A Powerful Challenge
I have always been a fan of Pokemon nuzlockes. It started out way back when I discovered them in high school through the original Pokemon: Hard Mode comics by Nuzlocke himself. From there I moved on to reading the other comics and stories that tons of others had created and were collated on the forums. Soon, it was the only Pokemon community that I was actively engaging with. I still love the Nuzlocke challenge, but I realized recently that the way that we look at it has had to change with the games and today I would like to look into that a little with you, especially since I have embarked on one myself recently all over again, and actually managed to finish this time.
For those who don’t know, the Nuzlocke challenge is a set of rules designed to make a playthrough of one of the Pokemon games both more harrowing and more emotionally fraught. Originally, the creator dubbed it “hard-mode” and titled the joking webcomic he made to document his journey the same, but the name Nuzlocke (after the creator’s online handle) stuck with people instead, leading to the current moniker. The main two rules that you can only catch the first Pokemon that you encounter on each route, and that any pokemon that faint for any reason is considered to be dead. While not official, it’s also considered fairly mandatory by the nuzlocke community that you give all of your Pokemon nicknames in order to form more of an attachment to them and cause the whole thing to hit you harder should they fall.
That’s the basics, however there has been so much interpretation around these rules and additional challenge set with them, that there are subset challenges to the challenge. Some people refuse to use healing items, some people only use healing items and shun the Pokemon centers. Some only catch pokemon of one type or one color. Some people put their Pokemon into paired teams that might only switch out with one another. Many see the appearance of a shiny Pokemon as a blessing from the Poke-gods and allow a deviation from the rules for its capture. There’s a lot of different variation that people have come up with to make things easier, harder, or just more random (Such as a variation where you must use the Wondertrade system for each pokemon you catch). So long as the two core rules are followed, all is fair.
Personally, I have never followed the notion that you have to release the Pokemon that have “died”. Some believe they should be sent back to the wild, but I’m in the camp of being more fond of having a dedicated “graveyard box” that they must be put into in the PC. If your trainer is going to have to make some sacrifices here and there, then they should have to carry that guilt around with them for the rest of the challenge, after all.
Overall, I’m sure how you can see the way that this leads to a lot of potential for storytelling with young creatives. There is a lot of potential when it comes to being able to create a cast of characters around your team and the relationships among them. Add in the ever present looming danger of the nuzlocke challenge itself and you have a great recipe for drama. There’s a lot of space to either poke fun at or flesh out the Pokemon world as well. I’ve seen people turn the story of even the simplest Pokemon games into an engaging drama or comedic romp.
There’s been a lot of nuzlocke stories created by challengers that I have enjoyed over the years, but one of the ones that comes first to mind for me when I am thinking about well done nuzlocke projects, aside from the original that is, is Ky-nim’s excellent Pokemon White nuzlocke, Myths of Unova. This creator was able to take what otherwise might have been the standard Pokemon run and expand it by both creating characters of their own and deepening those that were already there in what is already one of the most intensely story driven games of the series. Spanning from 2011 to 2017, this comic and accompanying videos (already a standalone sequel of sorts to another nuzlocke run) is well deserving of the widespread praise it has received. If you’re curious about what’s out there, there are few better places to start.
However, the Pokemon games themselves have changed with the times (though not that much) and this has lead to a need for things to shift and change within the nuzlocke community as well. However, this tends to be because we need to adapt and shift in response to what comes out from Game Freak. For example, since the 7th generation of Pokemon (started with the Sun and Moon games) the line on what counts as a route has gotten a little more blurry than before. Prior to this, the routes were all very clearly delineated and the caves and forest areas were very obvious. With the 7th gen though, the routes became a little less linear and a lot larger with more variation in the types of Pokemon that could be found in each of the different patches of grass. There were also more side areas which held different Pokemon as well, but were not the clear dungeon-like areas that the old forests and caves were.
This is the time where the rules for what counted as the first catch of a route had to become a little more flexible and became something that someone had to decide for themselves. These aren’t something that always needs clarification to others, but it is important to have set for yourself before embarking. Are you going to consider all the side areas in one route to be part of the route or is each area with its own name a different area from the route? Are you able to choose which patch of grass that you are going to make your catch in or must it be the first one you come across? These are the kinds of preparations that one didn’t have to think of in prior games as the routes didn’t have so many offshoots and alcoves. Given the new biodiversity of different patches of grass now, if you are willing to look up the odds, you can influence your team somewhat, which some will consider to fly in the face of the random surprise of the nuzlocke challenge. That’s not even getting to the issue of a few towns now having grass in them and if you consider a town to count as a new catching area or not.
Then generation 8 came around and the routes were narrowed and simplified down again but there was a new problem to consider and face. Entry into the Galar region brought with it the promise of the wild area. However, the question then became of how much a nuzlocke player should utilize this area. The wild area was divided into distinct sections but there were still a lot of them. Honestly, while the number of routes available vary in each of the games in the series, there were enough sections in the wild area to be it’s own set of game routes and with the sheer variety to be found there, it’s a tempting prospect for any player to want to do their catches in that area. However, it presents a lot of questions on how it should be handled and people are handing it in a ton of different ways. Some are going for every catch they can and some are putting a limit on it. Personally, I got a catch each time the game naturally brought be around to one of the entrances. (First time arriving, after gym 3, after gym 5, after gym 7. A total of 4) There’s not really any wrong way to handle it as long as you don’t violate the two core rules of the challenge, though.
That’s the real beauty of the the thing. While it is this challenge that those who are aware know at a mention, there is still so much is customizable about it. There are so many options that are available to a player and so many variations that the fanbase has dreamed up. It’s so insanely flexible and as a result the community is flexible too, adapting to whatever formula changes the games throw at them, for better or for worse. For example, the Let’s GO Pikachu and Eevee games are Notoriously difficult to Nuzlocke due to the fact that the game railroads you into catching extra pokemon while you are playing in order to go past certain checkpoints and there is no way to battle wild pokemon. There is no way to do a strict nuzlocke of the game, but if you are will to bend the rules and make up your own, there is a way to work within the systems available.
I honestly think that the Nuzlocke is going to always be around at this point. Even if the Pokemon series was to for some reason end (and let’s be honest that’s incredibly unlikely at this point) there would still be people going back to the games to do this. Heck, people have already started porting over nuzlocke rules into entirely different game franchises. It doesn’t always work and sometimes it needs a lot of adjustment, but the same feel is possible if you know what to do. I’m looking forward to what creativity is going to come out of this subculture in the years to come.