Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #10: Un-Nessie-cary Roughness

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.

Goodbye Earl

Remembering the good times.

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

If you’d like to see nude women, let me introduce you to my Hypno and Lapras…

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…

You wanted to see me about something?

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.

Miracle Drugs

Three months from now, Ophilia will be sitting in that same seat talking about steroids in Pokémon. (Image from SI)

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:

Apparently TMs, like HeadOn, are applied directly to the forehead.
  • 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.

One down, four to go.

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 got lucky. Bruno, not so much.

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.

Lady, I already knew that. 🙂

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.

Please direct all credit in the direction of the Lapras. She was killing it out there!

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

There are no words left to say. Do what you must, and I shall do the same.

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.

Game, set, match.

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.

And that’s the way it is.

Awards

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…

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #9: Breaking The Pattern

Some days you’re the Bug-type, some days you’re the windshield. We were the former in episodes #3 and #6, but this time we were the whole darn car.

When we last left Ophilia, she had mostly wrapped up the water portion of Kanto, earning her seventh badge and leaving her mark on the first few Sevii Islands to boot. Only one gym stands between our merry band of monsters and Victory Road, but the team couldn’t let down its guard: We had encountered total disaster in every third episode on the run so far, and there were plenty of places for said disaster to strike again.

Tangled Up

There was one last waterway to travel before Ophilia’s journey came full cirlce: Route 21, which stretched northwards until in ran right smack into Pallet Town. The usual consortium of Swimmers and Fishermen awaited, but they were quickly swept aside by the Phili Six, and Ophilia was back home in no time at all. There was, however, one stop I wanted to make before seeing the family:

Dude, you need a shave and a haircut real bad.

I’d already grabbed a Gloom on Three Island, but you can never have too many backups in a Nuzlocke run, so I made sure to visit the lone patch of grass on the route. This ended up being my toughest catch so far (confusion’s RNG kept breaking it its favor, and its Absorb was super-effective against Nessie), but after about 15 Poké Balls “Thomas” (named via Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up album)had a seat next to Ronda in the bullpen.

I didn’t know Tangelas gave you Defense EVs for beating them, but after taking some extra time to grind against them, it wasn’t hard to figure out: Every one of my monsters saw massive boosts to their Defense after leveling up here (especially Osborne and Reggie, both of whom really needed it). Given all the Selfdestructing Geodudes coming up on Victory Road, this was a welcome sight, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here…

Rocket Man

He won’t be here for long… 😉

A quick dash up Route 1 led me back to Viridian City, where Giovanni waited for his third chance to challenge the Sacred Flame. The Gym itself had enough tough Trainers to push me back to Route 21 for a tiny bit more Tangela grinding, but by the time I stepped up to Giovanni for Round 3, I was ready.

You do know the definition of insanity, right?

The battle was a wipeout from the start: Nessie washed away back-to-back Rhyhorns, Will used his shiny new Earthquake attack to flatten Nidoqueen, Osborne somehow outran Dugtrio and floored it with a single Tri Attack, and Reggie gave “The Hammer” a break and slowly Body Slammed Nidoking into submission. The Rocket Boss’s team failed to launch, and I finally had my ticket to Victory Road.

That was the exact opposite of intense. To quote Keyshawn Johnson, “C’mon man!

Own Goal?

So we gonna stand here and twiddle or are we gonna get down to business?

Victory Road sits and the end of Route 23, which meant I had to go west across Route 22 to get there. I’d beaten Cyrus here in a bizarre battle the first time I passed through Viridian, and he was waiting to even the score. Unbeknownst to him, however, I’d been planning for this battle since I left Saffron City, and after Nessie’s successful Rain Dancing against Blaine on Cinnabar Island, I figured I was ready.

The plan was simple: Charizard was likely coming out last, so at some point in the third quarter of the battle, I wanted Nessie to come in and set up Rain Dance so that the storm would be in full swing when Mr. Fire Lizard showed up. I recalled that my rival from Pokémon Red had a Rhyhorn/Rhydon up his sleeve by now, so that would be the perfect time to make it rain.

A well-rested Luna lead off the battle by taking Pidgeot out of the sky. Cyrus countered by tossing out…Rhyhorn? Nessie jumped in to meet it, but it seemed way too early to drop Rain Dance, so I smashed it with Surf and waited for another setup opportunity.

The problem is, no other opportunity came: Exeggcute met its maker on the end of Osborne’s Drill Peck, and Will continued his Alakazam-crushing ways with Earthquake. Next up was Gyarados, which I certainly didn’t want to buff with Rain Dance, so “The Hammer” returned to the battlefield to meet its challenge.

Luna used Psychic, but with mediocre results. It looked to be at least a 3-hit KO.

Gyarados used…Rain Dance?!

I couldn’t believe it. Cyrus was going to implement my own strategy for me! If I could wrap things up quick enough, Charizard was toast.

Of course, a Rain-Dance-buffed Gyarados was nothing to sneeze at. A sleeping Gyarados, however, was totally okay to sneeze at, and it took a single Hypnosis to flip the battle back in my favor. Several Psychics later, Gyarados was tossed onto the scrap heap of history, and one Nessie Surf later, Charizard joined it.

That felt soooooo good.

I didn’t just beat Cyrus, and I didn’t just beat Cyrus with four Pokémon. I beat Cyrus with four Pokémon and zero Snorlaxes. Sure, there was some luck involved (Hypnosis hit the first time and Gyarados never woke up), but even if things went a little differently in the final battle, I still had one massive ace in the hole I could turn to.

Thanks for validating my strategy for me, bro!

On The (Victory) Road Again

With the two biggest hurdles cleared, it was time to spread the gospel of the Sacred Flame on Victory Road. I entered the gate and dutifully presented my case of badges to the guard, who validated exactly one of them…

Why the heck do I have to go through eight separate guards to check all my badges? Can’t the first guy just check them all?

Route 23 had more varied terrain than I remembered, with Surfing portions and grass patches (both of which were there in the G1 version). My  habit of encountering the ghosts of my old Pokémon continued…

I used to wonder “Who You’d Be Today.” Not anymore…

In honor of Hulk, I caught the raging warrior and named it “Hogan.” I have a feeling that when this run is over and G2 Pokémon are finally unlocked, I’m going to run into a wild Crobat…

Operation Firebird, Take #1

Route 23 itself was easy enough to traverse, but I hesitated at the entrance to Victory Road. In the original game, Moltres lived deep inside the cave, and while I didn’t have an open spot in my six-stack at the moment, I also hadn’t caught a Fire-type since Lassie, and having a legendary fire-spitter on the bench might come in handy someday.

I decided to take a methodical approach to catching Moltres: Return to Cinnabar Island (an annoying task since I’d never picked up the Fly HM) and stock up on Max Repels, map out a direct route to Moltres via Serebii, and unleash my Master Ball to make the capture quick and painless. Part 1 of the plan was easy enough to complete, but Part 2 threw a wrench into my plans:

Image from Serebii.net

It turns out that in Pokémon FireRed, Moltres lives at the top of Mt. Ember back on One Island, an area I had ignored at the time because I hadn’t decided how the Nuzlocke capture rules should be applied (one monster per area, or one per island?). I was a little bummed out, but this change meant I could attack Victory Road immediately and use it for further grinding without worrying about missing out on a cool Pokémon.

And then I ended up with a cool Pokémon anyway!

Victory Road wasn’t nearly as maze-like as I remembered, and the Trainers were tough but manageable, so the trip through the cave was mostly anticlimactic.

I did make the mistake of Digging into a Magnitude again, but it was only Magnitude 5 and I had a 20-level advantage, so it didn’t hurt too much.

Eventually I got tired of exploring and found my way to the exit, reaching Indigo Plateau and the steps of the Pokémon League.

There’s not much left to say. It’s about to get real.

Conclusions

We finally managed to break the every-third-episode curse, and have now rounded third and are steaming towards home plate! Only five Trainers stand between me and Nuzlocke redemption, and I’ve at least got a plan for four of them:

  • Cyrus is a known quantity at this point. As long as we’ve got level parity or better, we can handle him.
  • Lance’s Dragons are imposing, but so is Nessie. Reggie and Luna should provide adequate backup.
  • Agatha’s going to get a heavy does of “The Hammer,” Shadow Balls be darned. Will can clobber anything that doesn’t Fly/Levitate, Reggie can flatten anything that isn’t a Ghost-type, and Osborne’s a sneaky pick for MVP with Pursuit, Drill Peck, and Ghost-type immunity.
  • Bruno, simply put, is sunk. Either Nessie and Luna/Osborne tag-team to crush his Rock- and Fighting-types, or Earl does the whole thing himself with Earthquake (thanks Giovanni!) and Strength.

That leaves the initial scrap with Lorelei as the only question mark. Earl, Will, and Osborne are bad matchups, and Nessie won’t be able to do much damage with Surf/Ice Beam. I may have to change things up to gain an edge here, either via moves (Teach Brick Break to Reggie?) or party members (swap someone out—probably Earl, sadly—for Ronda, Hogan, or a Moltres-to-be-named-later).

The end is near, fellow Trainers! Will this Nuzlocke run end in glory or in flames? Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion!

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #7.8: Too Much Water

First things first: DJ, hit me with a theme song.

