Hey Guys...

So I've been a little quiet on Giant Bomb recently (and by 'recently', I mean the last three months). There are a multitude of reasons for my inactivity, and I'll do my best to explain what they are in due course. Before I do, I want to stress this is not an "I'm back!"-style blog. I framed my last blog entry as one of those back in August, and look where that got us. Nope, this is just me touching base with you guys, to let you know I'm still here and still playing those video game thing-a-ma-bobbins from time to time.

The biggest reason for my lack of presence on Giant Bomb through the autumn has been real-world developments. Work continues to be a drain on both my energy and what should be my free time. Between mid-July and mid-October I clocked up almost 150 hours of overtime. That's 150 hours of un-contracted work, time that would otherwise have been mine to spend however I wished, covering for staff who were either sick or on annual leave. I wouldn't mind so much if that figure wasn't so much hideously higher than those of everyone else I work with, but that is a different story that should probably be told on a different platform. I've also been enrolled in a pretty intense course which should make me a qualified dispenser by the end of March 2015, but I get no study time during work hours, which means I need to use a hefty chunk of my already drastically depleted free time to study and complete coursework.

Alongside all these responsibilities, I decided back in September that my bedroom could do with sprucing up. I was pretty non-committal to begin with, taking delight in stripping off the old wallpaper without much regard for the mammoth task I was setting up for myself. As a newcomer to DIY and decorating, it's certainly been an eye-opener, as each apparently complete job has revealed another unexpected obstacle to overcome. As I write this blog near the end of November, I've managed to finish the ceiling and walls and will hopefully soon be laying new flooring to replace the tired old carpet. It's been pretty disruptive, particularly to my sleeping patterns (I'm currently having to sleep on a mattress on my bedroom floor, having long since dismantled all my bedroom furniture to make enough space to do the decorating). Hopefully it will all be worth it when it's finished.

It's played a minor part, but I also think that the whole 'GamerGate' debacle has influenced me to keep my distance from games media in general over the last couple of months. A lot of shitty things spiralled out of that movement, and I guess I felt reluctant to weigh in on anything video game related while that shit-storm was still raging for fear of getting caught up in it all. Now it seems to have largely blown over, I feel a little more comfortable coming back to Giant Bomb and taking up my blogger's mantle again.

I'm still playing games, although right now I'm in a bit of a weird place when it comes to what I'm playing. The 'one game at a time' philosophy that has served me well for so long has been cast aside in recent months, in favour of the slap-dash, haphazard approach of playing several games at once. It's not been a conscious choice, more just a lack of discipline that's managed to creep into my gaming habits. To be honest, I'm happy for things to stay that way for a little while - if it keeps my tendency to deviate from schedule away from the more important things like the aforementioned coursework and decorating, then I'm happy to finish a few less games in the back end of 2014 than I might have done otherwise.

Lately I've been playing bits and pieces of all sorts of games:

  • I started playing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword back at the start of October. I made it just past the first dungeon, and was really enjoying it, but then the decorating situation demanded that I disconnect my Wii and I haven't got around to setting it back up yet. As a result, Link is now hanging in suspended animation until I finish my decorating and get everything re-connected. I'll probably start a new game when I do, so I can experience the whole of Link's latest journey uninterrupted.
  • I'm playing the HD remaster of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on Xbox 360, in celebration of its tenth anniversary. The original plan was to dig out my PS2 and play it the same way as I originally did ten years ago, but the lure of a better framerate, crisper textures and Achievements managed to sway me in the end. I haven't put much time into it and I'm still in Los Santos, but it's been great to revisit one of the video games that played an integral role in shaping my tastes.
  • Also on the 360, I'm replaying the original Borderlands. Up until this month, I'd only ever played the Borderlands games solo, but this playthrough is a co-op effort between me and my good friend Duncan. We decided to take a break from our co-op run-through of the Halo series to get our shoot-and-loot on, and so far it's been an absolute blast. We're both lv19 and should be moving out of the Arid Badlands soon.
  • I've been dabbling with a bunch of sports games over the last couple of months. I picked up FIFA 15 on the PS3 at the start of October, and that plays pretty much exactly how you'd expect it to. I've also found myself getting caught up in Don Bradman Cricket 14 on the 360, which offers pretty much everything I've wanted from a cricket game with the exception of licensed teams and players (I really wish EA would stop sitting on those licences and either make a game or let somebody else snap them up). After the real-world team I used to play for folded this year, its compelling Career mode has been the closest I've come to replicating that feeling of playing an actual game of cricket.
  • Pokémon continues to maintain a vice-like grip on my gaming habits. In the run-up to the release of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (which don't launch here in the UK until Friday), I've kept myself occupied with a couple of Nuzlocke challenges. The first was an Egglocke of Pokémon X, for which several of my friends donated eggs to the cause. Despite a lot of losses along the way, we managed to beat the Elite Four and Champion, making it my first victorious Nuzlocke. Currently I'm running a Randomizer Nuzlocke through the original Pokémon Red. It's another variant on the conventional Nuzlocke format which randomizes all Pokémon encounters, turning every battle into an unknown quantity and throwing up some really interesting scenarios. I'm documenting it by way of a YouTube series, which I've embedded below:

So that's what's up with me. I'm not sure if I'll have much of a blogging schedule for the remainder of 2014, but I'll try and get something sorted out before the end of December. At the very least, I'd like to throw together some kind of End of Year Awards blog to celebrate some of the fun games I played this year. Until then, thanks for reading, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Blog Revival: A Bunch Of Stuff From July Edition (WARNING: May Include Video Games)

It's been around six weeks since I last posted a blog here on Giant Bomb. There are a handful of reasons for that. I think some of them happen to be pretty good, but don't just take my word for it. I'm going to outline them in this blog post, so you can be the judge.

July was a very busy month...

...with most of my time divided between working and attending 'the Tringe'. For the uninitiated, allow me to explain - the Tringe Festival is an annual comedy festival held in my hometown of Tring. Now five years strong, it basically consists of a bunch of comedians (some very well-known, some fairly obscure) coming here to perform previews of their shows before taking them up to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. It runs for the first three weeks of July, and is probably the single best opportunity to experience great comedy in this country without high-tailing it down to London or up to Edinburgh. We're incredibly lucky to have it on our doorstep, and I hope it continues for many years to come.

In previous years I've attended a handful of gigs at the Tringe, predominantly those featuring acts I'm already an established fan of including Richard Herring and Peacock & Gamble. This year, I decided to do something a little different - I bought a Tringe passport, essentially a season ticket granting me access to every show of the festival. I then proceeded to use that passport to attend as many shows as possible. The result of this was that I had no free time whatsoever - a typical day in July meant getting up around 7am, getting into work for 8:30, staying there 'til 6:30pm, then walking the forty-minute journey to our local theatre and watching two hour-long comedy shows back-to-back, before finally walking the forty-minute journey back home, fixing myself some supper, and going to bed to try and get some sleep before having to do it all again the next day.

The Tringe was a fucking draining experience, but also an incredibly rewarding one. I saw a lot of great comedians I probably would never have even heard of if I hadn't gone, and some of them have become firm favourites - including the hilarious sketch troupe Late Night Gimp Fight, to name but one. I was also fortunate enough to see some huge names in incredibly intimate venues, including Shappi Khorsandi, Milton Jones, Mark Watson, Josh Widdicombe - names that probably won't mean anything to American readers of this blog, but should elicit some response from any Brit who's ever watched a BBC panel show. Only one act disappointed, namely Jim Davidson, who stuck out like a sore thumb on the festival's billing and delivered a tired hour of borderline racist, sexist, homophobic "comedy" that only managed to draw a single laugh out of me. The fact he then proceeded to attack one of my friends on Twitter after the show (after actively seeking out criticism he wasn't even tagged in) simply cemented my low opinion of him.

I say I attended 'as many shows as possible', because other commitments meant I did miss a handful of nights. My band Sudden Gunfire opened a local carnival on the second Saturday of the month, a reasonably successful gig from my perspective as a performer, even considering I very nearly fucked it up by forgetting the outro to Metallica's 'Enter Sandman'. Thankfully very few people were there to witness it, because the start time on the printed tickets for the event was a whole hour after we took to the stage (yeah, I'm still a little bitter about that). Perhaps the most frustrating missed show was on the final night of the festival, when I missed Jon RIchardson, one of my all-time favourite comedians, because I was nearly two-hundred miles away in the Peak District (more on that in a bit). I did catch his show back in April, but that was in a thousand-seater theatre, and it would have been amazing to see him in a much smaller, more intimate space. Even in spite of missing some shows, I wound up being one of the festival's top forty attendees, and was rewarded for my dedication with a poster signed by all the performing comedians (pictured right). It's an awesome memento of the month, and I plan to get it framed and up on my wall in the near future.

No sooner had my commitment to the Tringe finished than I found myself being whisked away to another part of the country, for a week's holiday with some friends in the Peak District. Again, for the uninitiated, the Peak District is a national park here in England that sits snugly between the Midlands and the North. It's full of great big hills (hence the name), cliffs, reservoirs, underground caverns and quaint rural villages and towns. It's a beautiful, inspiring part of the country, and I wish I'd been there for more than just a week so I could have taken in a little more of everything. I'll probably end up writing something a little more detailed on my other blog (again, more about that in a while), but for now here's a handful of photos from the trip, all taken by my friend Dean, that say more about the place than I ever could in words:

So that covers pretty much everything that I've been up to in the last six weeks. Except, of course, for the thing that's most relevant to this here website - the video games I've been playing. Yep, that's right - even between work, the comedy and the holiday, I've managed to find a little bit of down-time to play some video games. Which video games, you ask? Let me tell you...

