnesia Sharply raises Spec. Defense
Autotomize Sharply raises Speed Nasty Plot Sharply raises Spec. Attack
Charge Beam Electric 50 S Transform Become a copy of the opponent

It’s one thing to be flexible, but it’s another thing to be a “jack of all trades, master of none.” I’m actually surprised as how sparse Mew’s moveset actually is: It covers the absolute essentials (the best Psychic move, a few other things for type coverage), includes a ton of stat boosters (Nasty Plot, Amnesia, Barrier), and throws Transform on top of it all to let you copy a strong opponent. While this set makes Mew potentially viable in any situation, it also keeps it from filling any traditional roles on a Pokémon team, and thus the Pokémon is always your second choice in a scenario, but never your first one.

Necrozma’s moveset is a bit more conventional, but it’s also in the running for a Finebut award:

  • Prismatic Laser’s phenomenal cosmic power is fine, but you lose your next turn after using it.
  • Psycho Cut’s 70 power is fine, but it’s a physical move that relies on Necrozma’s lower Attack stat. (Then again, 101 Attack is no joke.)
  • Wring Out’s type coverage is fine, but its damage is variable based on the opponent’s HP.

Surprisingly, it’s the “other” moves that are most interesting here: Mew’s stat boosters give its sweeping potential, while Necrozma’s Autotomize and Moonlight/Morning Sun help cover its weaknesses. In the end, however, I’m going with Necrozma because its moveset clearly makes it the top play in certain scenarios, whereas Mew just never seems to have a place to truly shine.

Advantage: Necrozma

The TMs

Necrozma Mew
Top 4 TM Moves
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Psychic Psychic 90 S Thunder Electric 110 S
Dark Pulse Dark 80 S Fire Blast Fire 110 S
Flash Cannon Steel 80 S Surf Water 90 S
Earthquake Ground 100 P Blizzard Ice 110 S

 

Mew can use every TM ever made, so it pretty much wins this category by default. However, it’s worth noting just how poorly Necrozma’s TM pool meshes with its stats: It gets Psychic and can pair Earthquake with Gravity for a nice combination, but its TM movepool is dominated by psychical moves, which don’t take advantage of its Spec. Attack stat. This category is a blowout win for Mew.

Advantage: Mew

 The Results

The results of this face-off hinge on a single question: Does Mew have a role besides “do whatever the rest of the team can’t do?” EV training can make it fast, bulky, or powerful, and TMs can give it whatever type coverage you want, but when it comes down to a must-win situation, Mew isn’t really the Pokémon you want to see coming out of the bullpen. In comparison, Autotomize and a few decent Psychic moves can turn Necrozma into a frightening special sweeper with just enough bulk to leave its mark on the match. I’ve got to go with the new Pokémon on the block this time.

Winner: Necrozma

 

To be fair, a jack-of-all-trades Pokémon like Mew still has value as a team filler, as it can cover holes and roles that your other five monsters can’t. There’s usually a better choice to cover whatever holes and roles you’re worried about, however, and on a well-balanced team you’re likely better off making that choice over Mew.

Pokémon Face-Off: Lycanroc vs. Stoutland

To celebrate the arrival of the newest Pokémon form, I decided to take a closer look at the Alolan rock dog Lycanroc to see how well it stacked up to its predecessors. The initial results weren’t promising, as many of the Rock types were either much weaker or much stronger from a stat count perspective. Dog Pokémon from the past weren’t much better, but there was one whose stats were close enough to make for an intriguing fight: Stoutland, the G5 equivalent of the St. Bernard. How will our illustrious rock hound fare against its thick-furred opponent? It’s time for a face-off!

(As always, the data in the following analysis comes from the good folks at Serebii.net. Also, since we don’t know the specific stats of Dusk Form Lycanroc, the comparison will have to focus on its Midday and Midnight forms.)