When we last left Ophilia, she had finally laid the ghosts of Saffron City to rest courtesy of some dominating performances by the re-formed Phili Five (most notably Reggie the Snorlax’s singlehanded dismantling of Sabrina’s psychic crew).

This will never not make me smile. 🙂

The next official stop on the road to Nuzlocke glory was Blaine’s Fire-type Gym over on Cinnabar Island, but in between here and there was, as the journal title suggests, a whole lotta water. Along the way, we rebuilt the bench, realized some thought-to-be-dead dreams, and even encountered an unexpected twist just when we thought everything was settled.

We start, however, we the official expansion of the Phili Five to the Phili Six:

The Loch Nessie Monster

Nessie the Lapras was anointed the next big star of the Sacred Flame the moment we received her in Saffron, and she did not disappoint. Her stat distribution was eerily similar to Reggie’s, albeit a bit more balanced (slightly less HP/Attack/Spec. Defense, slightly more Defense/Spec. Attack/Speed), and though her moveset was a bit limited at first (Mist? Perish Song?), she was able to Body Slam her way through battles until some better options (Ice Beam, Surf) became available.

The biggest question, however, was how best to transform Nessie into the Charizard counter that my last battle with Cyrus indicated I desperately needed. Her Ice typing might have a made her a nightmare matchup for Dragon Pokémon, but it also neutralized her Water-type defense against Fire attacks like Flamethrower. Toss in her still-not-great Speed, and it still felt like Charizard had an edge in the matchup.

Nessie’s response came at Lv. 37: Rain Dance, which boosted Water power at the expense of Fire’s for five turns. If she could call in the storm either before or during the Charizard encounter, the fire lizard would be snuffed out for good. It was a great idea in theory, but would it hold up in practice? I figured that Blaine’s Gym would be a great place to find out.

Coasting Through Kanto

Buddy, I am better than good. 😉

Up to now, I had left the Snorlax on Route 12 alone and trudged up and down Cycling Road to travel between Fuschia City and Saffron City. With both cities thoroughly explored, however, the time had come to travel the four routes that made up the southeast coast of Kanto, smiting every Trainer who dared cross my path.

From a story standpoint, there isn’t much to say here. There were no pivotal NPCs to meet, no plot devices to discover, and nothing to interact with in the environment save for a bunch of Cut-able trees. There were lots of Trainers looking for a fight, however, and with a little help from the VS Seeker, they went a long way towards making Nessie an official member of Ophilia’s top six-stack.

The real fun began when I reached the Snorlax’s sleeping spot on Route 12 and stumbled upon a small cabin containing yet another fishing enthusiast:

Sweet! I can have some real fun with this…

Having the Super Rod opened up a ton of new options for catching Pokémon, and so I starting concocting an evil plan…

Building The Bullpen

I hadn’t caught any Pokémon along the coast up to this point, so I decided to take a scientific approach and consult Serebii to see just what monsters were available. What I saw took away my breath:

Route 12 (Super Rod)
Pokémon Encounter %
Horsea 84%
Gyarados 15%
Krabby 1%

Wait…you mean my dreams of Gyarados glory weren’t dead after all? Benjamin had not yet evolved by the time he was beaten, so if I happened to stumble across a wild Gyarados, I could still catch it!

Of course, there was no way I was getting around that 84% Horsea chance…until I discovered that Route 13 had the exact same encounter distribution for the Super Rod! Suddenly, I had a plan:

  1. Fish for and catch a Horsea on Route 12.

    With Rain Dance and Confuse Ray, Nessie served as my capable Suzy stand-in, and “Justify” (named after the recent Triple Crown winner) was added to the Sacred Flame’s stable. Check!
  2. Fish on Route 13 until a Gyarados appears.
    Do you know how crabby I would have been if I had got a Krabby instead?

    It only took three battles for Gyarados to appear, and as fate would have it, it was Lv. 17, the same level Benjamin was when he passed on. Nessie worked her magic once again, and “Benjamina” became the newest addition to Phili’s roster. Check!

First Lapras, and now this. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Of course, even with these additions Baroness the Ekans remained the only Poison-type Pokémon in the box, which was like having a bullpen with only one lefthander in it. Ophilia rectified this situation on Route 15:

The interview went something like this:

Me: Are you a Beedrill?

Venonat: Um… No…

Me: Good, you’re hired. Here’s your Poké Ball.

Venonat: Wait, what’s your 401k matching pl— *gets sucked into ball*

Me: Sorry, didn’t catch that. Welcome aboard!

Finally, I made my way south to Route 19, hopped aboard Nessie, and waited for the inevitable…

Oh, and it’s only level eight. Just wonderful.

Had the Poison Posse still been intact, Tentacool would have totally been my Water-type of choice. In a post-Posse world, however, Nessie had an iron grip on the Water-type slot, so “Brella” just got stuffed into a Box and told to share a room with Baroness and Justify.

A live look at Ophilia’s bullpen. It’s not bad, but she might need to deal for a proven closer. (Original image from Rays Colored Glasses)

Rollin’ On A River

With the coast cleaned up and the six-stack set, we finally made our way south on Route 19, mopping up the Swimmers and Tubers as we went. Neither Route 19 nor 20 held a whole lot of interest for me, and with Nessie patrolling the waves and a bullpen brimming full with Water-type Pokémon, neither did the Seafoam Islands. Still, I wasn’t going to say “no” to another Pokémon if the opportunity arose…

…and it did.

I stuck “Launchpad” at the end of the bench and continued on my merry way, using Earl to move boulders around to redirect currents and clear a path forward.

Articuno: What’s a ‘selfie’ and why are you taking out your phone instead of a Poké Ball?

A Winning Ticket?

After an uneventful Surf, we arrived at the slightly-less-uneventful Cinnabar Island, where the sky was blue, the air was clean, and the Gym was locked up tight. My first stop, however, was the nearby Pokémon lab, where I hoped to cash in the fossil lottery ticket I picked up back it Mt. Moon.

Three? You, my friend, have not been keeping up with the latest scientific literature.

I was satisfied with the resulting Kabuto (if Nessie ever croaked, what better counter could I have for a Fire/Flying Pokémon than a Rock/Water one?)…until I got to the Pokémon Mansion and realized that since I had lumped Silph Co. in with Saffron City, I had to be consistent and lump the lab and the mansion in with Cinnabar Island, which meant I couldn’t catch anything inside. However, considering the only things I could have caught were Koffings and Weezings anyway, I didn’t shed too many tears as I wandered around.

I Love A Rainy Night

Eventually I stumbled across the Secret Key and opened the door to the Cinnabar Gym, which had always been a weird one for me: I take the challenge questions personally and want to get them right, but I also don’t want to leave a bunch of experience points on the table, so I end up answering each quiz correctly to avoid punishment battles…and then going back and fighting the Trainers anyway. None of them gave me any trouble, so I hurried to the back of the building and challenged Ross Koppel‘s evil twin to a battle.

Nyeh nyeh, I have a lower Erdős number than you.

I decided to open with Will and make him earn his keep for a change, and he did just that by one-shotting both Growlithe and Ponyta with Dig. When Blaine went to Rapidash, however, it was now or never: I sent Nessie into battle, called for a Rain Dance, and waited to see what Fire Blast would do…

Buddy, if that’s the most damage you can do, you might as well just give me the badge now.

The rain put Rapidash out “like the burning end of a midnight cigarette,” and Arcanine was so flummoxed that it tried to use Bite instead of Fire Blast. Nessie’s Surf washed them both away with ease, and Blaine was history.

I’d say you’re *puts on sunglasses* washed up.

Conclusions

And so ended a rather unremarkable stretch in our Nuzlocke run. With Nessie achieving level parity and Ophilia achieving seven-badge nirvana, the path forward looks—wait, what the… Hang on, someone’s calling me…

Dude, I’m in the middle of a monologue. What do you want?

Pre-Postgame Content?

Just when I was ready to call in a journal, Bill the Poké Maniac showed up and randomly asks me if I want to go to One Island (gosh, what an original name!). I’d completely forgotten about this diversion in Pokémon LeafGreen, but after seven badges I was ready for a vacation, so I accompanied Bill on his trip to see his fellow Maniac Celio:

What do you mean, “rising”? I’m the contender, fool!

Unfortunately, Celio’s mission to connect his PC system to the Kanto mainland didn’t require “a rising contender,” so Bill sent me on a separate mission to deliver a Meteorite to another fellow Maniac on Two Island.

From there, things started moving really fast: The Maniac/Game Corner proprietor was frantically “looking” (i.e., standing around waiting) for his daughter Lostelle, and wanted Ophilia to check the family home on Three Island…which just happened to be getting overrun by a rogue motorcycle gang at the time.

Good grief, are the Russians funding you too?

Of course, Phili’s crew had a ton of experience smacking down random biker gangs, so they were more than happy to do it again.

Ooh, is this a private party, or can anyone play?
That’s “Miss Rising Contender” to you, pal.

From there, the trail led deep into the Berry Forest, where I stumbled across the ghost of one of my other defeated monsters:

Unfortunately, it was not one of my most useful monsters…

Figuring this might save me the trouble of going Tangela-hunting later, I stuck it in a Poké Ball and kept going.

Lostelle ended up being at the very back of the forest, and she was being tormented by a Pokémon who was trying to assert their dominance over the forest. It took all of about fifteen seconds to cool off said Pokémon’s ambition:

Oh, so you think you’re hot stuff? Let me introduce you to my Hypno…

“The Hammer” efficiently de-escalated the situation, and Ophilia used her “Guide” path action to bring Lostelle back to Two Island and save the day.