Alice: Madness Returns

I leapt into Alice: Madness Returns after watching an amateur dramatics performance of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland back in June. While the play didn't quite live up to all of its promises, it did leave me eager to spend more time in the weird and wonderful realm of Wonderland, and I chose to do so through the medium of video games. I played the PC version, and even on this humbly-specced laptop, the game ran smoothly and looked great. The lack of free time meant it took me around three weeks to make my way through its fifteen-hour campaign, but although it was a fragmented journey through American McGee's interpretation of Wonderland, it was still an enjoyable one. The gameplay left me satisfied throughout, combining floaty pure platforming sequences with simple puzzle-solving and Zelda-esque combat so successfully that I didn't tire of it at all during my time with the game.

Pokémon Trading Card Game

I spotted this had been put on sale on the 3DS eShop the day before I went away on holiday, and rapidly downloaded it with a view to spending some of my holiday down-time playing through it. I ended up doing just that, beating most of the game's 'club masters' (its equivalent of gym leaders) during the week, then polishing off the 'grand masters' (read: Elite Four) upon my return. It's a surprisingly solid conversion of the actual card game, and despite being fifteen years old it holds up really well. Structurally it's similar to a regular Pokémon game (collect 'em all, beat the eight leaders, get their badges, and take on the Elite Four to prove you're the very best like no one ever was), and It's got a pretty good learning curve that doesn't spoon-feed you every nuance and rule, but doesn't throw you in kicking and screaming at the deep end, either. Card battles are pacy, exciting affairs that fuel a 'just-one-more' mentality in the player that isn't easy to ignore. Sure, it may not look great, but the visuals are functional and do their job well. More than anything, it's got me really secretly hoping that the folks at Nintendo might be testing the waters for a new handheld incarnation of the Pokémon TCG. Throw together a new game like this one with an up-to-date card roster and online play, and I'd be all over that shit.

So only two games beaten in July. A pretty meagre total, but not too bad when you consider the vast amount of other stuff happening at the time. Thankfully August is looking like a much calmer month, with less overtime, less out-of-work commitments, and no three-week, energy-draining, insanity-depleting comedy festival to attend. Under those circumstances, two games in a month looks like a pretty easy number to beat.

I'll be back to writing much more frequently about my gaming time from here on out, mainly because I'm writing more in general. In a bid to re-kickstart my creativity and actually finish my first damn novel, I've committed myself to a programme of daily writing and weekly blogging. That doesn't necessarily mean I'll be blogging weekly here on Giant Bomb, as I've also started maintaining a personal, non-video-game-related blog over on my website, but it does mean that I shouldn't be going through any more six-week stretches without updating you all on what I've been playing. You can expect to hear more from me later in the month, when I'll hopefully have some interesting things to say about Pokémon Colosseum, Fable III and Halo: Reach. Until then, I'd like to thank you very much for reading (especially if you persevered through the first half of this blog, considering it doesn't really have any business being on this website). Take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon Colosseum (GCN)

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The Pokémon Center

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to The Pokémon Center, a 'hub blog' of sorts that I'm putting together to centralise my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge blog series. Much like the Compilation of Enduring Final Fantasy VII and Looking Back on My Month in Skyrim did for my previous serial blogs, it collates all the episodes of the series in one place, making it easier to both find and navigate for prospective readers. Its fairly neutral title means I can also use the blog to centralise any future Pokémon-themed blog series I decide to embark upon - a situation that's looking increasingly likely as I begin to itch for another Nuzlocke challenge...

Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge

27th February 2014 - 2nd June 2014
The FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge tells the story of Dan and Judi Drench as they journey across Kanto in search of gym badges

In February of 2014 I picked up a copy of Pokémon FireRed Version and began a new playthrough. However, this wasn't a conventional story run of a Pokémon game, as I'd done with more or less the entire series the previous year. Truth be told I'd grown a little tired of the formula and wanted to experience it in a different way. The result was the Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - a much harder run-through governed by self-imposed rules incorporating concepts like perma-death and limitations on catchable Pokémon into the series' established mechanics. The hope was that it would turn my newest Pokémon journey into something other than a simple badge-hunt, and put a new spin on how I view a series that, for better or worse, has become a big part of who I am as a player of video games.

I chose to chronicle the playthrough in a series of blog posts, published at a rate of around one a week, which would hopefully give readers a bit of an insight into how I would choose to play the game, as well as any effect the different format might have on me. The results were... Well, I won't say too much here for the sake of avoiding spoilers. The entire series is linked below as an indexed list of numbered chapters, or 'parts', for easy reading and navigation. Just click on a chapter's title and you'll automagically be taken to it by the mysterious power of the internet.

Part Zero - Laying Down The Laws

Part Zero is perhaps the most important chapter in the whole series, and essential reading for anybody who isn't already familiar with the concept of a Nuzlocke challenge. It's devoid of any actual gameplay, but explains at length the rule-set by which the series is governed, from the basic foundations of every Nuzlocke, to the specific caveats I've chosen to apply to this particular playthrough. If you've never encountered the word 'Nuzlocke' before (or even if you have), this is without a doubt the best place to start the series.

Part One - It's A Team-Building Exercise

The first true instalment in the series picks up right from the start of the game, following the rookie trainer Dan through his first steps in the Kanto region. Along the way Dan meets Judi Drench the Squirtle, his first Pokémon of many, and begins to assemble a team of confrontational critters on his way to and through Viridian City.

Part Two - Rockin' With Brock

The next leg of Dan and Judi's journey takes them through the poisonous perils of Viridian Forest and on to Pewter City, where they take on resident gym leader Brock in pursuit of their first gym badge.

Part Three - The Clownbat Under The Mountain

With the Boulderbadge safely in their possession, Team Judi Drench moves onwards into Mount Moon, where they encounter the nefarious Team Rocket for the first time. Emerging on the other side of the mountain, the crew heads for Cerulean City to take stock of their situation and prepare for the challenges ahead.

Part Four - Two Badges, Three Fallen Comrades

After visiting Bill and getting some more training done, the team prepares to battle Cerulean City's gym leader Misty for their second badge. Misty has some tricks up her sleeve though, and not all of Dan and Judi's newfound friends will survive this dangerous encounter.

Part Five - Grounded Lightning

Now two badges to the good, Team Judi Drench says goodbye to its departed comrades and presses on south to Vermilion City, where the S.S. Anne is docked, and Lt. Surge's Electric-type gym is just waiting to be challenged for the coveted Thunderbadge.

Part Six - Tunnels Of Death

Equipped with three badges, the Flash HM and a team full of strong-looking Pokémon, Dan moves on to the next challenge - Rock Tunnel. Unknown terrors await in its gloomy caverns, and not all six of our current roster of heroes will survive to see the light on the other side.

Part Seven - The End Of The Road...?

After a month-long hiatus to recover from the stresses of Rock Tunnel, Dan and Judi return to take care of business in Lavender Town before moving on west to Celadon City. A new gym awaits there, and with it a new badge, but Team Rocket are once again meddling in local affairs, and the Nuzlocke threatens to end prematurely in the absence of a Pokémon capable of using Cut.

Part Eight - The Search For A Cutter

Team Judi Drench needs to find a Pokémon able to use Cut - their journey through Kanto depends on it. Dan sets off along Kanto's eastern coast, hoping to find a new Cutter. However, with such heavy limitations imposed on potential captures, and only a handful of locations left to search, will the team be able to find the Cutter they need before their luck runs out?

Part Nine - Back To The Badges

With a new Cutter finally in their possession, our band of Poké-brothers can finally take care of the trees that have blocked their path, and the challenges that lie beyond them. Koga and Erika lie in waiting in the Fuchsia City and Celadon City gyms respectively, and our rejuvenated team is itching to test its new-found luck in two more gym badge challenges.

Part Ten - Keep Calm And Don't Carry On

With five badges on Dan's belt, the team roll into Saffron City eager to get things done. After tussling with Team Rocket once again at Silph Co. and putting the Fighting Dojo trainers back in their places, Team Judi Drench enters the Saffron City gym looking for their sixth badge. However, Sabrina is a powerful adversary, and her Alakazam is not to be underestimated.

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Future Projects

Even though the Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge came to an end only recently, I feel pretty confident saying this probably won't be my last Nuzlocke. If I do decide to embark upon another new journey through one of the old Pokémon games, it will most likely be in this interesting format, and I'll most likely want to share the adventure with readers in another series of blogs. If I do end up doing this, then the Pokémon Center will serve as a hub for the next adventure as well.

But until then, we're done here. All that remains for me to say is thanks for taking the time to read this series, whether in whole or in part. I hope you've enjoyed what you've read, and that you'll stick around for whatever the future decides to bring. Until then, thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Alice: Madness Returns (PC)

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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Ten

<< Part Nine - Back To The BadgesBack to the Pokémon Center

Hey guys. After a week off, I'm back and ready to deliver more of the adventures of Team Judi Drench in my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge blog series. As always, if you're not familiar with what a Nuzlocke is or how it relates to this series of blogs, I suggest you stop reading this blog and substitute it with Part Zero. It covers everything you need to know in order to make sense of what's going on in these blogs. If you missed our last entry, or any of the previous instalments, they can all be accessed using the handy-dandy navigation links at the top and bottom of this post. To the rest of you, let's return to where we last left off, in Celadon City, having just obtained our fifth gym badge...

Part Ten - Keep Calm And Don't Carry On

Team Judi Drench is on one hell of a good run. Having picked up a new, much-needed Cutter in Barney the male Nidoran (now a Nidoking), the team ran re-invigorated into two back-to-back gym battles. Emerging victorious against both the Poison-type master Koga and the Grass-type leader Erika, our team of combative critters has been steeling itself for the next big challenge - the Saffron City gym, and its resident Psychic-type leader, Sabrina.

Despite us knocking Team Rocket's collective nose out of joint back in Celadon City and at the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town, it appears they're still very much in control of Saffron. Chatting to the residents makes the reason for this apparent - the Rockets have infiltrated the Silph Co. building, and are holding the company's president hostage. Because the Saffron City gym is one of the places Team Rocket currently has on lockdown, it looks like we can't make any more progress with our gym badge challenge until we've rescued Silph Co. and forced the evil team out of the city for good.