The Types

Lycanroc (Rock) Stoutland (Normal)
Strong Against… 4 Types 0 Types
Ineffective Against… 3 Types 2 Types
Can’t Hit Type? No Yes (Ghost)
Resists… 4 Types 1 Types
Weak To… 5 Types 1 Type
4x Weakness? No No
Immunities? No Yes (Ghost)

The theme of this face-off is set early: Stoutland serves as the solid, unspectacular choice that is viable in most any situation but doesn’t offer any major advantages, while Lycanroc is a riskier pick that is either much better or much worse than Stoutland depending on the matchup.

This category turns on Lycanroc’s specific strengths and weaknesses—specifically, the fact that Water- and Grass-types absolutely destroy Rock-type Pokémon. Water and Grass Pokémon are everywhere in the mainline Pokémon games, and nearly every trainer in the world has one of these types in their back pocket (this was especially true when Surf was an HM). The prevalence of these two types generally relegate Rock-type Pokémon to a niche role. Throw in the fact that Fighting-type Pokémon, who represent the only weakness of Normal types, are also strong against Rock types, and Stoutland walks away with the win here.

Advantage: Stoutland

The Stats

Statistic Midday Lycanroc Midnight Lycanroc Stoutland
HP 75 85 85
Attack 115 115 110
Defense 65 75 90
Spec. Attack 55 55 45
Spec. Defense 65 75 90
Speed 112 82 80
Total 487 487 500

Wait, this isn’t fair—Stoutland’s outnumbered two to one! However, we can pare this down pretty quickly: Midnight Lycanroc is the clear loser in this truel, as its stat distribution is almost identical to Stoutland aside from being a fair bit squishier (-15 in both Defense and Spec. Defense).

While Midday Lycanroc is even squishier than its Midnight form, it also boasts an incredible +42 Speed advantage over Stoutland, which lets it fill a “glass cannon” role and gives it a fighting chance to take advantage of its respectable Attack stat.

So exactly who wins out here? A defensive stat of 90 is solid but not spectacular, so I’m going with my old “speed kills” maxim and giving this category to (Midday) Lycanroc. I’d also point out that even Midnight Lycanroc can fill Stoutland’s more-defensive role, even if it can’t do it very well.

Advantage: Lycanroc

The Abilities

Lycanroc Decidueye
Keen Eye Intimidate
Sand Rush (Midday) Sand Rush
Steadfast (Midday) Scrappy
Vital Spirit (Midnight)
No Guard (Midnight)

Once again, both Stoutland and Midday Lycanroc feature abilities that mesh well with their stat pools:

  • Stoutland improves its defensive posture with Intimidate, covers its Speed with Sand Rush, and can use Scrappy to hit Ghost-type Pokémon.
  • Midday Lycanroc boots its Speed even further with Sand Rush and Steadfast.
  • Midnight Lycanroc can…stay awake? No Guard is a move-dependent ability, but you really don’t want to give people a free shot at you when you have mediocre defense stats.

Stoutland gets the edge here because its abilities shore up its weaknesses, while Midday Lycanroc may not need to pile onto its already-impressive Speed advantage.

Advantage: Stoutland

The Moves

Lycanroc Stoutland
Top 3 STAB Attacks
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Stone Edge Rock 100 P Giga Impact Normal 150 P
Rock Slide Rock 75 P Last Resort Normal 140 P
Rock Tomb Rock 60 P Take Down Normal 90 P
Top 3 Non-STAB Attacks
Rock Climb Normal 90 P Play Rough Fairy 90 P
Crunch Dark 80 P Crunch Dark 80 P
Bite Dark 60 P Ice Fang Ice 65 P
Other Notable Moves
Scary Face Blocks attacks, attacker takes damage Fire Fang Fire 65 P
Roar Raises Attack and Defense Work Up Raises Attack and Spec. Attack
Rock Throw Rock 50 P Thunder Fang Electric 65 P

Wait, which one of these two was supposed to be the solid, steady Pokémon? Lycanroc has basically every Rock attack you could ever want (although none of them are 100% accurate), along with some decent non-STAB options in Rock Climb and Crunch. Stoutland certainly brings the pain with its moveset, but it comes at a cost: Giga Impact forfeits the user’s next turn, Last Resort can only be used when every other move is depleted, and Take Down causes recoil damage.