All in a day’s work for the glory of the Sacred Flame.

By this point, Bill had fixed whatever it was he was fixing, so we returned to Cinnabar and parted company.

No problem. My bill’s already in the mail.

Actual Conclusions

At this point, all systems are go: I’ve got six strong starters, a wealth of options (…okay, a bunch of Water-types and Ronda) in the bullpen, and a promising strategy to bring down my rival’s Charizard. The path ahead is clear: Beat Giovanni for badge #8, beat Cyrus to reestablish our dominance over him, make a mad dash through Victory Road, and beat every slimy son-of-a-gun in our path to claim Nuzlocke glory. It’s easier said than done, but there’s no team I’d rather do it with than the Phili Six. (…Okay, so  I wouldn’t mind having my Zapdos from Pokémon Red right now.)

Tune in next time as we make make our way north through Pallet Town and see if we can turn our championship potential into production!

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #7: Next ‘Mon Up

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:

Now if she could only learn Arm Bar…

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…

Meh, it was worth a shot.

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

GET UP! You know we’re on Daylight Savings Time!

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

The calm before the storm…

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:

How can you use Tri Attack already? You only have two heads!

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?

Uh oh…Is there a third Osborne brother?

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.

This was the closest of Osborne’s calls. Had Tri Attack not burned Machoke before it used Revenge, I’d probably still be looking for Bram’s replacement. Thankfully, Osborne decided to “Stay A Little Longer.” 😉

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.

Yeah, I doubt that line makes it into Pokémon Let’s Go.

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.

Okay, I think we’re ready to move on now.

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:

Yes! I can finally replace my Magikarp!

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.

Let’s see who the real Poison-type expert is, shall we?

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.

I proved my worth at least two Gyms ago, pal. Now get out of my way.

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:

You’re not Suzy, but you’ll do for now.

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).

Do me a favor and use some Polident next time, would you?

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:

Score!

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.

Might I suggest reevaluating your life choices?

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

And just what are you going to do about it, huh?

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…

Mental note: Stop sending Osborne out against Machokes until he learns Drill Peck.

…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.

All right Reggie, it’s your show. Don’t let me down.

What happened next would be replayed and re-hashed in dusty bars across the nation for the next several decades.

Team Wipe

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.

I know I didn’t officially name him after Reggie Fils-Aimé, but his body was definitely ready.

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.

Conclusions

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!

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #6: Be Careful What You Wish For…

There’s a fundamental problem with gambling: Sometimes you lose.

When last we left Ophilia, the Phili Five were on cruise control, rocking Rock Tunnel, schooling Cyrus, and dominating the Celadon Gym on the way to our fourth badge. With the Game Corner, Pokémon Tower, and Fuschia City quivering before me, there was nary an obstacle in sight.

So I decided to make an obstacle instead…and naturally, I got just what I deserved.

Team at Journal Start Team at Journal End
Lv. 34 Venusaur Lv. 16 Growlithe
Lv. 34 Nidoking Lv. 39 Nidoking
Lv. 34 Golbat Lv. 16 Machop
Lv. 34 Dugtrio Lv. 38 Dugtrio
Lv. 34 Hypno Lv. 39 Hypno
Lv. 13 Oddish Lv. 13 Ekans

But let’s start with the good times, shall we?

The House Doesn’t Always Win

Yeah, that’s not suspicious or anything.

With Erika out of the way, I was free to explore the rest of Celadon City, which admittedly took all of about three minutes. I picked up a few trinkets at the Department Store, stared longingly at the Eevee I couldn’t have (thanks to the five different Eeveelutions I’ve used over the years), and eventually made my way over to the Game Corner, where Ophilia’s crew decided to copy Ocean’s Eleven and knock over the biggest casino in town.

Some people make well-thought-out plans for heists like this. I just kick in the front door.

Once we were inside, the crew performed an exhaustive breadth-first search looking for the elevator key that would give us access to the boss. I’d like to say that the Rocket lackeys wandering around offered some sort of challenge, but they didn’t. The only concerning moment was when Luna switched in to an Selfdestructing Koffing to cover for Will, but she was enough of a tank by this point that it didn’t even turn her health bar yellow. Eventually I found the key, rode the elevator and came face-to-face with Team Rocket’s infamous boss Giovanni.

Allow me to introduce myself: I’m your worst nightmare.

Giovanni turned out to be a weaker, Ground-focused version of Erika, and Earl made short work of his Pokémon. The Silph Scope was mine, but after yawning my way through another disappointing dungeon, I was beginning to wonder if I’d sucked all of the challenge out of this Nuzlocke run.

Who You Gonna Call?

The next stop on The Phili Five’s tour was Pokémon Tower, where my shiny new Silph Scope meant the local ghosts were now visible and beatable. Sadly, the Tower turned out to just as underwhelming as the Game Corner, and with both Cubones and Gastly unavailable due to prior usage, there really wasn’t a lot to do here.

I ain’t afraid of no ghost.

I quickly cleaned up the possessed Trainers and made my way to the top of the tower to tackle the ghostly Marowak and free Mr. Fuji. Even at Lv. 30, the mighty Marowak was efficiently dispatched back into the arms of the Sacred Flame, and the only concerning moment came when facing the trio of Rockets guarding Mr. Fuji, as Luna ate another Selfdestruct trying to cover for Will.

I suppose this beats “your princess is in another castle.”

With yet another day saved, Ophilia returned with Mr. Fuji to his home and picked up the Poké Flute as a reward. The road ahead was clear: Unblock the way to Cycling Road, make my way south to Fuschia City, wipe out everything in my path with my OP monsters, and profit. There was just one problem with this plan:

Trinity was right: I’d been down that road before, and this time it would end with the most ho-hum Nuzlocke journal in the history of history. Things had gotten pretty stale in Kanto, and I was looking for a way to spice things up…and the hot tea I’d randomly picked up in Celadon was just the spice I needed.

Going Rogue

*sigh* So much for that bottled water I bought you…

Fuschia City didn’t hold much promise for me, but with a Psychic Gym to test Phili’s Poison Posse, Saffron City sure did. Technically Sabrina is the sixth Gym leader and my OCD usually prevents me from doing things-out-of-order like this, but this run was for the people, darn it, and the people want drama and suspense! I wasn’t sure exactly what I would be walking into, but with five monsters at Lv. 36 (plus whatever levels I could wring out of Silph Co. and the Fighting Dojo), I was confident that they could handle anything. (I was almost right, but we’ll get there…)

Skyscraper, Starring The Rock Ophilia

Just make sure you spell my name right when you do it, okay?

Using the same breadth-first technique as in the Game Corner, I methodically worked my way up the Silph Co. building, smiting any and all bad guys that dared cross my path. (The number of double-agent scientists I met surprised me, but hey, when you run out of grant funding, you do what you have to do.) The battles still weren’t terribly hard, but at least they were tough enough to make me start respecting type matchups again (no more tossing Will against Flying-types). Once again, despite canvasing every floor and opening every Card Key door, the only real moment of panic was when Luna ate a third Selfdestruct in the name of keeping Will alive. (I hope he sends her a thank-you card when all this is over…)

Amazingly, I actually remembered which tiles took me directly to the boss on the top floor, but I had one prior appointment before I re-introduced myself to Giovanni:

I’m not afraid of you. Bring it on!

To his credit, Cyrus had actually done his homework this time, and his team was roughly at the same level as mine. Still, by working the one-on-one matchups in my favor, I quickly gained the upper hand: Luna knocked the Pidgeot out of the air, Bram Wing Attacked the Exeggcute into oblivion, Suzy shut down Gyarados with Sleep Powder and Leech Seed, and Will sent Alakazam packing with a single shot.

This battle is mine, I thought as I tossed out Earl to face…wait, WHAT?!

Um… This isn’t going to end well, is it? (Original LeBron image by MrBoulderShoulders)

The Charizard Catastrophe

Much like LeBron James, Cyrus’s Lv. 40 Charizard was a superhuman (superPokémon?) mix of speed, strength, smarts, and skill, and he came out spitting fire like he was Kendrick Lamar. Worse still, his extra Flying typing meant Will was no longer viable against him, and apparently my assumption that Ground types resisted Fire attacks was not based on reality. Earl went from full HP to 4 HP in a single turn, and the race was on.

I burned one of my Hyper Potions on Luna, but it bought me a measly two rounds in which I could barely do any damage. Unlike the random AI of other battles, Charizard just kept spamming Flamethrower this time around, and he put the entire team on the ropes very quickly.

Eventually, I was forced to make a decision: No one could switch in a stand up to another Flamethrower, so someone had to be sacrificed to put the team back on equal footing with the rampaging fire beast. This was an easy decision: Oscar the HM Oddish saw his first and last battle action of the run, giving himself up to set a key block for…

For…

…For who, exactly?

Okay, now what?

By this point, the only Pokémon I had with any HP at all was Suzy, and everyone knows what happens when Grass meets Fire in a Pokémon game. She had Sleep Powder and Leech Seed, though, and those were the kinds of moves that could make or break a close match like this one. I crossed my fingers, prayed to the Sacred Flame that Suzy still had a Speed advantage over Charizard, and sent her out.

We make our move.