Now that is one tall building

Silph Co. is essentially the Team Rocket Hideout Mk II - a large building full of fiendish floor traps and guarded by Rocket Grunts just itching for a fight, where progress is impeded by locked doors, and which culminates in a showdown with the Team Rocket head honcho, Giovanni. There are two key differences that set Silph Co. apart, though. First, it's a hell of a lot bigger - eleven floors as opposed to the Rocket Hideout's four. Second, the puzzles involve warp tiles, so rather than being able to follow the arrows on the ground to see where you'll end up, you just have to step on a diamond-shaped tile, cross your fingers and hope for the best. There are also electronic doors sealed by a Card Key, which is hidden somewhere in the building for the player to find.

I've never been a huge fan of 'dungeon' design in Pokémon games, and Silph Co. is a perfect example of why

So how is one supposed to navigate this seemingly impenetrable maze of warp zones? Well to start with, all of the floor tiles are 'paired' with another tile somewhere else in the building - step on one of a pair and it will take you to the other, and vice versa. This means that while it's still essentially a process of trial and error, there's at least an element of consistency to it. It all devolves into something resembling an old-school computer RPG scenario, where you have to keep a notepad full of handwritten reminders nearby to help keep you on course and save you from getting trapped in a repetitious loop...

...or you could just rely on ingrained childhood memories to guide you through the puzzles in the shortest possible time. Pretty sure I reached this point within ninety seconds of entering the building

'Solving' Silph Co. has become one of those gaming scenarios I could probably pull off blindfolded at this point. I spent so many hours of my childhood lost in this building in Pokémon Blue, and subsequently poring over the game's official guide book for the solution, that the fastest route through this maze-like building is probably physically ingrained into my brain. Tempting as it is just to grab the Card Key and make for the president's office, I decide to explore the building more thoroughly than I usually do. There are a ton of items to be recovered behind the complex's locked doors, and several members of Team Rocket to battle - the treasure and experience is sure to come in handy for what lies ahead. The extra battle time is enough to push Clownbat into evolution territory:

Oh boy, I've never had a Crobat before! All that speed and power, contained in one small Pokémon, is sure to make my team even stronger! I wonder if--

Oh shit, yeah. Because FireRed is deeply concerned with being a faithful recreation of the original Pokémon games, it actually prohibits Pokémon like Golbat and Chansey from evolving through Happiness until after you beat the Elite Four and get the National Pokédex. So it looks like Clownbat will be stuck in her original form for some time to come. And every time she levels up between now and then, we'll be rewarded with this pointless little sequence. Yay.

With the Card Key in our possession pretty much from the get-go, gutting Silph Co. of its treasure and defeating the Rocket Grunts incompetently guarding the place doesn't take long at all. When I'm certain I've picked up everything that isn't bolted down and beaten everyone who wants to fight, I head back down to the third floor and begin to follow the sequence of warp tiles to reach the president's office. En route, we bump into our rival Duncan, who's once again itching to have his ass whooped and handed back to him. I'm sure Team Judi Drench will be only too happy to oblige.

Duncan's team is started to get both pretty strong and nicely rounded out type-wise. I start off struggling a little against his Pidgeot, due to a lack of Electric- and Rock-type moves on my team, but Judi Drench manages to withstand its Wing Attack and drag it down to earth with Surf. Next up is Venusaur, which suffers a swift demise at the claws of our own Pidgeot, Bird Jesus. Duncan follows it with a Gyarados, which could well be a threat were it not for the incredible bulk of our Snorlax, PDT. A few Strengths are enough to get rid of it. Fourth in is a Growlithe, which stands no chance against Aunt Sue, our Flareon - it swallows up an Ember thanks to its Flash Fire ability, before one-hitting the helpless pup with Dig. Duncan's final Pokémon is an Alakazam, but although it's powerful it can't break through Snorlax's robust special defences, and it only takes one Strength to put an end to its Psychic onslaught. Dan 5, Duncan 0.

Nearby is a Silph Co. employee who thanks us for our attempts to save his workplace by way of gifting us a Lapras:

Thanks to Duncan (my actual friend who the rival's named after) for providing the name for Nessie the Lapras here

I accept the Lapras, which gets sent to Bill via PC, but its arrival within our ranks raises a potential dilemma. See, Lapras is one of two 'event' Pokémon I plan to encounter in this episode (the other being the choice between Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan in the Fighting Dojo). However, according to the rules of the Nuzlocke, we're only allowed to take a single encounter from each location. Which raises the question - do Silph Co. and the Fighting Dojo both come under the Saffron City umbrella? Or is Silph Co., due to its theoretical 'dungeon' status, a separate location in its own right? To settle the quandary, I pop open my bag and pull out an Escape Rope:

The fact that this works in Silph Co. means I'm personally content to consider it an area in its own right, much like the Pokémon Mansion on Cinnabar Island would be its own area. On the down side, this means I now have to re-ascend the Silph Co. tower. Damn it.

Having navigated our way out of this moral maze, we climb back up through Silph Co., this time making it all the way to the president's office on the eleventh floor. The president has some company in the form of - you guessed it - Team Rocket boss Giovanni. It seems he's been trying to strong-arm Silph Co. into giving up the technology for the Master Ball, a special type of Poké Ball that can catch any Pokémon without fail. Giovanni isn't too happy to see us, and engages us in another battle:

Giovanni is stronger than the last time we faced him, but he doesn't really have any new tricks up his sleeve. His biggest threat is an extremely defensive Kangaskhan, which causes all sorts of problems that even PDT's Brick Break has difficulty getting through. His other Pokémon are easy to deal with by comparison, quickly succumbing to either Aunt Sue's Dig and Judi Drench's Surf. Outraged at having lost to a kid once again, Giovanni makes his exit from Silph Co.. The president is grateful for our efforts, and rewards us with a very special item indeed:

Master Balls are habitually saved for legendary Pokémon, but in the context of a Nuzlocke, it's nice to know we have a means of guaranteed capture if we run into something we REALLY want.

With the Master Ball safely in our bag and the Silph Co. president's words of thanks still ringing in our ears, I pull out another Escape Rope and whizz out of the office quicker than you can say 'Aerodactyl'. After healing up at the Pokémon Center, our next stop is the city's Fighting Dojo, for a little more training and another free Pokémon to add to the roster.

Apparently the Fighting Dojo used to be a Fighting-type gym, but it lost its league status after Sabrina's Psychic-types trounced them in a face-off. Not exactly a fair contest, eh?

The trainers inside are all packing powerful Fighting-type Pokémon on their teams, a scenario that would probably be pretty terrifying were it not for our party's prominent Flying-type presence. Clownbat and Bird Jesus tear through everything the resident Black Belts throw at us, and the Dojo's leader doesn't fare any better. To reward us for our comprehensive victory, he presents us with a choice of two powerful Fighting-type Pokémon - the speedy Hitmonlee, or the slightly more defensive Hitmonchan. After a bit of deliberation, this is the guy I opt for:

He's named Eubank after Chris Eubank, the British boxer. Not because he's theriouth and from Thaffron Thity. That's just a beautiful cointhidenth.

I went for Hitmonchan over Hitmonlee for two reasons - his slightly more defensive stat distribution would serve us better in a Nuzlocke, and so would the type coverage he gets due to his access to the elemental punches. As with Nessie the Lapras, he's boxed up and sent to Bill's PC right away. He's sure to be a useful potential addition to our team, if anything should happen to any of our established attackers.

With Silph Co. saved and the members of the Fighting Dojo licking their wounds, there's only one loose end left to tie up before we can move on from Saffron City - the small matter of a new gym badge. Saffron is home to the Psychic-type trainer Sabrina, who rewards victorious trainers with the Marshbadge. Sabrina also happens to be my biggest curse when it comes to the Pokémon games, as historically she's managed to shut down my progress through both the original Red and Blue and their third-generation remakes time and again with her powerful Psychic attacks.

Before entering the gym, I heal up my team at the Pokémon Center and try to develop some kind of strategy for the upcoming battle with Sabrina. After a bit of deliberation, I settle on leading with PDT - Psychic is a special attack type in this generation, and most Psychic-types are renowned for being physically frail, so I'm hoping that the Snorlax's combination of high HP, Attack and Special Defence will put us at a statistical advantage, if not a type advantage. Second in command will be Judi Drench, who also boasts impressive defensive stats and a type advantage in the move Bite, and third will be Aunt Sue the Flareon for similar reasons. Bird Jesus will bring up the rear as a last resort, while Clownbat and Barney will be kept well clear of the front line due to their disadvantageous Poison-typing. With that rough plan in place, we enter the gym.

The fact she says this and doesn't give us the badge right away probably doesn't bode well

Like the Silph Co. building, Sabrina's gym is also full of warp tiles, although these ones are nowhere near as frustrating. It takes about ten minutes of trial and error interspersed with trainer battles to actually reach the gym leader - unlike Silph Co., I never took the time to memorise the warp tile sequence for the Saffron City gym. Sabrina greets us calmly, and initiates battle.

She opens with her Kadabra, which uses its first turn of the battle to set up a Calm Mind, boosting its Special Attack and Special Defence. Thankfully that transpires to be its only turn, as the mighty PDT renders it pointless with a one-hit KO from Strength. It's followed by an unusually bulky Mr. Mime, causing PDT some problems. I switch out to Judi Drench and manage to subdue it with a couple of super-effective Bites. Next up is a Venomoth, an interesting addition to this Psychic-type team being a Poison/Bug type. Its presence is immediately justified, however, by a Psybeam attack that manages to confuse Judi. Thinking on my feet, I swap in Bird Jesus and hit it with a crippling Wing Attack, ending its threatening promise in a single blow. Sabrina is three Pokémon down, with one team member left to go.