Stoutland does have a huge type coverage advantage, mostly because of its trio of elemental fang attacks. While these attacks further its goal of being a Pokémon that can be leaned on it almost any situation, its STAB issues pigeonhole it into a “jack of all trades, master of none” role. If you want to bring the full power of your type to bear, Lycanroc has got you covered.

Advantage: Lycanroc

The TMs

Lycanroc Stoutland
Top 4 TM Moves
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Brick Break Fighting 75 P Wild Charge Electric 90 P
Swords Dance Sharply raises Attack Return Normal Happiness P
Return Normal Happiness P Surf Water 90 S
Double Team Raises evasiveness Shadow Ball Ghost 80 S

Surprisingly, neither Pokémon gets a huge boost from their TM pool. Stoutland gets a sorely-needed no-side-effect Normal move in Return, and Lycanroc gains some improved type coverage with Return and Brick Break, but that’s about it. Surf, Thunderbolt, and Shadow Ball may look impressive for Stoutland, but they’re reliant on its laughable Spec. Attack, and Wild Charge is yet another recoil damage move. Stoutland gets the edge here on Return alone, but neither Pokémon gets a lot of help.

Advantage: Stoutland

 The Results

“Tweeners” might be a prized commodity in the NBA, but they’re not nearly as useful in Pokémon, and unfortunately for Stoutland, that’s exactly what it is. It’s not bulky enough to be defensive, it’s not fast enough or have enough reliable damage to be a sweeper, and it’s outclassed as a physical attacker by its face-off opponent. It’s a decent matchup for Midnight Lycanroc stat-wise, but it can’t keep up with the formidable Attack/Speed combo that Midday Lycanroc offers, and both forms are hard rockers that could carve out niche roles on a Pokémon team.

Winner: Lycanroc (especially Midday Lycanroc)

Of course, the caveats I mentioned at the beginning of this post still apply, and there are much better Rock- and Normal-type choices than these two if you’re looking for someone to fill out your roster. (As a cat person, I’d take a Delcatty over both of these two anyway.) Still, given the abysmal win rate of G7 Pokémon in these face-offs, it’s nice to see an Alolan Pokémon come home victorious for a change.

Pokémon Face-Off: Xatu vs. Oricorio

It’s been a while since our last face-off, but with Pokémon hype back on the rise with the announcement of Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (as well as the eventual Switch title), I think it’s time to revisit the series and continue comparing the 7th generation Pokémon to the pocket monsters of yore.

Since Pokémon Gold and Silver have been announced as upcoming Virtual Console titles, I decided to investigate one of my favorite Pokémon from this generation, the future-seeing psychic bird Xatu. It’s never been much of a player on the Pokémon competitive circuit (Smogon has it in the NU tier), but it’s got a really cool design and has some built-in defenses against the pesky bugs that are forever tossed against Psychic types.

As it turns out, Alola has its own Xatu: Oricorio, the type-shifting dancing bird that can take on the Psychic type by sipping the Pink Nectar of Akala Island. Can it temporary psychic bird hold its own against a permanent one? The answer lies in…a face-off!

(As always, the data in the following analysis comes from the good folks at Serebii.net.)

The Types

Since we’ll be focusing on the Psychic/Flying version of Oricorio for this battle, the two combatants have the same type and thus have the same type strengths and weaknesses. (For what it’s worth, Oricorio’s overall type flexibility might give it an advantage if you know you’re opponent’s teams ahead of time, but switching its type is not a terribly convenient process.)

Advantage: Draw

The Stats

Statistic Xatu Oricorio
HP 65 75
Attack 75 70
Defense 70 70
Spec. Attack 95 98
Spec. Defense 70 70
Speed 95 93
Total 470 476

Wow, these two are basically the same bird, huh? Oricorio has a slight advantage in its overall stat count, but it’s the Pokémon’s stat distribution that really gives it the edge:

  • With matching mediocre 70/70 defense spreads, both birds need all the help they can get to stay alive, so Oricorio’s +10 HP advantage is much appreciated.
  • Xatu’s +5 attack advantage is essentially useless, since both birds will be leaning on their higher Spec. Attack for damage.
  • The Spec. Attack and Speed differences are basically a wash: Xatu is barely faster, while Oricorio deals a smidge more damage.