Suzy is faster!

Sleep Powder connects!

…And that’s about where my brilliance ended. Razor Leaf wasn’t going to do squat against a Fire/Flying Pokémon, and Tackle is, well, Tackle. That left Leech Seed to do some stall damage while I thought of a better plan.

Charizard wakes up. So much for stalling.

Charizard uses Flamethrower.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Saffron — mighty Suzy has struck out.

—Original words from Ernest Thayer’s “Casey At The Bat”

I don’t remember exactly what I said when this happened, but whatever it was prompted someone nearby to ask if I was okay. I was not.

I was officially in panic mode now, and when you panic, you tend to make bad decisions. Mine was to send out the Pokémon with the most HP left (Bram) as Charizard’s next challenge. While this made sense from an HP perspective, Bram had been paralyzed by Exeggcute earlier in the match, and thus was a sitting duck for Charizard to outrun him and turn him into a pile of ashes.

I was beyond panic mode now: I had attempted to inject life into my Nuzlocke run, and now it was on the verge of collapsing around me. I looked down at the three remaining members of the Phili Five, none of which were in any shape to fight, and then stared up at the sky and posed a question to the Sacred Flame: What the @#$% do I do now?

At that moment, the clouds parted, and a booming voice (that sounded a lot like the God character on The Late Show) called down with an answer:

Charizard is fast, my child…but he is not Dugtrio fast.

Up to this point, I’d been complaining a lot about Will’s performance in relation to his peers. While Suzy, Earl, Bram, and Luna were generalists that could be tossed into nearly any situation, Will’s abysmal HP and Defense made him more of a specialist that needed to pick his spots carefully, and he often needed to be rescued when a situation turned against him (and after taking three Selfdestructs to the face, you know Luna was telling Suzy, “You bail him out next time. I am done.”).  On the flip side, however, Dugtrio is officially the fifth-fastest Pokémon in G1 (and remains in the Top 40 even in G7!), so if he could get one solid attack off, it might be enough to escape with the win.

By sheer luck, Will had made it to Lv. 38 just before the fight, meaning that I could finally replace his mediocre Scratch with the much-more-potent Slash attack. I took a deep breath, gave the command, and…

Ballgame! I was so psyched over the win that I forgot to take a picture, but this sums up the battle nicely.

Will channeled his inner Craig Kimbrel and slammed the door on Cyrus, sending him to his sixth defeat. He took it with his usual grace and humility:

No Cyrus, you’re a monster, and one of these days you’ll pay for everything you’ve done.

I collected my money, flipped Cyrus the longest, stiffest middle finger I could muster, and made a mad dash back to the Pokémon Center to sort out my losses.

Conclusions

Well, I guess I accomplished my goal of putting the challenge back into my Nuzlocke run! The Phili Five is down to the Phili Three, I’ve lost my HM Oddish, and all the depth I thought I had (Growlithe, Machop, and Ekans) is suddenly being pressed into service. Just how big of a pickle am I in?

  • Losing Suzy is not only a huge psychological blow (you never want to lose your starter), but hurts me in three major ways:
    • Loss of Tank: I hope Luna isn’t too sore about her defensive duties, because she’s about to take on even more of them.
    • Loss of Grass type: Losing Suzy and Oscar means I don’t have any Grass-type options at all, and the picking are slim going forward. Basically, if I don’t get something good out of the Safari Zone, I’m stuck hoping to get a Tangela on Route 21.
    • Loss of Pokémon catcher: With Leech Seed and Sleep Powder, Suzy was my go-to Pokémon for capturing monsters (and I haven’t missed a catch yet!). Without her, capture battles could be a whole lot more tricky and dangerous.
  • Losing Bram leaves several type holes in my roster (most notably Flying, but she also had my only Dark move). Given all my other Flying-type restrictions, I have two options: Catch a Doduo on my way to Fuschia City, or stock up on Max Repels and take a shot at Articuno or Moltres. (Scyther is also a possibility, but again the Safari Zone is far from a sure thing.)

There’s still a silver lining here: Luna is a real beast and the closest thing I have to a Suzy clone, Will is fragile but has a knack for coming through in the clutch, and above everything else, Earl is a survivor, and if he makes it past the Viridian Gym, he’ll be a survivor with Strength/Return and Earthquake. With plenty of both current options (Growlithe, Machop) and future ones (one of those Snorlaxes will be mine, dang it!) to fill my empty party slots, we may have to abandon our Saffron City plan and clear out Fuschia City first, but we’re not out of this thing just yet.

Tune in next week as we rebuild our roster and attempt to conquer Fuschia City!

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #5: The Beat(down) Goes On

According to Newton’s Third Law, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This law apparently does not apply to Pokémon, because Ophilia’s crew keeps forcing the issue and the reaction since Cerulean City has been markedly less than equal.

When we last left everyone’s favorite Sacred Flame rep, her team had just hit the Vermilion Gym like a freight train, flattening everything in their path and collecting a shiny new Thunder Badge. Unfortunately, thanks to some annoyingly thirsty guards at the Saffron City gates, we were going to have to reach Celadon City by way of Rock Tunnel and Lavender Town, which is roughly the equivalent of driving from Austin to San Diego by way of Seattle. With four strong monsters and a fifth on the way, however, Phili was more than up to the challenge.

Let’s begin this week’s journal said fifth monster, shall we?

Sleep: It’s Good For Your Health

At Lv. 13, Luna needed a fair bit of care and feeding before she became a viable option in my top six. While she turned out to be more “tank-like” than anyone else on my team (decent HP and Defense, exceptional Spec. Defense), her poor attacking stats meant she just got kicked around a bit more slowly than the other Pokémon. This meant yet another trip back to Route 4 for some extended grinding (plenty of Poison-types to unleash Confusion on) while I waited for Luna’s moveset to improve.

This isn’t exactly what I had in mind by “improve”…

In truth, her moveset didn’t seem to improve as much as Luna herself: As she moved over to Route 24 and received a steady diet of Abras and Oddishes (with a stream of Caterpies for good measure), Confusion got noticeably more powerful over time, and her Attack improved enough that Headbutt became a decent-enough second option when needed. Toss in the strengths she already had (her defensive stats compared favorably with already-evolved monsters like Suzy), and Luna’s argument for staying in my six-stack was pretty compelling.

And then she evolved…and suddenly I had a Reinhardt Wilhelm clone in my party.

The grinding regimen eventually led me back to Diglett’s Cave and Route 2, where I stumbled across one of Prof. Oak’s aides carrying the Flash HM. I’d mostly forgotten about Flash until now (it’s been slowly de-emphasized since Red/Blue), but my Oddish was more than happy to learn the move and keep me from stumbling around Rock Tunnel in the dark. Once again, the first rule of RPGs (“explore everything“) had paid off!

Beware Of Obscure Rules

With a battle-tested Hypno and the Flash HM, I finally cut down the tree east of Cerulean City and strode confidently onto Route 9. The Trainers I found were only marginally tougher than those Routes 6 and 11, but there was one tense moment when Will stepped up against a Lv. 21 Geodude and I forgot my prior training…

Long ago during my Pokémon XD playthrough, I found a whole bunch of “Battle CDs” that let me play through simulated battles that put the player in a challenging situation that taught them about some of the more obscure rules of Pokémon battles. The important CD for this story was Battle CD 07, which showed players that Pokémon that used Dig would take double damage from Earthquake while they were underground. However, there was one other move besides Earthquake subject to this damage bonus:

[In G2 and G3] “The [Dig] user can now be hit by Earthquake, Magnitude, and Fissure during the semi-invulnerable turn, and will receive double damage from Earthquake and Magnitude.”  Bulbapedia (emphasis added)

Fast forward back to Route 9: Magnitude’s variability had been getting on my nerves, so I had Will open the battle with Dig. He goes underground.

The Geodude uses Magnitude.

My mind flashes back to that XD Battle CD. Double damage.

This is bad.

Will is already short a decent chunk of HP, and his Defense is not good.

This is really bad.

In baseball terms, this was going to be a bang-bang play at the plate, and I was testing the arm of the RNG god in right field. I braced myself for the call…

SAFE! And the crowd goes wild!

Magnitude six! Move variability had once again broke in my favor: Anything higher, and Will would have likely been toast. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, chalked it up as a lesson re-learned, and hurried back to the Cerulean Pokémon Center.

Building The Bench

With Luna flourishing and my HM-holding Oddish clogging up my final party slot, I was in no hurry to add new monsters to my team. It’s a good thing, because neither Routes 9 nor 10 held much potential for recruiting a cool new Pokémon to the Sacred Flame’s banner. (The only new option that had been added was Voltorb, and my LeafGreen Electrode rendered that option moot.) Once again, there was a single Pokémon for me to catch…

And of course it’s a Poison-type.

Ekans had been following me around for a while now (had I not bought Benjamin, I would have gotten one on Route 4), so I knew it was only a matter of time before I ended up catching one. One Poké Ball later, “Baroness” (a G.I. Joe reference, since Baroness worked for Cobra) was on her way to Bill’s PC.

But hey, at least I might get something cool in Rock Tunnel, right?

Wrong.

Machops are one of those monsters that show up in darn near every Pokémon game, and while they’re useful for carrying HMs, I’ve never had much interest in putting one in a six-stack (and while I’ve said the same things about Nidorans and Zubats, I wasn’t as desperate to fill my party as I was before). Still, it was nice to know I would have a few options available if Will got caught underground by Magnitude again, so I grabbed the Machop, named it after Ronda Rousey, and sent it to be roomies with Baroness.