And this is where it happens.

Sabrina's final Pokémon is a level 43 Alakazam, a Pokémon arguably second only to Mewtwo as first-generation Psychic attackers go. Knowing Bird Jesus won't stand much of a chance against it, I swap out to my planned mainstay for this battle, PDT the Snorlax.

Alakazam uses Calm Mind.

In a move that may well dictate the flow of the battle to come, I use the turn to restore PDT's PP on Strength, ready to hit the Alakazam hard next turn.

Alakazam uses a second Calm Mind.

This is the turn. I lock in Strength as my move, confident that PDT will eat up anything the Alakazam can throw at him and retaliate with a victorious one-hit KO.

Alakazam uses Psychic.

As impressive as PDT's HP and Special Defence stats were, they simply weren't high enough to eat up a Psychic from an Alakazam with two boosts to its Special Attack. PDT's vast HP reserves whittle away to nothing in the blink of an eye, and the rock I was relying on to carry us through this battle is no more. Suddenly I've been plunged into a terrifying scenario - if our most specially defensive Pokémon couldn't stand up to Alakazam, what chance do the rest of our team have?

Second in command, Judi Drench, is next to be sent out.

Alakazam uses a third Calm Mind.

Undeterred, Judi throws a powerful Bite Alakazam's way, but even with the boost from the Blackglasses he's holding, it barely makes a dent in Alakazam's armour - the three Special Defence boosts from all those Calm Minds have seen to that. I line up another Bite ready to go, hoping we'll be able to chip away slowly at its HP, but before the move is even executed,

Alakazam uses Psychic.

Shit. Two Pokémon down - my two most specially defensive Pokémon, at that - and this Alakazam is throwing Psychics at me with three boosts to its Special Attack. This is a nightmare scenario. Sticking to the plan, I throw Aunt Sue into the ring. She also has Bite in her moveset, but I instead opt for the physical attack Dig, knowing it's better than the super-effective option under these circumstances. Unfortunately, Aunt Sue doesn't even get a chance to start digging, because

Alakazam uses Psychic.

We're now three Pokémon down, and whereas before I was merely plagued by the idea of the situation we're in, I'm now hit like a gut punch by the grim reality of it. This Alakazam has boosted itself to the point where it can one-hit KO anything I send out against it, resist any super-effective move I can throw at it, and outspeed any Pokémon that tries to hit it first.

Next out, like a lamb to the slaughter, is Bird Jesus. With hindsight, I realise I could have at least guaranteed some damage on this turn with the priority of Quick Attack. Upon even greater reflection, I could have done the same thing with Aunt Sue. Perhaps then, the Alakazam might have been weakened enough to fall to Bird Jesus's priority move, sparing it the same fate as its preceding three team mates. But whereas hindsight is 20:20, in the moment I might as well have been wearing the Blackglasses Judi Drench was holding. I select Steel Wing, but before Bird Jesus can use it,

Alakazam uses Psychic.

Well, fuck. At this point, we're down to two Pokémon - Clownbat and Barney - both of which have weaknesses to the Psychic type and neither of which boasts a single move that could hit Alakazam before it hits them. I choose Barney next over Clownbat, for one reason only - he's holding a Quick Claw, which means there's a chance he could strike first. Having covered a lot of ground levelling up in Silph Co., there is a chance his Cut could be prioritised and strike Alakazam. I queue up the move...

Alakazam uses Psychic.

The Quick Claw doesn't pop, and Barney becomes another sitting duck in the Alakazam's relentless sweeping of my entire team. I have only Clownbat left, and at this point I know the battle (and the Nuzlocke) are all but over. However, there is still a chance - a chance the Alakazam might be foolish enough to alter its move choice, to try and stack up a fourth Calm Mind boost, or foresee an attack with Future Sight, to give us a much-needed opening to hit with a physical move. There is still a chance. Knowing my best bet is the never-miss Aerial Ace, I select the move. The split-second delay between hitting the A button and watching the action start to unfold seems to last an eternity, but in my heart I already know the words that will grace the screen before they appear, before I've even locked in my move.

Alakazam uses Psychic.

What? No... I don't... I can't... how did...?
This can't be happening... We were so close... So god damned close...
Judi... Jesus... Clownbat... Sue... PDT... Barney... Please forgive me...

Defeated, I slump to the floor. The bodies of my beloved Pokémon litter the gym's battle arena. They will not see the Graveyard, at least not by my hand. Tears are in my eyes, but I fight them back, wipe them away with clenched fists, and look up. Behind the Alakazam that has dismantled us, Sabrina is smiling. She clicks her fingers, and in obedient response, her Pokémon raises the spoons in its hands. I close my eyes, tighten my balled fists even harder, and wait for the impact.

Alakazam uses Psychic...

Progress Report:

Location: Saffron City Gym --- Deaths: 16
The Graveyard

So here ends the Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge. It lasted longer than I expected, but not quite as long as I would have liked. I have to admit that I'm disappointed I didn't at least make it to the Elite Four, but I'm not surprised that Sabrina brought it to this premature end - she's always been the Kanto gym leader I've struggled against the most, and once her Alakazam got its third Calm Mind up and tore through PDT's defences I knew there was pretty much no chance of getting out of that battle alive. Still, it's been a fun project on several levels - it's been fun to write blogs in a slightly different way to my usual style, and playing through FireRed with this set of self-imposed, difficulty-enhancing rules has made for an enjoyable, challenging experience that's managed to set itself apart from all the Pokémon playthroughs I completed last year.

"So, in the absence of regular Nuzlocke updates, what's next for dankempster's blog?" I hear absolutely no one cry. Worry not, those of you thinking it but too ashamed to ask out loud - I shall answer anyway. I've got a couple of back-dated entries all planned out that I intend to write and post over the next couple of weeks, after which I shall probably just return to my (ir)regular schedule of blogging about whatever I've recently been playing, whenever I feel inspired to do so. I've played a lot of fun stuff recently, and have some great games on the go right now as well, so there's no shortage of inspiration. To be honest, it'll be nice to blog about something other than Pokémon again.

As for Nuzlocke Challenges, I definitely don't think this will be my last. As a matter of fact, I've already started my second Nuzlocke - a playthrough of Pokémon X, under a variant of the conventional Nuzlocke rules dubbed a 'Wonderlocke' (it plays more or less identically, except you have to Wonder Trade away every Pokémon you catch and use what you receive in return). I won't be documenting that in quite as much detail, but I plan to write a blog summarising the experience at the end of the playthrough. After that I plan to take a break from the format for a while, but I am keen to attempt another Nuzlocke Challenge blog series, most likely involving Pokémon HeartGold, towards the end of the year.

I'd like to close this blog by thanking everybody who's taken the time to read and leave feedback on this series. As I said, it's been a lot of fun putting it together, but the most rewarding part of the whole process has been seeing your reactions as you followed along with the adventures of Team Judi Drench. So to all of you who've read this series, whether in part or in its entirety, thank you. Take care guys, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Version (GBA)

<< Part Nine - Back To The BadgesBack to the Pokémon Center
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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Nine

<< Part Eight - The Search For A CutterBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Ten - Keep Calm And Don't Carry On >>

Grab your Poké Balls and your Pikachu, folks - it's once again time to head back to the region of Kanto for the latest instalment in my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge blog series. If you're new to the series and have a hard time telling your Arceus from your Electabuzz, this probably isn't the best place to start. Instead, I'd advise you begin with Part Zero, which explains in detail the specific rules that govern this playthrough of Pokémon FireRed Version. If you've missed any of the previous episodes, you can access them using the handy-dandy navigation links at the top and bottom of this blog post. When you're all caught up, read on and discover what Judi Drench and co. have been up to this week...

Part Nine - Back To The Badges

We pick up the action where we last left off, having just arrived in Fuchsia City on our continuing search for a new Cutter for our team. Instead of immediately returning to the hunt, I decide to take some time out to explore the city.

Answers on a postcard to the usual address, folks

Not too far from the Pokémon Center is the home of the Safari Zone's Warden. He's talking nonsensical gibberish on account of having lost his teeth somewhere in the Safari Zone, but it seems as though he's willing to reward us if we can find them for him. We'll have to keep an eye out for those teeth when we get to exploring the Safari Zone later on.

I've always found it a little odd that these games give you the Good Rod AFTER the Super Rod

Also residing in Fuchsia City is the third and final Fishing Guru, who kindly presents us with a Good Rod to complete our three-piece fishing kit. We don't have any immediate use for it, but it could come in handy when searching for encounters on water routes later on in the Nuzlocke.

With Fuchsia City explored, our next major destination is the Safari Zone. It's a special Pokémon reserve where trainers can pay to play in a catching game, trying to snag as many of the Zone's resident Pokémon as possible before they run out of time or Safari Balls. Catching Pokémon in the Safari Zone is not governed by conventional battling, but instead boils down to a simple-but-frustrating stand-off with every wild Pokémon you meet. You can throw bait to make the wild Pokémon less likely to flee but harder to catch, or you can throw rocks to make them easier to catch but more likely to run away from you. Being as we're under strict Nuzlocke rules, the Safari game isn't our primary concern here. Instead, we're here for two main purposes - to find the Warden's lost teeth, and to find the Secret House at the end of the Zone where we can pick up the all-important Surf HM.

Our first encounter in the Safari Zone is a male Nidoran. Instantly my disinterest in playing the Safari game dissipates, tension taking its place. This little guy can learn Cut. If we catch him, our Cutter worries will finally be over. Steeling myself, I throw my first Safari Ball. It shakes twice, but can't contain the Nidoran. Having broken free from the ball, I expect it to scarper. It doesn't. My nerves all seem to have congregated into a knot in my throat as I throw the second Safari Ball. It shakes once... twice... three times... and settles.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our Cutter!

