How Will Pokemon Sun and Moon Affect the Nuzlocke Challenge?

Back in the day when it had been awhile since I really cared to play Pokemon, one of the things that helped bring me back was the Nuzlocke challenge. If you’re reading this and aren’t familiar with what the heck a “Nuzlocke” is, here’s a brief overview. The Nuzlocke challenge is sometimes referred to as Pokemon Hard Mode – it’s a way to make this otherwise relatively easy game more challenging for experienced players. There are lots of Nuzlocke variants that each put some kind of twist on the challenge, but there are two parts essential to the challenge:

You can only capture your first encounter in each route.
If a Pokemon faints, it’s considered dead and gone forever.

And there it is. Most players of the challenge consider the optional third rule – nickname every Pokemon – to be a required part of the challenge, but it doesn’t add to the challenge part so much as it helps you connect to these Pokemon that you could potentially lose forever. By enabling you to lose Pokemon permanently and giving you a limited pool of Pokemon to fall back on, the Nuzlocke challenge effectively enables you to actually LOSE a game of Pokemon.

As the series has progressed, new features added into the games add new layers to the Nuzlocke challenge – or make it easier to accomplish. The new mechanics for gaining experience points introduced in X and Y, for example, made it a lot easier and faster to grind up Pokemon and keep the whole party trained at roughly the same level. Wonder Trade made a whole new type of Nuzlocke possible. At one point in the series, a Pokemon being poisoned or burned outside of battle could mean losing that Pokemon – now as long as you don’t actively use that Pokemon in battle it is safe until you get to a Pokemon Center.

Just like these features changed the landscape of how a Nuzlocke challenge works, the new features in the upcoming Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon will likely impact the challenge as well. So I thought today it would be fun to talk about how Sun and Moon might impact the way that we approach Pokemon Hard Mode.

#1: PokeRide and HM Slaves
If you aren’t familiar with the term “HM slave,” it’s basically in reference to a Pokemon that you keep on your team specifically to use Hidden Machine techniques like Surf, Waterfall, Cut, Strength, and Rock Smash. These moves are often required to navigate the Pokemon world, and when you get to an area that needs one and you don’t have the right Pokemon, you’re forced to either erase a good move off of one of your heavy hitters or to bring in a second-string Pokemon specifically for the purpose of using HMs or battling. In some extreme cases, you may have to break the Nuzlocke rules (catching an extra Pokemon or using one that’s already dead) just to progress to the next stage of the game. It’s a frustrating situation to encounter and it can lead to sticky issues like having less than a full team against a strong opponent, or accidentally having an HM slave you’re not supposed to be actively using Roared or Whirlwinded into battle.
In Sun and Moon, all signs indicate that HMs are probably going to be completely eliminated by the new PokeRide function. With PokeRide, you have the HM slaves effectively made into a key item rather than being party members. Need to smash a rock? Call up Tauros! Need to cross sandy, rocky terrain? Mudsdale is your best friend! Water in your way? Jump on Sharpedo or Lapras! This eliminates the need for HM slaves in the party and removes the dangers of them coming into use accidentally or keeping you from having anything less than a full team. Overall, I think the addition of PokeRide is going to have a really positive impact on the Nuzlocke challenge.

#2: Pokemon Refresh versus Traditional Medicine
I mentioned earlier that the Nuzlocke challenge changed a bit when effects like Poison and Burn no longer injured Pokemon outside of a battle situation. This eliminated one way in which Pokemon could faint, thus making items like Antidotes or Burn Heals a little less essential. Now, with Pokemon Refresh introduced into the game, those items may become even less essential.
Status problems that last after a battle (Poisoned, Badly Poisoned, Asleep, Paralyzed, Frozen, Burned) can be a real problem if you don’t have any forms of treatment. A paralyzed Pokemon moves at 25% speed and might lose turns during battle. A burned Pokemon takes damage every turn and is reduced to 50% attack power. Badly Poisoned Pokemon suffer larger and larger amounts of damage for every turn they spend in battle. These conditions can be truly debilitating, which is why it’s important that a trainer have ways to heal them. Typically, one would rely on items like Antidotes, Awakenings, and Paralyze Heals to do the trick.
With Pokemon Refresh, it is now possible to heal status conditions off of Pokemon without the use of medicine. Now as far as we know right now, this doesn’t cost you anything. And if that’s the case, Sun and Moon have essentially given us the ability to heal status between battles for no money. This means you’re saving money on status healing, giving you more cash to spend on things like potions or PokeBalls. Antidotes and the like will still be useful DURING battle, but outside of combat they’re just a waste of money.
Now the effect that this might have on the Nuzlocke challenge depends largely on what kind of challenge you’re playing. In some styles (the ShadyLocke, which limits the ability to use Pokemon Centers, comes to mind) money is a precious resource and being able to save some by not buying status medicine would be a huge boon. In other styles, its impact is lessened.
The main caveat to this whole thing is that using Pokemon Refresh for such healing is likely optional, which means that you could forbid it for yourself to increase the challenge to a more normal level. Most Pokemon games have resources that you could abuse to make the game easier (the Berry Garden in XY comes to mind), but ultimately that kind of ruins the point of challenging yourself. Anyone who truly wants the challenge will likely be able to just ignore this feature.