Whaddya Mean It Can’t Evolve?

While Pokémon FireRed is technically a remake of Pokémon Red, it’s still a G3 game, and thus is well aware that some of the original Pokémon evolutionary lines have expanded since the late 90s. Unfortunately, when it comes to those new monsters, the game takes a strict constructionist approach to the topic:

“To keep the same spirit of the originals, players can’t evolve their Pokémon like Chansey and Golbat until the National Dex is obtained.”  Serebii (emphasis added)

Blissfully unaware of this, I was really excited when Bram reached Lv. 30 and suddenly acted like it was about to evolve. The usual cut scene started, things started to flash, and then…

What?! I didn’t hit the B button!

So from now until either Bram or the Elite Four falls, I have to go through this bizarre charade every time he levels up, without any explanation? (What’s worse is that while an Everstone is available from Oak’s aide at the Rock Tunnel Pokémon Center, you need to have caught 20 monsters to get it, and I’d only gotten 17 at the time.) I know that any software is going to have issues like this, but at least tell the player what’s going on next time.

Rock On

So…yeah. Rock Tunnel happened.

I’d like to say there were some moments of excitement and drama as I crawled through the dark to Lavender Town, but there really weren’t. Not only were my Pokémon more than powerful enough to smack down everything in their path, but anytime there might have been a hint of danger (Gasp! A Lv. 25 Slowpoke is challenging Bram!), Ophilia’s team stepped up and delivered some killer blows (*yawn* Another critical Bite—bye Slowpoke).

Okay, there was one interesting development. Just when you thought Suzy couldn’t get more OP…

By the end, I was flaunting my power by intentionally tossing Pokémon into awkward situations (i.e., Will against Flying-types) just to test the limits of the Sacred Flame’s protection. Even with a bonus bunch of Trainers waiting to ambush me just outside the tunnel exit, “The Phili Five” just could not be stopped.

My team’s post-tunnel status. If only Will hadn’t taken that Pidgey’s critical hit…

Laying Rivals To Rest

Lavender Town presents players with a bit of a dilemma: Celadon beckons from Route 8, but Route 12 also teases you from the south, and the Pokémon Tower looms ominously above you. Where should you go next?

My Marowak from Red and Genger from SoulSilver meant that there wasn’t anything I could catch in the tower, but I could sense an evil force within its walls that I just had to investigate. It turned out, however, that the force wasn’t actually evil—it was just lame:

How convenient: Once I’m through with Cyrus’s Pokémon, he won’t have to go far to bury them!

It seems that Cyrus had already forgotten about his embarrassing showing on the S.S. Anne, because he was ready to have his head handed to him once more. His Pokémon was slightly stronger this time around (with levels in the low to mid 20s), but they were still badly outclassed by Ophilia’s Lv. 30+ monsters.

Still, like any good rival Cyrus knows how to press our buttons, and after Bram sliced through his first three Pokémon without breaking a sweat, he introduced me to a new member of his team:

YOU POISON SON OF A BEEDRILL. That was supposed to be my Gyarados!

First this joker keeps me from realizing my dream of having a Gyarados, and then he goes and gets his own?! I let Suzy stomp his Gyarados extra-flat in response, and then turned Will loose on his Charmeleon to wrap things up. Cyrus left the tower in shame, and his Pokémon became the newest headstones in Pokémon Tower.

Optical Optional Illusions

Beyond schooling Cyrus, however, there wasn’t much else to do in Lavender Town. Without the Silph Scope, the monsters there weren’t even useful for grinding, and they didn’t seem to want me around anyway.

Darn it, where’s Luigi when you need him?
Oh… Right. (Image from The Daily Dot)

I decided to check out Route 12 first, but outside of a few unmemorable Trainer battles (even the Lv. 27 Goldeen was about as much of a nuisance as it was in Super Smash Bros.), there was nothing to do without a better Fishing Rod. All trails eventually led back to Route 8, and while the Trainers still couldn’t match the intensity of The Phili Five, there was one encounter that caught my attention:

Whoa, I didn’t expect to see you here…

Growlithe is one of those Pokémon that I’ve always thought was kind of cool, but for whatever reason I never seemed to get the chance to add it to my party. While I had already earmarked the last slot in my top six for a Water-type Pokémon, Growlithe/Arcanine might be an option in case one of my current starters falters (Will has looked a little shaky today, although it hasn’t always been his fault, and despite being 1800+ words into this journal I haven’t mentioned Earl’s name until now).

Growlithe’s moveset made this capture a bit tricky (she had Bite for Luna, Ember for Suzy, and thank goodness her only Roar failed), but eventually “Lassie” was burning in the service of the Sacred Flame.

Don’t worry—I’m special for way more reasons than just this. 😉

Time To Kick Some Grass

By the time I made it to Route 7, I was beginning to wonder just how long this week’s journal was going to be, so I decided to leave Celadon City’s usual tourist traps (Dept. Store, Game Corner, etc.) for episode #6, and made a beeline for the Celadon Gym. There were a ton of Trainers hanging around for a change, but Will, Luna, and Suzy made quick work of them all, leaving Earl and Bram to deal with Erika herself.

I’m kind of on a tight schedule, so let’s make this quick.

My opening strategy was simple: Set Earl on the ground in front of Erika’s monsters and calmly dare them to beat him. The best Victreebel and Tangela could do was paralyze him with Stun Spore, and based on how little damage their attacks were doing, he could have probably spotted them another dozen hits and still clobbered them.

My impatience led me to bring Bram in to one-shot Vileplume, but in the end it didn’t matter who I used: Erika’s Pokémon were no match for The Phili Five. In fact, Gym battles seem to be getting more one-sided the deeper I get into this game.

Now there’s the understatement of the century.

The Rainbow Badge was mine, but I had one last piece of business to handle: Recognizing Earl’s impressive stand against Erika as his crowning achievement, and…well, crowning him:

Get it? ‘Cause he’s a Nidoking? …Okay, I’ll stop now.

Conclusion

You know things are going well on a Nuzlocke run when your only worry is that your Pokémons’ raw power are draining all the challenge out of the game. (After all, people tend to get tired of teams who just win all the time.) I know fortunes can change in a hurry in these sorts of challenges, but I just don’t see any problems on the horizon. Koga has absolutely no chance against this squad: Everyone resists Poison (even my puny HM Oddish), and Will, Luna, and potentially Earl will have super-effective counterpunches. Sabrina’s Psychic Gym still looms, but given all the dungeons in between now and then (Game Corner, Pokémon Tower, and Silph Co., not to mention Cycling Road and the entire coast of Southeast Kanto), Ophilia’s team could be pushing Level 45 by the time she gets there, or maybe even 50!

Tune in next week as we tackle games, ghosts, and Fuchsia City!

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #4: Gettin’ Diggy Wit It

So I may have overcorrected a smidgen after last’s week journal…

When we last left Ophilia, she was trying to rebound after a grueling trek to Cerulean City that sent three of her Pokémon to the great beyond. It’s said, however, that the hottest fire forges the strongest steel, and a surprisingly formidable team emerged from the ashes, anchored by three monsters (Ivysaur, Nidorino, Golbat) that I had little respect for going into this run. With a path forward that didn’t seem as daunting as the one behind me, I figured I could carry a little momentum into my third gym challenge. I just didn’t expect to carry this much momentum.

We begin this journal, however, with a legal discussion:

The Regional Variant Question

Thanks to my Pidgeot from Pokémon Red and the Oddish from Route 24, Routes 5 and 6 offered me a single measly option for expanding my Pokémon team:

Prepare for…wait, that wasn’t Meowth’s line.

Before G7, I would have tossed a Poké Ball without thinking and continued with my quest. Now, however, the issue wasn’t so cut and dried:

My parents have one of these, but she only knows Fury Swipes.

My Alolan Persian was a member of the six-stack that eventually conquered Pokémon Moon, but did that mean that I was prohibited from using Kanto Meowth/Persian now? Were regional Pokémon variants different enough to consider them as separate entities for Nuzlocke purposes, or did using one mean you couldn’t use any others?

Luckily, legal precedent on this question had already been set: In Gretchen vs. Ultra Sun earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the matter could be settled on a case-by-case basis via coin flip. Heads meant that regional versions were different enough that they could be treated as different Pokémon for Nuzlocke purposes, while tails meant that regional versions were too similar and thus had to be treated as a single entity.

The coin came up heads in Ultra Sun (which meant that yes, the Alolan Raticate consumed my catch slot for that route), but not this time:

No Meowth for Ophilia.

Without a catchable Pokémon, Route 5 held absolutely zero interest for me, so I made my way to the Underground Tunnel…which was just a long, empty hallway, so I ran through it as fast as possible to reach Route 6. This route at least had some Trainers with some decent Pokémon to challenge (including a Lv. 20 Butterfree that gave me some heartburn but didn’t end up killing anyone), but it too lost its luster fairly quickly, and so I stepped gingerly into Vermilion City.

No Trades For You!