I can't believe it. After hours of searching, we finally find our new Cutter, and in a place where I was fully expecting not to catch anything. Barney the male Nidoran instantly occupies the sixth slot in our party, and I waste no time in reaching into the bag and grabbing the Cut HM to teach to him. It feels like a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders - for now, at least, the Nuzlocke is back on track.

After our capture for the area, our journey through the rest of the Safari Zone progresses without incident. Thanks to the altered "battle" mechanics there's no danger of any of my team fainting, so I can focus on navigating its maze-like pathways. After some time I find a sign confirming that the Warden's gold teeth are indeed lost somewhere inside the Safari Zone:

Around four steps to the south of this very sign:

So somebody put up that sign WITHIN VIEWING DISTANCE of the Warden's gold teeth? Fucking hell, between the scatterbrained Warden and the rest of his blind workforce, it's no wonder the Safari Zone has gone out of business come Gold and Silver

Illogical level design aside, we've managed to get hold of the Warden's lost teeth. The question is, can we reach the Secret House from here with our remaining step count?

Yep, turns out we can!

Our reward for making it all the way to the Secret House at the end of the Safari Zone is the Surf HM, which I immediately teach to our resident Water-type Judi Drench. Its extra power more than makes up for sacrificing Water Pulse's slim chance to confuse, which was already pretty much obsolete given Clownbat has recently learned the never-miss Confuse Ray. Unfortunately we can't use Surf in the field just yet - we need to beat the Fuchsia gym leader Koga first.

Upon leaving the Safari Zone I decide to move our new acquisition Barney to the front of our party, hoping to switch-train him for a little while until he reaches roughly the same level as the rest of the party. A bit of training on Route 15 quickly pushes him up a level, resulting in his first evolution:

Almost, but not quite...

I then reach back into my bag and pull out a Moon Stone, eager to instil Barney with an extra injection of power and bulk:

There we are, that's much better. Having him evolve into Nidoking also shows off the logic behind calling him Barney - because now he's a big purple dinosaur

There's one last loose end to tie up before I head over to the Fuchsia City gym - the Warden needs his gold teeth back. I head back to his house and hand over his choppers.

Now able to speak again, he thanks me for finding them and rewards me with Strength, another HM that allows me to move boulders outside of battle (or at least, it will as soon as we get the Marshbadge from Sabrina). I decide to teach it to PDT the Snorlax - his high Attack stat and Normal typing will hopefully make it as useful in battle as it will be in the field.

It's time, ladies and gentlemen...

I head back to the Pokémon Center to quickly heal the team before we tackle the Fuchsia City gym. Inside the gym, the path to the leader Koga is blocked by a series of invisible walls, which must be navigated around in order to reach him and challenge him for the Soulbadge. Following the twisting, turning corridors brings me into battle with a number of trainers, presumably Koga's disciples. This is nothing new - it's a staple of the series to have to battle a handful of lesser type-themed trainers before you reach a gym's leader, to prepare the player for what's to come. What's frustrating about it in this case is that not one of the trainers standing between us and Koga uses Poison-type Pokémon. They're all rocking various Psychic-type Pokémon instead, making them a pretty poor means of preparing to deal with Koga's team and tactics.

It's been a long time coming guys, but here it is - the fight for our next badge!

We finally reach Koga and launch straight into the battle for what will be our fourth gym badge. The Poison master leads off with a Koffing and I open with Barney, our new Nidoking, who's instantly switched out in favour of Clownbat. My rough plan is to use Clownbat throughout this gym battle, because her Poison typing will mean she resists most of Koga's attacks, while her never-miss Aerial Ace will cut through his Pokémon's tendency to spam accuracy-lowering and evasion-raising moves. Aerial Ace does the job well, negating the Koffing's Smokescreen and tearing through its reasonable defences in only three hits. The same fate befalls Koga's next Koffing in an almost identical display.

Next up is Koga's Muk, and it's here where I do something stupid. Instead of sticking with my fail-safe battle strategy, I decide to try and mix things up. I send out Aunt Sue the Flareon, hoping that her high Attack and access to the Ground-type move Dig will get rid of Muk a little faster than the slow-and-steady approach with Clownbat. I regret my decision almost instantly - Muk uses Minimize to raise its evasion while Aunt Sue is underground. The Dig misses, and Muk uses its free turn to hit Aunt Sue with a powerful Sludge attack that also manages to inflict the Poison status effect. A little irritated, I switch out Aunt Sue and bring Clownbat back into the fray, admitting to myself that I'm better off playing the safer long game after all.

Eventually the Muk falls, and from there it's only a matter of time and Super Potions until his bulky Weezing suffers the same fate. Koga reluctantly hands over the Soulbadge as proof of our victory, along with the TM for Toxic. I decide to hold onto it for the time being rather than using it on any team members.

Four badges down, four badges to go

The Soulbadge also allows us to use Surf in the field, theoretically allowing us to sail south to the Seafoam Islands, and westward from there towards Cinnabar Island. However, we're not quite finished with mainland Kanto yet. For a start, there's our unfinished business with Celadon City's gym, which we can finally reach now we have another Cutter in our party. Keen to push our badge total up from four to five, I heal up at the Pokémon Center, and then begin the long trek northeast back to Lavender Town.

All hail Barney the Nidoking, Cutter of Trees and Saviour of the Nuzlocke!

While backtracking through Routes 13 and 14, I'm finally able to cut away the trees blocking access to the long grass and try to pick up some captures for those routes. Route 13 doesn't have anything new in its grass, but on Route 14 we run into something that we definitely haven't seen before:

It may not serve any practical purpose for the rest of this challenge, but it would still be pretty damn cool to have a Ditto

Barney is still leading the party, and he manages to poison the wild Ditto with a Poison sting before it uses Transform. From there it's simply a case of riding out its ineffective attacks and letting the Poison go to work while throwing Poké Balls. It escapes the first two, but third time proves to be the charm as our upswing of luck continues. The ball stays closed, and Ditto is whisked away to Bill's PC.

I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I'm pretty sure nobody has ever come up with a better nickname for a Ditto than this

From Route 13 it's a clean run through to Lavender Town, where I pause briefly to heal the team and pick up some more supplies before heading west through Saffron City to Celadon City. The path takes me back through Route 8, another route where we were previously denied a capture by an obstructive Cut tree. Barney knows what to do:

I wander around in the grass, and sure enough, a potential capture soon appears:

I don't believe it! After all this time, you came back!

It's another Growlithe. Given I didn't catch the one I encountered on Route 7, species clause doesn't apply here - it's still a legitimate potential capture. It might be because I'm still riding high on our recent good fortune, but I have a positive feeling about this one. In my mind, I've already decided on her nickname: '2nd Chance'. I send out Barney and manage to chip her health down into the red with Cut, then throw a Great Ball. Two shakes, and she breaks out. No problem, I tell myself, and am thinking of throwing a second when:

These aren't just any biscuits, my friend. These are the finest quality Fuckbiscuits.

Once again, we're denied a Growlithe by its own Roar. I'm not too sour this time, seeing as we have Aunt Sue on the team now. I just hope this isn't a sign of our luck once again starting to go bad.

We soon arrive back in Celadon City, where we heal up the team before making a beeline for Erika's Grass-type gym:

After all the effort it's taken to reach this point, I don't think I will ever tire of seeing those three words on screen

The Celadon gym is full of Beauties and Lasses, who I'm happy to report are all using Grass-type Pokémon, as befits the gym. As a result of us skipping so far ahead of ourselves, they're also significantly underlevelled compared to our team. Consequently, they don't put up too much resistance against the powerful Flying-type attacks of Bird Jesus and Clownbat, and it doesn't take us long to reach Erika at the very back of the gym.

Two gym battles in one episode? Now THIS is progress!

Erika's trio of Grass types might have given us some problems if we'd faced them two episodes ago as planned, but at our current levels they barely get a look-in. Bird Jesus's superior speed outmanoeuvres Victreebel, Tangel and Vileplume, her powerful Wing Attack managing to take all three down with one hit. The battle is over almost as soon as it began, leaving Erika speechless.

Erika hands us a Rainbowbadge as proof of our victory, in addition to the TM for Giga Drain. It's a neat move, but it has no place on my current team, so it'll be staying inside the TM case for the time being. The experience from the battle also takes Bird Jesus to level 36, bringing about her second and final transformation:

I graciously accept the badge and pin it to my trainer card, almost unable to believe how far we've come in such a short space of time. At the start of this episode we had three badges, no Cutter, and it was starting to look like our luck had run out. Less than two hours of gameplay later, we have five badges and a new Pokémon who can not only use Cut, but should also be more than capable of holding his own in battle after some training, and our team as a whole is looking stronger than ever. I head back to Celadon's Pokémon Center and heal the team one last time before saving our progress. The next leg of our journey awaits, in nearby Saffron City...

Progress Report:

Time: 16:34 --- Location: Celadon City --- Deaths: 10
The Graveyard

Aww yeah, the Nuzlocke is back on track, baby! Considering this time two weeks ago it looked like we might have to abandon the challenge due to a frustrating technicality, it's incredible to see just how much our luck seems to have turned around. In our next episode we'll be moving back east into Saffron City, where I hope to clear Silph Co., beat the Fighting Dojo, and take on the mighty Sabrina in pursuit of our sixth gym badge. Ordinarily I'd be worried about facing Sabrina - I've always struggled against her, even outside of the Nuzlocke format - but given how the last couple of episodes have panned out, I'm feeling quietly confident about things. Until then, all that remains to be said is thanks very much for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke (GBA)

<< Part Eight - The Search For A CutterBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Ten - Keep Calm And Don't Carry On >>
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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Nine

<< Part Eight - The Search For A CutterBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Ten coming soon... >>

Grab your Poké Balls and your Pikachu, folks - it's once again time to head back to the region of Kanto for the latest instalment in my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge blog series. If you're new to the series and have a hard time telling your Arceus from your Electabuzz, this probably isn't the best place to start. Instead, I'd advise you begin with Part Zero, which explains in detail the specific rules that govern this playthrough of Pokémon FireRed Version. If you've missed any of the previous episodes, you can access them using the handy-dandy navigation links at the top and bottom of this blog post. When you're all caught up, read on and discover what Judi Drench and co. have been up to this week...