While I usually say that Speed is the most important thing for “squishier” Pokémon, the difference here is so small that the HP gap takes precedence.

Advantage: Oricorio (slightly)

The Abilities

Xatu Oricorio
Synchronize Dancer
Early Bird
Magic Bounce

Dancer is an interesting ability, but it’s hamstrung by the limited number of moves that affect it, as well as by Oricorio’s inability to use these moves effectively. (For example, Oricorio’s middling Attack isn’t going to scare a Dragonite out of using Dragon Dance and setting up a sweep.) Xatu, on the other hand, has several abilities that discourage attackers from using status-affecting moves or setting up entry hazards, as Synchronize will pass any burn/poison/paralysis Xatu receives onto its opponent, and Magic Bounce will reflect a ton of moves (moves that lower stats, moves that induce a status, entry hazards, even junk like Taunt) back onto their use. It’s best to go after Xatu’s meager HP, because its abilities mean that you go after anything else at your own peril.

Advantage: Xatu

The Moves

Xatu Oricorio
Top 3 STAB Attacks
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Future Sight Psychic 120 S Hurricane Flying 110 S
Psychic Psychic 90 S Revelation Dance Psychic* 90 S
Air Slash Flying 75 S Air Slash Flying 75 S
Top 3 Non-STAB Attacks
Ominous Wind Ghost 60 S Pound Normal 40 P
Night Shade Ghost Level S Double Slap Normal 15 P
Other Notable Moves
Wish Heals 1/2 HP after next turn Roost Heals up to 1/2 HP
Me First Uses opponent’s move if used before opponent Mirror Move Copies opponent’s last move
Confuse Ray Confuses opponent Teeter Dance Confuses nearby Pokémon

*Revelation Dance takes its type from the primary type of its user. For Psychic/Flying Oricorio, it becomes a Psychic move.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to shallow end of the move pool.

While both Pokémon take advantage of their respectable Spec. Attack stats, they don’t do it very effectively. Hurricane is annoyingly inaccurate, Future Sight takes two turns to kick in, and Air Slash is not terribly strong. Neither Pokémon has any much coverage to speak of, but Xatu’s mediocre Ghost-type moves are better than Oricorio’s laughable Normal-type ones. On the flip side, Oricorio’s “other” moves are a bit stronger, as Roost heals it immediately and Mirror Move is not dependent on outrunning its opponent.

To be honest, I can’t see much of an advantage either way in this category. In fact, the sheer similarity between the movesets of these Pokémon is a little eerie. Are we absolutely sure Oricorio isn’t just Xatu’s Alolan form?

Advantage: Draw

The TMs

Xatu Oricorio
Top 4 TM Moves
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Roost Heals up to 1/2 HP Calm Mind Raises Spec. Attack and Spec. Defense
Shadow Ball Ghost 80 S U-Turn Bug 70 P
U-Turn Bug 70 P Steel Wing Steel 70 P
Dazzling Gleam Fairy 80 S Round Normal 60 S

Okay, this category has a clear winner. While both Pokémon share a lot of important TM moves (Calm Mind, Roost, Return, Fly) Xatu gains a lot of useful type coverage (on top of the moves above, it gets Grass Knot and Steel Wing) while Oricorio is left with mostly non-STAB, non-special moves. The G2 bird wins this round in a blowout.

Advantage: Xatu

 The Results

If there’s one conclusion we keep circling back to, it’s that these two are exactly the same bird: Same type, same stat distribution, same types of moves, etc. There can only be one winner in a face-off, however, and when push comes to shove, Oricorio’s ever-so-slight stat advantage can’t compete with Xatu’s superior abilities and TM pool, and the G2 bird flies away with the victory.

Winner: Xatu

Of course, Xatu’s well-deserved victory only comes over 1/4 of Oricorio: While the Alolan bird’s stats and moveset cannot change, its type certainly can, and the ability to transform into Fire, Electric, and Ghost versions of itself can be very useful when you’re taking on the variety of Pokémon you see in the main game. Additionally, every trainer and their mother runs Ice Beam on the competitive circuit to deal with dragons, and being able to, say, switch to a Fire-type and counter that weakness might be more important than being able to learn Dazzling Gleam. In short, your success running either bird will likely come down to individual matchups rather than raw strength and move availability.