After get rekted in Cerulean City, I was very wary going into Vermilion, afraid that Cyrus would reappear at any moment to decimate my party. I wandered through town the way a deminer might work their way through a mine field, making sure the coast was absolutely clear before moving forward. As it turned out, however, Vermilion City was only slightly more exciting than Pewter City, and outside of getting the Bike Voucher, there was nothing terribly interesting to see or do.

However, my hope of expanding my Pokémon roster hit yet another snag: Trading for Pokémon I could possess required catching ones that I couldn’t! I found a nice person who was totally willing to let me have their Farfetch’d, but I wasn’t allowed to catch the Spearow I needed to make the deal. (This happened again on Route 2, where my Abra prohibition kept me from getting a Mr. Mime.)

This game has increased my four-letter word usage by at least 75% since I started playing.

A quick check of Bulbapedia meant that Jynx and Lickitung, despite not being prohibited by past games, were also off-limits because I couldn’t catch the monsters needed to make the trades. Just freaking perfect…

Training Montage Time!

There was no way I was setting foot onto the S.S. Anne with only three feasible Pokémon, so I made a quick detour down Route 11 and ducked into Diglett’s Cave, where I finally found a new recruit:

Another Poison…wait, it’s not actually a Poison type this time!

A solid Ground-type is exactly what I needed to take on Lt. Surge’s crew at the Vermilion Gym, so I stuffed the thing into a Poké Ball and named it Will (because I was “gettin’ Diggy wit it”).

I had to run back up to Cerulean City to cash in a Bike Voucher anyway, so I figured I would stop along Routes 5/6 for some quality grinding. Will’s pitiful Defense, however, made Hulk’s look huge by comparison, and I had to drop all the way back to Route 4 to find enemies that wouldn’t flatten my newest monster.

Thankfully, Will’s attack set was already pretty decent at Lv. 19, and he climbed the ranks from Route 4 to 24 to 6 fairly quickly. The rest of the crew joined in the grindfest at Route 6 (and eventually back in Diglett’s Cave), and after a good hour or so, I had a quartet of Lv. 26 Pokémon that were ready to kick butts and chew bubblegum…and they didn’t have any bubblegum to begin with.

Oh, and guess who evolves at Lv. 26? You know what they say: Two heads are better than one, but having three is just unfair.

Big Fish In A Small Pond

Nearrrr… Farrrr… Whereevvvver you are…

I didn’t know what was waiting for me on the S.S. Anne, but given what I’d seen on Route 6, I was ready for a gauntlet of bloodthirsty Lv. 20+ creatures that were just itching to toss me overboard.

In reality…

Er… Is this it?

The Trainers on board turned out to be no stronger than their counterparts on Route 6, and my super-buff team went through the whole lot without breaking a sweat. I had to be careful with the type matchups, but most everything tilted in may favor: Suzy wiped up the Water types, Will handled the surprisingly-numerous Growlithes, Bram worked over the Fighting types, and Earl just Horn Attacked whatever he saw into oblivion.

Still, I was sure a stiffer challenge was coming, and when I made my way to the captain’s chambers…

A Dish Best Served Cold

I will have vengeance.

Cyrus wasn’t impressed by the seasick captain, and he was out looking for a fight…and I was the just son-of-a-Bulbasaur to give it to him. I didn’t know who or what was coming, but I had a score to settle, and settle it I would.

Then the Pokémon came out, and…wait, what?

Lv. 19!? …Oh, I’m going to enjoy this.

His Pokémon were barely any tougher than they had been in Cerulean City! Sure, he’d finally manage to evolve them all, but my team was at least seven levels higher than everything he had!  What had this joker been doing all this time, slacking off?

What happened next is a bit too graphic for younger readers’ eyes, so I shall sum it up thusly:

Pokémon Opponent Result
Pidgeotto Earl Two Horn Attacks, one dead bird.
Kadabra Will Will used Dig, and then buried the Kadabra in the hole.
Raticate Earl Earl Double Kicked the rat into next week.
Charmeleon Will Two words: Magnitude. Seven.

The fight was so one-sided that Suzy and Bram never even had to leave the bench. It was the first time that I regretted the decision to make my journals blogs instead of videos, because my reaction to this battle in real-time was absolutely priceless. There would be a new stone in the graveyard that night, but the only thing buried beneath it would be Cyrus’s dignity.

Unlike you, apparently.

Rest in peace, Benjamin and Reed. You have been avenged.

Surge Protector

I stepped off of the S.S. Anne with a shiny new Cut HM and a massive amount of confidence. I made a quick stop at the Pokémon Center, and one felled tree later I was at the Vermilion City Gym.

The Gym played out mostly as I expected: Wipe out the miniboss trainers, spend ten minutes trying to find and flip two consecutive switches (I really hope they do something different with this Gym’s puzzle in Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, because this one is more frustrating than fun), and tell Lt. Surge I was coming for his badge and his…Technical Machine.

I hope you weren’t planning on going anywhere, because you’re about to be Grounded…for life.

The gym’s trainees had caused me enough trouble with Thunder Wave that I decided not to play around with Surge: Will would be leading off this inning, and he would be in the batter’s box as long as his health would let him. This timeframe turned out to be “the entire battle”: Voltorb rolled over without much of a fight, and while Pikachu and Raichu tried to outflank me by using Double Team, they weren’t actually strong enough to hold their ground, and once Will connected with a single move, it was game over.

Said no one ever.

I collected my prizes, bid the good Lieutenant adieu, and walked away with my head held high.

The Fun Has Been Doubled!

Before heading north back to Cerulean City, I decided to clean up Route 11 and see if there were any useful Pokémon to be had there. As it turns out, there was:

Gosh, I’m starting to feel sleepy…

Psychic Pokémon were incredibly OP in the original Pokémon Red/Blue games, and after spending my entire journey worrying about when one could to do my Poison-heavy lineup, I finally had the chance to add one to my team. While it turned out to be my most difficult capture yet (it broke out of a few Poké Balls and resisted Sleep Powder with its Insomnia ability), before long “Luna” (named after a certain dreamwalking pony) was working in the service of the Sacred Flame.

Luna practicing the Royal Canterlot Voice with her namesake.

Besides Luna, however, Route 11 featured little of interest, as every Trainer and Pokémon I encountered wilted in the face of my Thunderbadge-certified team. …Well, almost every Pokémon:

I’ll deal with you later.

Conclusion

I’m not sure I had a right to feel good after episode #3, but I certainly do now. Will was easily the MVP of this session, and he joins a Suzy/Earl/Bram core that was already pretty darn solid. Despite the coming challenges (especially from moves like Selfdestruct), I think the team is set up perfectly for the short/mid-term: Suzy, Will, and Bram should dominate Rock Tunnel, Bram and Earl are ready to wreck Erika’s Grass-type Gym, and Luna gives me some insurance against the Gastlys/Haunters of Pokémon Tower and eventually Koga’s Poison-type Gym. (Even my Oddish has found a role as an HM carrier.) Round this six-stack out with a potent Water-type, and I might have a shot as Nuzlocke redemption after all!

Tune in next week as we make our way to Celadon City in the most roundabout fashion possible!

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #3: The Best Laid Plans Of Magikarps And Men…

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
—Langston Hughes, “Dream Deferred”

Well Mr. Hughes, I guess we’re about to find out.

When we last left Ophelia, she was sitting at the entrance of Mt. Moon with a party that looked a little shaky on the surface, but still seemed to have great potential. Much of this potential centered around Benjamin the Expensive Magikarp, whose fearsome evolution had me dreaming of riding a Gyarados all the way to the Elite Four (and whose Water typing helped break up what was mostly a pack of Poison types). Suzy the Ivysaur felt destined for greatness from the start, but between Benjamin, Hulk the Mankey, and Reed the Beedrill, I figured at least one of them would step forward and join Suzy on that golden platform.

The Sacred Flame, however, works in mysterious ways, and so we begin this journal with the other Pokémon in the party…

My Name Is Earl

Right from the start, Earl the Nidoran felt different from any of the other monsters I’d caught so far. With his Peck attack, he was able to pull his own weight from the word go, laying waste to the denizens of Viridian Forest when I backtracked for more grinding. In no time at all he was a Lv. 12 warrior with Double Kick, which let him function as a poor man’s Hulk and face even the Rock types of Mt. Moon without fear. When I shifted my attention to the more-heralded Benjamin, not only did Earl not put or complain, but he became the primary switch-in on Route 3, laughing off the Spearows and Rattatas that made everyone else a little nervous.

And if you think he was great as a Nidoran, he was even better as a Nidorino!

I wasn’t terribly familiar with the Nidoran line and honestly hadn’t thought much about them, but Earl made a strong early impression that only grew as Ophilia’s journey continued.

On the other side of the spectrum…

A Fish Out Of Water

On some level, raising Benjamin wasn’t quite as aggravating as raising Reed because from the beginning, Ben offered absolutely no hope of fighting on his own. However, it turned out that Magikarps need a LOT of experience to level up, and I spent at least two hours running around Route 3 trying to at get Ben to at least match Earl’s level (Earl ended up gaining two more levels from the whole ordeal, while Reed and Hulk gained one apiece). Sure it was annoying, but that image of a Gyarados smacking down fools and taking no prisoners remained in my mind, and I just knew that all this effort would pay off in the end. Besides, outside of Reed nearly getting his clock cleaned again, nothing was lost in this effort except time and sanity.

It Was Only A Mountain….Right?