#3: Bonuses from the PokePelago
The PokePelago is a series of islands that Pokemon in the PC box hang out at when you are not using them. These islands have different features that range from getting new items to training up the Pokemon while they wait for you to come and get them. There’s no word thus far on whether or not such features will cost in-game money. And if they don’t, they could provide a serious crutch for the desperate Nuzlocker.
Think about it. Extra Pokemon filling up your PC box, random valuable items appearing in your bag, the level 3 Tympole you captured becoming a Seismotoad after some serious training in the PokePelago. All these features would make the challenge less challenging. Again, the only real out here is that these features are optional – or are they?
As of this point, we don’t know if the concept of the PokePelago is totally eliminating traditional PC boxes. If it does, then perhaps there will be no way to keep Pokemon in the PC without getting some kind of unintended bonus from it. If that ends up being the case, then the only way to avoid getting those bonuses and extras would be to forbid yourself from catching enough Pokemon to put in the PokePelago. And that’s a whole new kind of challenge that some players might not embrace.
Ultimately, this is just speculation. We don’t know enough about the PokePelago yet to know exactly what it does, what it might cost, and how useful the benefits are actually going to be. Until we get a firsthand look at the game, we can only wonder how the PokePelago feature is going to impact the Nuzlocke challenge. But I can definitely see it causing some changes.

#4: Totem Pokemon, the Mighty New Foes
A new type of Pokemon encounter is being introduced in the Alola region – Totem Pokemon. These guardians of specific places begin battle with enhanced stats and have the ability to call ally Pokemon into the battle, effectively making the fight two-on-one. Fighting two Pokemon at a time could be quite tricky – they can pull off combination attacks, double up on damage against you, and switching will be very dangerous as it gives the opponent two free attacks. I can easily see how an unprepared trainer going up against such a Pokemon might lose at least one of their own in the process, particularly if they don’t have any big defensive Pokemon to take hits while the party is healed.
Naturally, this is assuming that the Totem Pokemon really are all they have been built up to be. Newer Pokemon games are getting notoriously easier – opposing trainers have fewer Pokemon and rely on gimmicky strategies like Swagger-spamming in order to introduce artificial difficulty to battles. It is entirely possible that even against these beefed-up opponents, even with two Pokemon on the opposing side, bad AI will ultimately leave these battles feeling a bit disappointing. In that situation, I don’t see the Totem battles affecting the Nuzlocke much. But if they truly live up to their potential, it is entirely possible that Totem Pokemon could become the new Wobbuffet of Pokemon Sun and Moon.

#5: The Island Trial Changes the Game Structure
For the first time in 20 years, Pokemon doesn’t go the way it has always gone. It’s not broken up by gym battles anymore. Heck, for all we know there might not even be a champion. The whole structure of the game is different now, focused on trial captains, totems, and kahunas in order to create a unique experience for Alola.
There’s honestly no telling how this will impact the game without actually experiencing it firsthand. But it certainly WILL impact the game. With the gym leader setup, you generally knew when a big battle was coming. You knew you were facing an opponent who relied on a specific typing, and you could prepare by gathering multiple Pokemon with advantages against that typing. With the island trial setup, maybe those bigger fights won’t be as expected. Maybe you won’t quite know when to expect a trial captain battle. Maybe the kahunas will have Pokemon of different types, keeping you on your toes and forcing you to bring a balanced team rather than stacking up on the thing you know can beat the opponent. Since there are half as many kahunas as gym leaders, maybe they’ll be twice as powerful, forcing you to play more carefully against them.
Personally, based on the Pokemon series’ focus on younger gamers, I’m guessing that the Island Challenge won’t actually be more challenging. I’m also basing this on screenshots we’ve seen online that show trainers such as Hala (the first kahuna) only having three Pokemon and trainers like Guzma (the leader of Team Skull) only having two. It just seems like the series will continue to pander to the simple approach. Which is fine for younger players who AREN’T looking for a challenge, but for those interested in having a tougher experience it’s going to make finding a challenge – well, more of a challenge.

Ultimately, I think taking the Nuzlocke Challenge in Pokemon Sun and Moon will be different. Not necessarily harder, or easier, but just a new experience altogether. There are so many new features being incorporated, and those along with the new structure will make it so that a Sun and Moon Nuzlocke will feel totally different than a Nuzlocke of any game before. I, for one, look forward to the experience.

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