Part Nine - Back To The Badges

We pick up the action where we last left off, having just arrived in Fuchsia City on our continuing search for a new Cutter for our team. Instead of immediately returning to the hunt, I decide to take some time out to explore the city.

Answers on a postcard to the usual address, folks

Not too far from the Pokémon Center is the home of the Safari Zone's Warden. He's talking nonsensical gibberish on account of having lost his teeth somewhere in the Safari Zone, but it seems as though he's willing to reward us if we can find them for him. We'll have to keep an eye out for those teeth when we get to exploring the Safari Zone later on.

I've always found it a little odd that these games give you the Good Rod AFTER the Super Rod

Also residing in Fuchsia City is the third and final Fishing Guru, who kindly presents us with a Good Rod to complete our three-piece fishing kit. We don't have any immediate use for it, but it could come in handy when searching for encounters on water routes later on in the Nuzlocke.

With Fuchsia City explored, our next major destination is the Safari Zone. It's a special Pokémon reserve where trainers can pay to play in a catching game, trying to snag as many of the Zone's resident Pokémon as possible before they run out of time or Safari Balls. Catching Pokémon in the Safari Zone is not governed by conventional battling, but instead boils down to a simple-but-frustrating stand-off with every wild Pokémon you meet. You can throw bait to make the wild Pokémon less likely to flee but harder to catch, or you can throw rocks to make them easier to catch but more likely to run away from you. Being as we're under strict Nuzlocke rules, the Safari game isn't our primary concern here. Instead, we're here for two main purposes - to find the Warden's lost teeth, and to find the Secret House at the end of the Zone where we can pick up the all-important Surf HM.

Our first encounter in the Safari Zone is a male Nidoran. Instantly my disinterest in playing the Safari game dissipates, tension taking its place. This little guy can learn Cut. If we catch him, our Cutter worries will finally be over. Steeling myself, I throw my first Safari Ball. It shakes twice, but can't contain the Nidoran. Having broken free from the ball, I expect it to scarper. It doesn't. My nerves all seem to have congregated into a knot in my throat as I throw the second Safari Ball. It shakes once... twice... three times... and settles.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our Cutter!

I can't believe it. After hours of searching, we finally find our new Cutter, and in a place where I was fully expecting not to catch anything. Barney the male Nidoran instantly occupies the sixth slot in our party, and I waste no time in reaching into the bag and grabbing the Cut HM to teach to him. It feels like a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders - for now, at least, the Nuzlocke is back on track.

After our capture for the area, our journey through the rest of the Safari Zone progresses without incident. Thanks to the altered "battle" mechanics there's no danger of any of my team fainting, so I can focus on navigating its maze-like pathways. After some time I find a sign confirming that the Warden's gold teeth are indeed lost somewhere inside the Safari Zone:

Around four steps to the south of this very sign:

So somebody put up that sign WITHIN VIEWING DISTANCE of the Warden's gold teeth? Fucking hell, between the scatterbrained Warden and the rest of his blind workforce, it's no wonder the Safari Zone has gone out of business come Gold and Silver

Illogical level design aside, we've managed to get hold of the Warden's lost teeth. The question is, can we reach the Secret House from here with our remaining step count?

Yep, turns out we can!

Our reward for making it all the way to the Secret House at the end of the Safari Zone is the Surf HM, which I immediately teach to our resident Water-type Judi Drench. Its extra power more than makes up for sacrificing Water Pulse's slim chance to confuse, which was already pretty much obsolete given Clownbat has recently learned the never-miss Confuse Ray. Unfortunately we can't use Surf in the field just yet - we need to beat the Fuchsia gym leader Koga first.

Upon leaving the Safari Zone I decide to move our new acquisition Barney to the front of our party, hoping to switch-train him for a little while until he reaches roughly the same level as the rest of the party. A bit of training on Route 15 quickly pushes him up a level, resulting in his first evolution:

Almost, but not quite...

I then reach back into my bag and pull out a Moon Stone, eager to instil Barney with an extra injection of power and bulk:

There we are, that's much better. Having him evolve into Nidoking also shows off the logic behind calling him Barney - because now he's a big purple dinosaur

There's one last loose end to tie up before I head over to the Fuchsia City gym - the Warden needs his gold teeth back. I head back to his house and hand over his choppers.

Now able to speak again, he thanks me for finding them and rewards me with Strength, another HM that allows me to move boulders outside of battle (or at least, it will as soon as we get the Marshbadge from Sabrina). I decide to teach it to PDT the Snorlax - his high Attack stat and Normal typing will hopefully make it as useful in battle as it will be in the field.

It's time, ladies and gentlemen...

I head back to the Pokémon Center to quickly heal the team before we tackle the Fuchsia City gym. Inside the gym, the path to the leader Koga is blocked by a series of invisible walls, which must be navigated around in order to reach him and challenge him for the Soulbadge. Following the twisting, turning corridors brings me into battle with a number of trainers, presumably Koga's disciples. This is nothing new - it's a staple of the series to have to battle a handful of lesser type-themed trainers before you reach a gym's leader, to prepare the player for what's to come. What's frustrating about it in this case is that not one of the trainers standing between us and Koga uses Poison-type Pokémon. They're all rocking various Psychic-type Pokémon instead, making them a pretty poor means of preparing to deal with Koga's team and tactics.

It's been a long time coming guys, but here it is - the fight for our next badge!

We finally reach Koga and launch straight into the battle for what will be our fourth gym badge. The Poison master leads off with a Koffing and I open with Barney, our new Nidoking, who's instantly switched out in favour of Clownbat. My rough plan is to use Clownbat throughout this gym battle, because her Poison typing will mean she resists most of Koga's attacks, while her never-miss Aerial Ace will cut through his Pokémon's tendency to spam accuracy-lowering and evasion-raising moves. Aerial Ace does the job well, negating the Koffing's Smokescreen and tearing through its reasonable defences in only three hits. The same fate befalls Koga's next Koffing in an almost identical display.

Next up is Koga's Muk, and it's here where I do something stupid. Instead of sticking with my fail-safe battle strategy, I decide to try and mix things up. I send out Aunt Sue the Flareon, hoping that her high Attack and access to the Ground-type move Dig will get rid of Muk a little faster than the slow-and-steady approach with Clownbat. I regret my decision almost instantly - Muk uses Minimize to raise its evasion while Aunt Sue is underground. The Dig misses, and Muk uses its free turn to hit Aunt Sue with a powerful Sludge attack that also manages to inflict the Poison status effect. A little irritated, I switch out Aunt Sue and bring Clownbat back into the fray, admitting to myself that I'm better off playing the safer long game after all.

Eventually the Muk falls, and from there it's only a matter of time and Super Potions until his bulky Weezing suffers the same fate. Koga reluctantly hands over the Soulbadge as proof of our victory, along with the TM for Toxic. I decide to hold onto it for the time being rather than using it on any team members.

Four badges down, four badges to go

The Soulbadge also allows us to use Surf in the field, theoretically allowing us to sail south to the Seafoam Islands, and westward from there towards Cinnabar Island. However, we're not quite finished with mainland Kanto yet. For a start, there's our unfinished business with Celadon City's gym, which we can finally reach now we have another Cutter in our party. Keen to push our badge total up from four to five, I heal up at the Pokémon Center, and then begin the long trek northeast back to Lavender Town.

All hail Barney the Nidoking, Cutter of Trees and Saviour of the Nuzlocke!

While backtracking through Routes 13 and 14, I'm finally able to cut away the trees blocking access to the long grass and try to pick up some captures for those routes. Route 13 doesn't have anything new in its grass, but on Route 14 we run into something that we definitely haven't seen before:

It may not serve any practical purpose for the rest of this challenge, but it would still be pretty damn cool to have a Ditto

Barney is still leading the party, and he manages to poison the wild Ditto with a Poison sting before it uses Transform. From there it's simply a case of riding out its ineffective attacks and letting the Poison go to work while throwing Poké Balls. It escapes the first two, but third time proves to be the charm as our upswing of luck continues. The ball stays closed, and Ditto is whisked away to Bill's PC.

I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I'm pretty sure nobody has ever come up with a better nickname for a Ditto than this

From Route 13 it's a clean run through to Lavender Town, where I pause briefly to heal the team and pick up some more supplies before heading west through Saffron City to Celadon City. The path takes me back through Route 8, another route where we were previously denied a capture by an obstructive Cut tree. Barney knows what to do:

I wander around in the grass, and sure enough, a potential capture soon appears:

I don't believe it! After all this time, you came back!

It's another Growlithe. Given I didn't catch the one I encountered on Route 7, species clause doesn't apply here - it's still a legitimate potential capture. It might be because I'm still riding high on our recent good fortune, but I have a positive feeling about this one. In my mind, I've already decided on her nickname: '2nd Chance'. I send out Barney and manage to chip her health down into the red with Cut, then throw a Great Ball. Two shakes, and she breaks out. No problem, I tell myself, and am thinking of throwing a second when:

These aren't just any biscuits, my friend. These are the finest quality Fuckbiscuits.

Once again, we're denied a Growlithe by its own Roar. I'm not too sour this time, seeing as we have Aunt Sue on the team now. I just hope this isn't a sign of our luck once again starting to go bad.