I started my trek into Mt. Moon slowly and methodically, carefully canvasing each area with Benjamin “leading” the charge. I knew what awaited me the moment I stepped into the darkness, and sure enough…

*sigh* All right pal, let’s get this over with.

Zubats have been tormenting me for two decades now, and I distinctly remembered how annoyed I was when I stepped into an exciting new cave during my Ultra Sun Nuzlocke, only to immediately run into one of these irritating flying bugs.

Any time you get the chance to make a Calvin & Hobbes reference, you do it.

I caught the darn thing, and a part of me wanted to keep it in my party just to block them from ruining any more Nuzlocke runs. (I recall Derrick Bitner also had good luck with a Crobat during his Crystal Nuzlocke run.) For now, though, I stuck “Bram” at the back of the party and figured I’d find a place for him later. (Spoiler alert: I did.)

The upper floors of the cave posed little challenge, even with Benjamin’s switches giving everything a free shot at my party. The minute I stumbled into Team Rocket, however, that changed…

On the surface, the battle didn’t look terribly bad: The grunt tossed out a Lv. 13 Rattata to meet Benjamin, and I went to my usual playbook: Switch to Hulk, Karate Chop the rat to pieces, and move on with my life. The problem, however, was that Rattatas learn the incredibly-underrated move Hyper Fang at Lv. 13, and when an 80-power STAB-boosted move is tossed against Hulk’s awful Defense…

The game draws first blood.

To put it mildly, I was not happy, and I voiced my displeasure by turning Suzy loose on the rest of the grunt’s motley crew. I didn’t lose a monster in my Ultra Sun run until the Totem Mimikyu fight, so having Hulk go down this early in the game wasn’t a good sign.

In retrospect, this loss was primarily Benjamin’s fault: Not only did the switch-in give the Rattata an opening it could drive a truck through, but the Magikarp’s insatiable appetite for experience points meant that the rest of the crew weren’t getting the training they needed to keep their edge. Still, this was a future Gyarados we were talking about! As long as Benjamin was alive, so were my dreams of dominance.

For now, Suzy and my new Nidorino Earl picked up most of the slack, and I emerged from the cave without further damage.

I also picked up a Kabuto lottery ticket. Hopefully I survive long enough to cash it in!

Route 4 proved to be slightly more interesting on the backside of Mt. Moon, which basically means “you can actually catch Pokémon here.” Out of morbid curiosity, I wandered into the grass to answer the question “What would I have gotten here had I not forked over the Benjamins for Benjamin?”

Another Poison type? No thanks, I’d rather have the Magikarp.

I wandered briefly into Cerulean City to drop off Hulk, heal my remaining monsters, and pick up a few supplies, but I quickly returned to Route 4 to continue Benjamin’s grinding. Despite its slow pace, signs of progress were beginning to appear: Ben’s Tackle wasn’t terribly effective, but he had decent-enough Defense to stand in the pocket for a battle or two and deliver an accurate throw while under pressure. (Maybe he was actually named after Ben Roethlisberger!) Everyone else seemed to be in good shape and spirits, and with Earl stepping capably into Hulk’s shoes (thank goodness he did, because Reed certainly wasn’t going to), I felt pretty good about the team and its chances against Misty in the second gym.

…And then it happened.

The Cerulean City Massacre

As Benjamin reached Lv. 17, my patience started to wear thin: Even if I used the Rare Candy I’d picked up in Mt. Moon, I still needed two more levels to reach Gyarados nirvana, and the competition on Route 4 just didn’t seem to cut it anymore. In contrast, the roads north of Cerulean City featured plenty of Trainers who offered plenty of experience, starting with the famous five that made up Nugget Bridge. Paying a visit to Bill the PokéManiac and cleaning out Routes 24 and 25 along the way would get me a Gyarados in no time flat!

I hit the Pokémon Center one last time and made my way northwards, ready to wipe my meager competition right off the bridge…and discovered that there was one more Trainer waiting for me than I expected.

I won’t tell you what I said when this joker showed up…but it was only four letters long.

I had forgotten about Cyrus since the Mt. Moon meeting that wasn’t, but I knew I was in big trouble the moment he reappeared. His team was a bad matchup for mine as it was, and he wasn’t going to pull his punches the way he did on Route 22. Toss in the fact that Benjamin was still fronting the party while Cyrus was leading with his Pidgey (which was now a frightening Pidgeotto whose level nearly equaled the rest of my team), and things did not look good at all.

The battle began, and while Cyrus’s team unleashed their full fury on me, some frantic Pokémon juggling  and a surprisingly-good defensive stand from Benjamin allowed me to KO both Cyrus’s Pidgeotto and Rattata without suffering any losses. Sadly, my luck ran out when Charmander stepped onto the battlefield: Everyone’s health (save the Lv. 7 Bram) was yellow or worse, and Potions were my only option for healing.

(Looking back, I wish I had taken more pictures of this battle, but I was so stressed/focused I completely forgot.)

A Potion-fortified Earl held out for as long as he could, but in the end it was Benjamin who had to take the brunt of Charmander’s Embers. The not-so-Sacred Flames eventually sent my Magikarp to his maker, taking all my wasted grinding and dreams of Gyarados glory with it.

Reed was the next monster up, but Bug types don’t hold up well against fire, and you can probably guess how that ended. Before giving up the ghost, however, Reed left Cyrus a parting gift: A full 5-hit Fury Attack, cutting down Charmander’s health enough for Suzy to finish it off with a single hit.

And thus the climax arrived: Suzy, with a mere 9 HP left to her name, staring down a full-health Lv. 16 Abra. At the time, I didn’t realize the stupid thing only knew Teleport—I figured it was just itching to drop Confusion on my sorry behind. As I surveyed my options, however, I realized that I had one last trick up my sleeve:

“The only excitement came at the very end of the battle, when Suzy learned PoisonPowder and Sleep Powder simultaneously and I had to decide which moves I wanted to keep.”  —From Episode #2

The move I ended up keeping was Sleep Powder, and I unleashed it here. Two Vine Whips later, both Abra and Cyrus were toast, and I was kicking myself over not pulling out Sleep Powder earlier.

You will pay for all this. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.

So the answer to the question of who among Hulk, Reed, and Benjamin would “step forward and join Suzy on that golden platform” ended up being “none of the above.” In truth, however, Earl (who had barely hung on himself with 3 HP) had usurped all three of them long before now, and it was a good thing, because he and Suzy were suddenly all I had left. How the heck was I supposed to beat Misty now?

Back To The Grind: Zubat Edition

Despite being an afterthought in the Cyrus fight, Bram was also still around, although at Lv. 7 he wasn’t going to be much help against Misty’s crew. With a heavy heart but no other options, I trudged back to Route 4 and started grinding once again, hoping to making Bram a viable option before I took on the Cerulean gym. Bram wasn’t as useless as Reed or Benjamin, but with only lightweight attacks like Leech Life and Astonish, he had to lean heavily on her fellow monsters for assistance.

While losing so many Pokémon was certainly painful, it also meant that the experience points I was earning was more concentrated, which meant that Suzy and Earl got as much out of the grindfest as Bram did. When I eventually returned to Route 24, the pair sliced through Nugget Bridge like a hot knife through butter, and we hurried to the nearest patch of grass for some emergency reinforcements. Unfortunately, most of the monsters there were repeats that I’d already caught (Weedle, Kakuna) or used in an earlier game (Abra, Pidgey, Caterpie). There was one exception, but…

Another Poison type?!

Sure, it was basically an inferior clone of Suzy, but it was better than nothing. I caught it, named it after one of the characters from The Odd Couple, and moved on.

Slowly but surely, Bram started showing some flashes of potential (even wiping out some entire teams on Route 25), with some heavy assists from its movepool: Bite gave me some marginal protection against Psychic-types (even a Slowpoke and Drowzee proved to be no competition), while Wing Attack was a stiff STAB move I could default to in a pinch. Still, with the decimation of my team still fresh in my memory, I decided “better safe than sorry” and burned the Rare Candy I’d been saving for Benjamin to get Bram one last crucial level:

It’s a face only a mother could love, but if it wins me a second badge, I might just kiss it.

With a decent Flying-type backing my original dynamic duo, I snapped up a few Super Potions and kicked in the door of the Cerulean gym.

Washing Away From The Competition

After rising from the ashes of my battle with Cyrus, Misty’s gym was a bit of a letdown, especially when I was expected the packed house that I saw in HeartGold and SoulSilver. The two undercard bouts provided little competition, so I went straight to Misty’s podium and demanded an audience.

To paraphrase Randy Travis, you can’t hurt someone who can’t feel nothin’ no more. Do you worst.

The answer to the question “Does Misty have a Staryu or Starmie?” turned out to be both, but it didn’t matter in the end: Bram two-shotted Staryu out of existence, and not even a Super Potion could save Starmie from Suzy’s Razor Leaves. Misty’s vaunted crew folded like a lawn chair, and I walked away with badge #2.

Conclusions

This wasn’t the team I expected to have at this point, but as rough as this run was, I feel pretty good about my Pokémon’s potential, Gyarados or no Gyarados. Suzy was her usual bulletproof self, Earl was a revelation who got stronger over time, and Bram made a strong case for receiving a spot on my top six. On the flip side, Hulk’s Defense made him hard to rely on, Reed was probably going to be replaced anyway, and Benjamin never got strong enough for me to really miss him. In contrast to Misty, Lt. Surge doesn’t worry me all that much: Grass types like Suzy resist electricity, and I was planning on hitting up Diglett’s Cave first anyway. Besides, after three deaths in one episode, there’s really nowhere to go but up, right?