Some Quick Tips For Online Pokémon Battles (or “Why Do I Keep Losing?!”)

Nintendo and The Pokémon Company like to maintain a veneer of fairness around their monsters, and push the idea that players can win with whatever Pokémon they want to use. Sure, they might encourage players to have a wide variety of types on their team, and they might hint that raising Pokémon from a low level is better than just catching them a higher one, but the main campaign is structured so that any old monster can be raised to a high enough level that they’re practically guaranteed to be viable.

The kid gloves come off when you venture into online play, however, and many a player has found that their super-awesome team, one that can rip through the Elite Four without breaking in sweat, consistently getting their collective head handed to them by the Internet. It’s a frustrating experience, and often leaves the player at a loss as to what they can do to improve.

Truly competitive Pokémon play has a high barrier to entry, one that involves tens to hundreds of hours finding, breeding, and training an optimal team of monsters that can handle any possible threat. Most of us just don’t have the time or desire to raise a perfect-IV, optimal-EV monster (much less a whole team of them)—we just want a solid team that gives us a decent chance to win on the online circuit. Luckily, there are some quick & easy steps we can take to help improve our odds.

For this discussion, I’ll use my own poorly-constructed team from Pokémon Moon as a starting point, and see how it can be improved to be a bit more successful online.

Pokémon Type
Incineroar Fire/Dark
Toucannon Normal/Flying
Vikavolt Electric/Bug
Alolan Persian Dark
Lilligant Grass
Starmie Water/Psychic

Step 1: Add a “higher-tier” Pokémon or two to your roster.

The competitive Pokémon-battling community has been around a long time, and its metagame is fairly stable and mature despite the inevitable churn that comes with every successive Pokémon generation. As such, all of the current Pokémon have been organized into several different battle tiers based on their strength, moveset, and general viability. Smogon ranks these tiers as follows:

  • Uber (strongest)
  • OverUsed (OU)
  • UnderUsed (UU)
  • RarelyUsed (RU)
  • NeverUsed (NU)
  • PU (weakest)

There’s no enforcement of these tiers in Pokémon’s online modes, so if you find your Pokémon are constantly getting crushed, it may be because they’re facing off against Pokémon from a higher tier, and are thus at a disadvantage because they’re not as strong. Switching out lower-tiered Pokémon in favor of higher-tiered ones isn’t a guarantee of success, but it helps ensure you and your opponent on at least on equal footing.

If we check the tiers of our example team from above, we see that we’ve got a lot of work to do:

Pokémon Tier
Incineroar NU
Toucannon NU
Vikavolt NU
Alolan Persian NU
Lilligant NU
Starmie UU

If you’re banking on five NU-ranked Pokémon to bring you online battle glory, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Thankfully, this particular team has some options available:

Alternate Tier
Primarina UU
Decidueye UU
Alolan Ninetales UU
Mudsdale NU

Thus, we can improve our team through a few individual switches without  any additional effort. The next question: Who goes and who stays?

Step 2: Look for glaring holes in your team’s type coverage.

Hidden among Ray Rizzo’s competitive team-building tips is this gem of a line: “I recommend having no more than two Pokémon on the same team that share a common weakness.”

While having multiple Pokémon that are weak to the same type isn’t a death knell, it leaves an easy hole for an opponent to exploit and limits the number of viable three-Pokémon teams you can build from your top six. If you don’t have a solid counter to any Pokémon that can exploit this problem, you’re just asking for trouble.