We soon arrive back in Celadon City, where we heal up the team before making a beeline for Erika's Grass-type gym:

After all the effort it's taken to reach this point, I don't think I will ever tire of seeing those three words on screen

The Celadon gym is full of Beauties and Lasses, who I'm happy to report are all using Grass-type Pokémon, as befits the gym. As a result of us skipping so far ahead of ourselves, they're also significantly underlevelled compared to our team. Consequently, they don't put up too much resistance against the powerful Flying-type attacks of Bird Jesus and Clownbat, and it doesn't take us long to reach Erika at the very back of the gym.

Two gym battles in one episode? Now THIS is progress!

Erika's trio of Grass types might have given us some problems if we'd faced them two episodes ago as planned, but at our current levels they barely get a look-in. Bird Jesus's superior speed outmanoeuvres Victreebel, Tangel and Vileplume, her powerful Wing Attack managing to take all three down with one hit. The battle is over almost as soon as it began, leaving Erika speechless.

Erika hands us a Rainbowbadge as proof of our victory, in addition to the TM for Giga Drain. It's a neat move, but it has no place on my current team, so it'll be staying inside the TM case for the time being. The experience from the battle also takes Bird Jesus to level 36, bringing about her second and final transformation:

I graciously accept the badge and pin it to my trainer card, almost unable to believe how far we've come in such a short space of time. At the start of this episode we had three badges, no Cutter, and it was starting to look like our luck had run out. Less than two hours of gameplay later, we have five badges and a new Pokémon who can not only use Cut, but should also be more than capable of holding his own in battle after some training, and our team as a whole is looking stronger than ever. I head back to Celadon's Pokémon Center and heal the team one last time before saving our progress. The next leg of our journey awaits, in nearby Saffron City...

Progress Report:

Time: 16:34 --- Location: Celadon City --- Deaths: 10
The Graveyard

Aww yeah, the Nuzlocke is back on track, baby! Considering this time two weeks ago it looked like we might have to abandon the challenge due to a frustrating technicality, it's incredible to see just how much our luck seems to have turned around. In our next episode we'll be moving back east into Saffron City, where I hope to clear Silph Co., beat the Fighting Dojo, and take on the mighty Sabrina in pursuit of our sixth gym badge. Ordinarily I'd be worried about facing Sabrina - I've always struggled against her, even outside of the Nuzlocke format - but given how the last couple of episodes have panned out, I'm feeling quietly confident about things. Until then, all that remains to be said is thanks very much for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke (GBA)

<< Part Eight - The Search For A CutterBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Ten coming soon... >>
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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Eight

<< Part Seven - The End Of The Road...?Back to the Pokémon CenterPart Nine - Back To The Badges >>

Hey folks. It's back, and it's back sooner than you or even I might have thought possible. That's right, it's time for a new instalment of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge blog series. As always, if you're new to the series, I recommend starting with its genesis - Part Zero. It explains what the concept of a Nuzlocke is, and how it applies to this specific playthrough of Pokémon FireRed Version. If you missed the last episode, or any previous episode for that matter, you can find them all by using the handy-dandy navigation bars at the top and bottom of this blog post. As for the rest of us, let's pick up where we left off...

Part Eight - The Search For A Cutter

For the sake of familiarity, let's just quickly recap what happened in the previous episode. Team Judi Drench powered on from Lavender Town through to Celadon City. There we acquired a new team member (Aunt Sue the Flareon), infiltrated the Team Rocket hideout, and came away with the coveted Silph Scope. Unfortunately that's where our progress came to an end, because with none of the team able to learn the HM Cut, we couldn't gain access to Erika's gym to fight for the Rainbowbadge. With the most obvious route unavailable to us, we've had to take a big side-step in order to search for a Pokémon who can learn Cut and get our gym leader challenge back on track.

This has got to be one of the most ridiculous methods of impeding player progress in the history of video games

Rather than taking the underground passage back to Lavender Town, I decide to cut through Saffron City instead. The old lady's tea is just what the thirsty guards are looking for to wet their whistles, and we're granted free passage in and out of Saffron in exchange. Unfortunately there isn't a lot we can do there at the moment, as Team Rocket seem to have the whole city on lock-down. I do manage to pick up the TM for Psychic from one of the citizens, which nobody on the team can learn right now, but is sure to come in handy further down the line.

It looks so much bigger up close...

Having exhausted my current options in Saffron City for now, I continue east until I arrive once more in Lavender Town. Now that we have the Silph Scope, we can finally climb the Pokémon Tower and investigate the disturbance being caused within. On entering the tower, the melancholy atmosphere hits me pretty hard - this is, after all, where trainers come to remember their dead Pokémon, and we've lost quite a few companions up to this point. I take a moment to remember our fallen comrades - Rufus the Butterfree, Beryl the Rattata, Rosie the Mankey, and all the others - before we press on to the next floor of the tower.

Our old friend Duncan is here, and he's itching for another battle. It seems a bit disrespectful to fight within these hallowed grounds, but Duncan won't back down, so fight we must. His team isn't drastically different to our previous fight, and his levels aren't much to write home about either (probably because the game expected us to battle our rival on our first visit to Lavender Town). Consequently, it doesn't take a lot for Clownbat, Bird Jesus and Judi Drench to undo his team this time around. Shocked at having lost once again, Duncan storms out of the tower, leaving us to continue climbing towards the top.

With the Silph Scope in hand, we're now able to see the various apparitions within the tower. More to the point, now we can identify the ghost Pokémon, we can catch them. I run around the next floor of the tower, searching for our first encounter.

Now that is a pretty awesome first encounter!

The first Pokémon we meet in the Tower is a Haunter. I'd been expecting a Gastly, given they're more prevalent than their evolved counterpart, but I'm definitely not unhappy to have met the bigger sister on this occasion. If there's one thing the team is missing, it's a reliable special attacker. If we can catch this gal and teach her the Psychic TM we just picked up in Saffron City, we'll have the makings of a powerful special atta--

You all know the word I'm thinking of. It starts with 'F'. And ends with 'uckbiscuits'.

Before we can even toss a Poké Ball in the Haunter's direction, it uses Curse on us, eating up its last little bit of HP and causing it to faint. Our bad luck in first encounters continues.

The unfortunate outcome of our potential capture encounter aside, ascending Pokémon Tower doesn't cause the team too many problems. Clownbat and Judi Drench do most of the heavy lifting, both using Bite to make short work of the Ghost-types used by the Channelers residing in the tower. We take our time, battling every wild Gastly, exploring every pathway on every maze-like floor and picking up every item on the way. By the time we reach the end of the penultimate floor, the team are nicely levelled and more than ready to deal with the ghost blocking access to the very top of the tower.

With the Silph Scope in our possession, we quickly unmask the mysterious spectre as the spirit of a Marowak. A few Wing Attacks from Clownbat are enough to subdue the restless ghost, who was apparently trying to protect her baby Cubone even in death. The Poké-demon now exorcised, we move up to the tower's top floor, where a few members of Team Rocket are holding a gentleman named Mr Fuji hostage. Much like the Marowak, their Pokémon don't put up much of a fight against Clownbat, who resists their Poison-type attacks while tearing them up with an almost relentless barrage of Wing Attack and Bite. The Rocket grunts flee, leaving Mr Fuji free to get back to his Pokémon rescue centre. As thanks for rescuing him from Team Rocket, he awards us a Poké Flute, which can be used to rouse sleeping Pokémon from their slumber.

Operation Cutter is officially GO!

Now that we have the Poké Flute, we can wake up the sleeping Snorlax on Route 12 and begin our long trek south to Fuchsia City. My hope is that on the way there, we'll be able to encounter another Pokémon who's capable of using Cut. If we don't, then I'm pretty sure our last remaining hope lies in being able to beat Koga and obtain the Surf HM from the Safari Zone. It's a long shot, but it's our only shot.

It's a very long way from Lavender Town to Fuchsia City, and there are no places to stop and heal along the way, so I make sure to stock up on plenty of Super Potions and status-healing items at the Poké Mart before we begin our journey. Route 12 lies south of Lavender Town, and is largely made up of boardwalks that hug the Kanto region's eastern shores. As a consequence, there are lots of fishermen standing around looking for battles. One of those fishermen hands Judi Drench enough experience to hit level 36, which brings about another exciting evolution for our team:

Ol' Judi's come a long way since we first started out in Pallet Town

Another consequence of the route being nothing but wooden boards is that there no opportunities to encounter wild Pokémon (I could technically use my Old Rod, but given it's rigged to catch nothing but Magikarp, there wouldn't be much point). The direct result of this situation is that by the time I reach the sleeping Snorlax at the intersection between Routes 12 and 11, I haven't encountered any potential captures.

That means that this guy is our first official encounter for Route 12

I play the Poké Flute, waking up the Snorlax and putting the cantankerous beast into battle mode. It's a tense encounter that lasts almost ten minutes, punctuated by the Snorlax's periodic use of Rest to completely heal itself. To make matters worse, the only balls I have in my possession are simple Poké Balls, and I don't have a huge amount of them in reserve. Having whittled the Snorlax down to its last sliver of HP for the sixth time in the battle, I throw my penultimate Poké Ball and hope for the best...

If this was an episode of The X Factor, this is the bit where they'd start playing Mariah Carey's 'When You Believe'

In a turn of events that can only be described as miraculous, the critically wounded Snorlax stays in the Poké Ball and is captured. It's an incredible upswing for Team Judi Drench, who seem to have suffered nothing but losses and misfortune for the last few episodes. Snorlax is an absolute powerhouse, capable of withstanding just about any hit while dishing out tons of damage in return. He can't learn Cut, unfortunately, but his bulk and strength immediately turn him into a member of the party.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet PDT the Snorlax. Hopefully he's the harbinger of good fortune for the rest of this Nuzlocke

I check out PDT's stats and moves before pressing on, and decide to teach him the Brick Break TM that's been languishing in my bag for some time now. With another reliable fighter now in tow, the journey south along Route 12 continues. A little further on from PDT's napping spot is a hut that turns out to be the home of another Fishing Guru, who hands us a Super Rod in return for listening to his angling-rambling.