Tune in next week as we travel underground, over the water, and towards a shocking confrontation in Vermilion City!

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Episode #2: Bugs, Brocks, and Impulse Buys

You know you’ve reached a weird place when your favorite new addition to your team is the wimpy little fish.

When last we left Ophilia, she was coming off a triumphant-but-bizarre victory over her rival thanks to her incredible Pokémon Suzy and Hulk. Today, she points her compass north to Pewter City, hoping to spread the gospel of the Sacred Flame and pick up her first gym badge along the way. Just like in Octopath Traveler, she will need strong, capable allies to complete her journey…and she didn’t find any this time around.

Waltz Of The (Viridian) Forest

Technically Route 2 is the first place you enter after leaving Viridian City, but without the Cut HM in hand, there isn’t a whole lot to do there. After a few battles against the same old Rattatas and Pidgeys as before, I took a deep breath and stepped into the famed Viridian Forest.

Should I be worried? Because I’m not.

Normally I love coming to Viridian Forest: It’s got a plethora of Caterpies, and the only Pokémon that has shown up in my top six as often as Blastoise is Butterfree (Pokémon Yellow, Gold, and LeafGreen). Butterfrees are off-limits this time, unfortunately, and that sorry excuse for a Pikachu I had in Pokémon Yellow means I had exactly one option for growing my posse…

*sigh* I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been a Harden-only Kakuna.

Once again, my brother’s favorites come back to haunt me…I distinctly remember us whining back in the day because all the Weedles seemed to be in my game (Pokémon Red) and all the Caterpies were in his (Blue). Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and with only two Pokémon on hand I needed any and all reinforcements I could find. I stuffed the Weedle into a Poké Ball and named it Reed for obvious reasons. …Wait, what do you mean, “it’s not obvious at all?” Clearly:

  • Beedrills were as close to bumblebees as Pokémon got until Combees in G4, and
  • “Bumble” is how Yukon Cornelius referred to the Abominable Snowman in Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and
  • “Snowman” was the CB handle of Cledus Snow in Smokey and the Bandit, and
  • Snow’s role was played by Jerry Reed.

See? It’s totally obvious once you think about it. 😉

Kyle Uses Foresight! It’s Super Effective!

Under the mistaken assumption that Poison attacks were super-effective against Bug Pokémon (they were in G1, but never again), I started grinding near the forest entrance to bring Reed up to par with his new teammates. After a couple of battles, however, a thought struck me: How seriously should I take the threat of poison?

In early-gen Pokémon games, poison would not only deal damage every turn in battle, but also deal 1 damage for every so many steps taken outside of battle as well, and could even make a Pokémon faint while you were just walking around! This was toned down to not allow out-of-battle fainting in later generations, but I wasn’t sure when the change actually happened. With no Antidotes on hand and a decent distance from a Pokémon Center, a poisoned Pokémon could be real trouble.

Thankfully, Wi-Fi was available even deep within the forest, and I made a digital beeline for Bulbapedia:

Translation: Yeah, poison could be a problem.

Approximately twelve seconds later…

I actually only bought 5, but you get the idea.

Lo and behold, Hulk was poisoned in my very next battle, and I was ready for it! If only I could think this far ahead when I play Splatoon

They Grow Up So Fast Mother$%#&ing Slow…

For as much as I complained about leveling up Hulk, raising Reed was even more painful. While Mankeys at least have a decent Attack to cover their defensive deficiencies, Weedles have no such bright spot: Even if Poison Sting poisons its target, you’re still looking at a five- or six-hit KO, which gives the opponent plenty of time to knock you silly.

Fearful of burning all my Antidotes prematurely in the forest, I dropped back to Route 2 for further grinding…except that Rattatas and Pidgeys pack more of a punch than Caterpies and Weedles, so Reed continued to get rekted (and even Hulk took his fair share of switch-in damage). I hoped that Reed’s quick evolutions would help alleviate the problem, but he didn’t have any more buff or bite as a Kakuna—in fact, he seemed weaker after the evolution!

I finally came up with a workable plan to keep Reed mostly upright (fight the weaker forest monsters, but use Suzy instead of Hulk as a switch-in against Weedles to avoid poisoning), but even then, it took for-freaking-ever for Reed to become a Beedrill and finally start earning his keep (and even then, his unpredictable/inaccurate Fury Attack made me hold my breath every time he flew into battle). Toss his type redundancies on top of all this, and I’m not sure Reed is a long-term solution to my Nuzlocke problem.

Oh, go jump in a lake.

That Rock Won’t Roll

I’d had enough of Viridian Forest by the time Reed became a Beedrill, so I made a mad dash through to the exit, smacking down every Bug Catcher I found along the way. (By the end, even Reed was dominating the competition.) Boring old Route 2 was waiting for me when I made my escape, and after a few battles to to finish off another level for Hulk, I made my grand entrance into Pewter City.

Pewter is basically an amalgamation of every backwater town I’ve ever driven through, because there is absolutely nothing to do there. I stopped at the Pokémon Center, wandered around the museum for a while, and then made my way to the Pewter Pokémon Gym to take on Brock.

I hope the Sacred Flame will have mercy on your soul, because I certainly won’t.

Brock serves as both the final piece of the tutorial and a gate to ensure you understand the type system going forward, so I faced him with zero fear. Rock-types will wreck you if you don’t have the right monsters, but with two of the right monsters like me, this is a cakewalk.

I was a bit surprised when Hulk didn’t one-shot either of his opponents, but they both used Defense Curl and patiently waited for me to boot them into next week. The only excitement came at the very end of the battle, when Suzy learned PoisonPowder and Sleep Powder simultaneously and I had to decide which moves I wanted to keep.

Hey Brock, try not bringing a knife to a gunfight next time.

The Training Wheels Come Off

Once you get to Route 3, the game emphatically declares that it is done with holding your hand by having a horde of Trainers with half-decent monsters waiting to kick your tail right from the very start. The difficulty jump was a bit of a shock, and both Reed and Hulk found themselves on the ropes on several occasions:

  • The infamous “I like shorts!” trainer featured a Rattata with a nasty critical-hit habit and an Ekans that forced me to use a Potion to keep Hulk from succumbing to its Wrap.
  • The also-infamous “I wear shorts year-round!” trainer nearly gave me a heart attack by dropping a LV14 Spearow on me out of nowhere (equalling Hulk’s level at the time). Thankfully, the unpredictability of Fury Attack worked in my favor for a change, and Hulk was able to beat it before it could beat him.
I may or may not have needed a change of underwear after this battle.

Thankfully, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is Rule #1 of Pokémon, and my battle-tested trio came through without sustaining any losses. Suzy put a bow on the winning streak by crushing the final competitor and showing Reed what a real evolution looked like:

Does this look like the face of mercy to you?

After our butt-kicking and gum-chewing session, we made our way into the route’s grass patches, where the game continued to mess with my head:

Oh, is this what you were looking for on Route 22?

Before I started this Nuzlocke run, I predicted that my Brock-facing party would be Bulbasaur/Ivysaur, Beedrill, and a Nidoran of some sort (mostly because I couldn’t catch anything else), so…better late than never? Unfortunately, keeping Nidoran around would mean having three Poison-types on my top line, adding unhelpful Psychic- and Ground-type weaknesses to a team that already feared Flying-types. I caught it, named it Earl after Earl Sinclair from The Dinosaurs, and kept on moving, figuring I’d come up with a plan of action once I reached Mt. Moon.

When Is A Ripoff Actually A Deal?

Route 4 turned out to be not much of a route at all (much like the real Route 4, actually), with a few wandering non-Trainers, no grass patches, and a single Pokémon Center at the base of Mt. Moon. While wandering around inside the Center, however, I stumbled across another famous NPC:

I forgot to take a picture for this, but you know who I’m talking about. (Image from Bulbapedia)

Normally I tell this dude to take long walk off a short pier, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if the deal actually made sense this time:

  • Route 4 didn’t have any wild Pokémon to catch (or so I thought, until I checked Serebii and discovered it was a split route like Route 2).
  • Getting Magikarp now would block it later, which might allow me to capture more-interesting Water-types in the future.
  • Adding a Water-type now would help balance out my current wall of Poison-type Pokémon (especially since there’s a 99.9% chance I’ll get a blasted Zubat out of Mt. Moon).
  • If all else fails…you could do a lot worse than having a Gyarados around.

After much thought, I made the deal, naming my new fish Benjamin after the big bills I had to fork out to get him. He couldn’t be any more painful to raise than Reed was…right?

Conclusions

While I thought my rival would be waiting nearby to pounce before I got to Mt. Moon, I was able to enter the cave without any interference, so I decided to end the journal there for now. The team is five deep now, but this plethora of Poison-types I’ve accumulated really makes me nervous. Mt. Moon won’t be a problem, but I’m pretty sure Misty has a Staryu or Starmie waiting for me in Cerulean City, and since the only Pokémon I’ve got that isn’t weak to Psychic moves is a freaking Magikarp, getting that next gym badge is going to be a real pain in the neck.

Tune in next time, when we make our way through Mt. Moon and see if Cerulean City ends up giving us the blues!

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!