Luckily, PsyPoke has a handy type analysis tool that will quickly show you where your type weaknesses reside. If we feed our example team into the tool, we receive the following output:

Type 4x Resist 2x Resist Immune 2x Weak 4x Weak
Bug 0 1 0 3 0
Dark 0 2 0 1 0
Electric 0 2 0 2 0
Fairy 0 0 0 1 0
Fighting 0 2 0 2 0
Fire 0 2 0 2 0
Flying 0 0 0 1 0
Ghost 0 2 1 1 0
Grass 0 4 0 1 0
Ground 0 1 1 1 0
Ice 0 2 0 2 0
Poison 0 0 0 1 0
Psychic 0 1 2 0 0
Rock 0 0 0 3 0
Steel 0 3 0 0 0
Water 0 2 0 1 0

Upon examining the chart, there’s actually a lot to like about this team: They have no 4x weaknesses, they mostly stick to Rizzo’s “two or less” rule, and they’re so devastating against Grass-type Pokémon that I’m hereby christening them “The Lawn Mowers.” (While they also crush Steel types, “The Steeldrivers” was already taken.) Unfortunately, there are also lot of trouble spots here, the biggest being Rock, Bug, and Fairy types (Flying and Poison types are also minor concerns).

So what sort of switches does this analysis suggest?

  • Bringing in Decidueye for Lilligant seems like a good move, as it negates some of the Bug and Poison disadvantages while not exacerbating any major problem areas (Ghost and Dark types are already well defended against).
  • Despite its NU status, swapping Mudsdale in for our Alolan Persian seems to be a net positive, as it strengthens our position against Poison, Fairy, Bug, and even Rock types! The major cost here is an increase in our Ice vulnerability, but we still have Fire and Ice types to keep them in check. (And honestly, Incineroar can do most anything better than Alolan Persian can, so there’s no point in doubling down on Dark types.)

Just like that, we’ve come up with two potential switches that will our improve our team! But there more we can do, because the above chart has one major omission that needs to be discussed…

Step 3: Identify a Dragon-type counter, and if you can’t, find one to add to your team immediately.

Dragons are annoyingly common in online Free Battles, even when legendaries are removed from the equation. It feels like everyone and their mother has a Salamence or Dragonite in their pocket, just waiting to unleash it on their unsuspecting foes.

Here is where things get tricky: Both of our remaining alternates (Alolan Ninetales and Primarina) are Fairy-types, making them immune to Dragon-type attacks while dealing super-effective STAB damage in return. (Furthermore, the Ice/Fairy-type Alolan Ninetales is about as scary to Dragons as a non-Dragon type can be.) However, Fairy-types also open the team up to Poison-type Pokémon, especially if one of them replaces our Starmie.

After playing around with the type tool, it seems that our best bet is to leave the Starmie alone, and instead target our Toucannon for replacement. Primarina holds a slight advantage over Alolan Ninetales for this spot, as it cuts down on our Rock weakness, keeps our potential Fire weakness in check, and the one major weakness it opens up (Grass) is covered by Incineroar and Vikavolt (and kinda-sorta blocked by Decidueye). In one swoop, we’ve added a Dragon-type counter and reduced our attack surface, further improving our chances for victory.

Step 4: Take your game online, and repeat the above steps as needed.

The previous three steps improved out team in theory, but there’s only one way to see how things play out in practice: Jump to the Battle Spot and take on the world! You should get a sense of whether or not your has improved pretty quickly, and be sure to ask yourselves some questions as you go along:

  • Which team members are dominating, and which are getting owned?
  • Are there certain Pokémon that keep popping up on your opponent’s side and giving you heartburn? (For example, Aegislashes are the one non-Dragon-type that consistently gives me trouble, so countering them should be a priority.)
  • Do you find yourself saying “Gosh, a ___ would be really handy right now” a lot? If so, see if you can get your hands on a ___, whatever that may be.

Once you get a sense of how your team is performing, you can revisit the step above to see if there are further improvements.

Unfortunately, sometimes the “quick and easy” steps to building a stronger Pokémon team still aren’t enough to get the job done. Luckily, there’s no shortage of ways to improve your Pokémon team and achieve success—your only limits are your curiosity and desire. You may find yourself raising several special Pokémon to fill all the holes on your team, or even digging into the details of breeding, EV training, item usage, and so on. Ultimately, the goal is to have fun battling with Pokémon, and the only things you have to do are the things you want to do.

How Nintendo Can Improve the Pokémon GTS

Back when the Pokémon Global Trading System (GTS) was introduced, it was hailed as a watershed moment in the game’s history. No longer were a player’s trading options restricted to their local counterparts and gated by whoever had a Link Cable handy—now, an ambitious Trainer could conveniently collect pocket monsters from all over the world. In theory, it was a brilliant move (and probably a necessary one).

In practice…well, it was still a brilliant move, but it came with a cost:

“Although being a well-meaning trade function, the GTS has come under criticism. Many traders ask for a legendary Pokémon, such as Mewtwo, in exchange for a common Pokémon, and some players request Pokémon at levels it is impossible to legally obtain that Pokémon at, such as a “Level 9 and under” Charizard.” —Bulbapedia, “Global Trade System”

Instead of being the liberating experience it should be, interacting with the GTS is more frustrating than anything else, as players find themselves  using a clunky interface to find Pokémon they can’t obtain because of unreasonable or impossible demands. It’s enough to drive people to take a chance on a random Wonder Trade rather than suffer through using the GTS.

So what can Nintendo and The Pokémon Company do to improve players’ experience with the GTS? After all, they can’t force players to stop asking for Enteis and Palkias in return for their precious Caterpies and Magikarps. They can fix some of the more-broken pieces of their interface, however, starting with the following suggestions:

(Note: While I made this list myself, I make no claim that these ideas are original. In fact, the idea in my first bullet point below is at least two years old.)

  • Allow players to query the system with the Pokémon they have, not just the Pokémon they’re looking for.

Pokémon Moon gifted me my first ever female stater Pokémon (a Litten), so I figured this would give me an advantage on the GTS—after all, everyone wants a starter Pokémon, right? Unfortunately, after breeding an army of Littens, it turned out that no one seemed to want a starter Pokémon in exchange for the specific monsters I was looking for. By my tenth fruitless query, I was shouting at my 3DS “Good grief, what can I get for a freaking Litten around here?!”

Having an option to search trade requests by the Pokémon you’re planning to offer gives players an accurate sense of the market they’re participating in, and may lead to unexpected-but-totally-welcome surprises that the player hadn’t considered (“Oh hey, I can get a Scyther for this thing? I’ll take it!”). It increases the odds of finding a successful trading partner, and thus increases the chances of a satisfying GTS experience.

  • Allow players to search for any Pokémon right from the start, instead of forcing them to type in the names of monsters that aren’t in their Pokédex.

The GTS’s “type to search” system has never made any sense to me. Anybody can look up a list of Pokémon on the Internet, so it’s not like you’re blocking people from obtaining certain Pokémon. All it does is slow me down, test my spelling abilities, and annoy me.

Instead, every Pokémon should be incorporated into the alphabetical search system currently reserved for Pokédex entries. Sure, it may take a little while to scroll through all the Pokémon that start with the same letter, but it’s a heck of a lot nicer than having to tap out K-a-n-g-a-s-k-h-a-n on the 3DS touchscreen every time.

  • Have a “secret” trade option that restricts access to specified trade offers.

One theory I’ve heard floating around is that part of the prevalence of unreasonable GTS offers is that players use the technique to transfer Pokémon between games, or set up a trade with a specific person. Since anyone can trade for a Pokémon offered on the GTS, demanding a king’s ransom for your Pokémon ensures that no one else will step in and steal a Pokémon you only intended to pass between your copies of Pokémon Sun and Moon. (While the Pokémon Bank takes care of this case in theory, a lot of players are either unable or unwilling to pay a monthly fee for that service.)

Instead, players should have the option to protect their trades by marking them as “secret,” keeping them from being included in public queries. Instead, searching for secret trades would require knowing a) the name of the Pokémon you’re looking for, and b) perhaps a four-digit passcode set by the trade offerer.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s no less secure than the current method of demanding legendaries for common Pokémon, and it reduces the number of crazy trade demands that clog the screens of normal users.

Of course, none of the above options keep people from posting unreasonable trade demands or guarantee that you’ll find the Pokémon trade of your dreams. They’d be a small step in the right direction, however, and perhaps help change the GTS experience of many players from frustrating to fruitful.