It's a little late on the route for that, but thanks anyway

Happy to have a new fishing rod in the bag capable of catching sea-dwelling Pokémon other than Magikarp, we continue on our way towards Fuchsia. Just before the point where Route 12 becomes Route 13, there's a patch of long grass to the west. Unfortunately though, it won't do us much good under the current circumstances:

I know this is part of Route 12, so we can't actually capture anything here anyway, but still - it's like the game knows!

A little further south is Route 13, which has its own patch of grass:

Again?! God damn it Game Freak, cut us some slack!

And continuing south and east, Route 14 also has a patch of long grass concealing a potential capture:

Alright, this is beyond a joke now. How many more captures are we going to miss out on because we can't use fucking Cut?!

Thankfully, the journey through these routes isn't completely wasted. There are tons of trainers hanging out in this part of Kanto, all of which offer decent amounts of experience without putting up too threatening a fight. By the time we hit Route 15, all five members of the team are well past level 30 and we're finally starting to look like a team again. Route 15 also offers us the courtesy of four explorable patches of long grass, meaning we have one more chance to capture a Cutter before we arrive in Fuchsia City. We step into the grass, the screen fades to black, and we're greeted by:

God damn it

Yep, it's a Venonat. I don't have anything against Venonat or Venomoth. Quite the opposite in fact - the original TwitchPlaysPokémon stream has left me with something of a reverence for the All-Terrain Venomoth that destroyed Lance's Dragonite. The problem here is the disheartening fact that Venonat can't learn Cut. Still, I don't want to pass up the chance to add another Pokémon to my ranks - having a reasonably strong Poison/Bug type in reserve (sorry, Howard) could be a valuable asset should anything happen to Clownbat. I throw my final Poké Ball at the weakened critter and add it to my roster.

She may be a dragonslayer, but she's no lumberjack

From the spot where we caught Stunbug, Fuchsia City is only a short walk to the west. Upon arriving in town, the first thing I do is make for the Pokémon Center to heal up our battle-weary team. Stunbug joins Howard the Beedrill, Boris the Spearow and Splosh Boy the Magikarp in the PC Reserves box, leaving us with a party of five that I'm reasonably happy with - Judi Drench the Blastoise, Bird Jesus the Pidgeotto, Clownbat the Golbat, Aunt Sue the Flareon, and PDT the Snorlax.

We've made it all the way to Fuchsia City, quite the feat for a team without access to Cut. However, our pool of available potential encounters is shrinking rapidly, and with it our chance of finding a new Cutter. Does Team Judi Drench's much-needed tree surgeon lie in waiting in the Safari Zone? Can Koga be defeated before Erika? Or will our crew of confrontational critters finally exhaust both their options and their luck? The answers shall most likely be revealed in the next instalment of the Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge...

Progress Report:

Time: 14:42 --- Location: Fuchsia City --- Deaths: 10
The Graveyard

I think we can call that a pretty successful episode, all things considered. We may not have found our all-important Cutter yet, but we've gained a battling powerhouse in the form of PDT the Snorlax, and we've also managed to avoid losing anyone for a whole episode. That's a bonus in my book.

The next part of this series is likely to cover the Safari Zone and Fuchsia City's gym, and may even stretch as far as Cycling Road if fortune smiles upon us. All being well, the next blog should be ready and available to read around this time next week. Until then, thanks very much for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Version (GBA)

<< Part Seven - The End Of The Road...?Back to the Pokémon CenterPart Nine - Back To The Badges >>
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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Seven

<< Part Six - Tunnels Of DeathBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Eight - The Search For A Cutter >>

Hello one and all, and welcome back to the return of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge blog series. I've taken a month-long break from adventuring in Kanto (mainly to spend more time in Kalos), but I'm now back and braced to endure once more! It's been a little while since the last instalment in this series, so here are some handy links if you need to get caught up on proceedings thus far. If you're new to the whole Nuzlocke concept, your best starting point is probably the aptly-named Part Zero, which explains what a Nuzlocke challenge is, and how I'll be applying its conventions to this playthrough of Pokémon FireRed Version. If you've missed any other episodes, you can use the convenient navigation bars at the top and bottom of this blog to move back and forth between entries. Once you're all caught up, join us back here for the next chapter in the thrilling adventures of Judi Drench and co.!

Part Seven - The End Of The Road...?

Painful though it may be, the show must go on

We pick up our journey where we left off, in the quiet little burg of Lavender Town. Still understandably shaken from the beating our team took in the dark, twisting caverns of the evil Rock Tunnel, we recommence our adventure through Kanto with equal measures of trepidation and sorrow weighing heavy on our hearts. We may be a skeleton crew at this point, but we still have a fair few bases covered - Bird Jesus the Pidgeotto and Clownbat the Zubat fulfil our need for speed, while the ubiquitous Judi Drench can effectively wall almost anything thrown at him. Daniel-San the Machop packs a mighty punch that's sure to only get more powerful as he grows, and SparkyBall the Voltorb has the makings of a reliable special attacker. We just need to keep the dream (and the team) alive.

To the west lies Route 8, our next destination and the home of our next potential capture. I make for the patch of tall grass in the centre of the route and--

Fuckbiscuits

I'm reminded that since the loss of The Mole, our Diglett, we don't have a Pokémon that knows Cut on our team. The reminder cuts like a knife. No sweat, I think to myself, opening the TM case and selecting HM01 from within. It's then that it becomes apparent that none of the Pokémon on the team have the ability to learn Cut. A quick sprint back to the Pokémon Center in Lavender Town to check our PC confirms my worst fears - we don't own a single Pokémon that can learn this crucial HM. Looks like no capture for Route 8, then.

Disheartened, I start taking on the various trainers inhabiting the route. Our team is bouncing back after a painful setback, and the only way it's going to do that successfully is by gaining more experience, particularly in the case of new recruits Daniel-San and SparkyBall. I decide to lead with the former - given the abundance of Normal-types being used by trainers in the area, his Fighting-type attacks should give him a definite edge. He does well, a solid combination of Focus Energy and Karate Chop making short work of the resident trainers. In fact, it's going a little too well. So well that we don't even see the critical hit Quick Attack coming:

Well that was certainly unexpected

Daniel-San, our promising young Machop, has been ended by a Rattata of all things. Once again, our time spent training has resulted in yet another trip to the Graveyard to bury one of our rising stars too soon. We mourn Daniel-San's loss for as long as we can afford to, before leaping straight back into the fold. As if seeking vengeance for their fallen comrade, the team battle with a renewed vigour. It's around this time, just before venturing into the Underground Passage, that Clownbat hits level 22, resulting in another exciting evolution for the team:

I've genuinely never used a Golbat before, so I'm pretty stoked to have this little lady on our team

After defeating all the trainers on Route 8, we take the nearby Underground Passage that runs beneath Saffron City, emerging on Route 7, next to Celadon City. There's a small patch of grass here, one which isn't fenced off by Cut-able trees, so we seize the opportunity for another potential new capture. Our first new encounter is this little guy:

As a kid who grew up with Blue, I will always champion Ninetales over Arcanine. That being said, I wouldn't say no to getting this guy on our side

Not bad! Not bad at all! Growlithe's evolution, Arcanine, is a pretty damn powerful Fire-type. It'll give our team some much-needed type diversity, and be a real asset in the upcoming Grass-type gym. I really hope we ca--

Double Fuckbiscuits

Yep, you're reading that picture right - our potential capture for Route 7 just Roared us away. So no captures for Route 7 or Route 8. What a wonderful episode this is turning out to be.

We arrive in Celadon City a little beaten up, but with our four remaining party members still intact. There's a lot of stuff I want to get done in this city before wrapping up today's episode, all of which I've decided to throw into a handy-dandy bullet-point list for easy reference:

  • Pick up the Eevee in the secret area of the Celadon Mansion
  • Do some shopping in the Celadon Department Store
  • Pick up some Tea for the thirsty guards currently blocking all routes to Saffron City
  • Infiltrate Team Rocket's HQ and nab the Silph Scope
  • Finally, battle the Celadon Gym Leader Erika for our fourth badge

First up is the free Eevee that's sitting at the top of the Celadon Mansion. I thought long and hard about what I wanted my Celadon City 'capture' to be, because there's quite a bit of choice. It's possible to 'buy' a few different Pokémon from the Game Corner, including the awesome Scyther and the eventually-awesome Dratini, but doing so involves either buying a ton of Game Coins to exchange for them, or spending a lot of time on the slot machines in the Game Corner to win those Game Coins, and frankly I had neither the money or the patience to do either. Eevee is the safe and easy option, not to mention the most versatile. Getting it involves walking around to the back of the Mansion and taking a staircase up to a semi-secret room on the top floor. Sure enough, the Poké Ball is there. We grab it, adding the cute little genetic abomination to our roster.

A female Eevee is pretty rare, I believe. I decided to celebrate that rareness by giving it a dumb nickname only a handful of my friends will appreciate

Our next decision to make is what to evolve this little gal into. FireRed presents us with only the three original Eeveelutions as options - the Water-type Vaporeon, the Fire-type Flareon, or the Electric-type Jolteon. The presence of Judi Drench and SparkyBall on our team, coupled with losing out on the potential Growlithe capture on Route 7, has effectively already made our decision for us - Aunt Sue is going to become a Flareon. We just need to hit up the Department Store to buy the relevant stone first.

At Celadon Department Store, our first port of call is to stock up on useful items and sell all the stuff we don't need. In exchange for our useless store of Revives and Nuggets, we end up sitting on a tidy pile of cash that should keep us comfortably in Great Balls and Super Potions for the foreseeable future. A couple of floors up we find the guy selling evolutionary stones. I buy a Fire Stone, and slap that shit on Aunt Sue post-haste:

I know Flareon is the worst Eeveelution, especially in these third-gen games before the physical/special split, but this team needs some FIRE, damn it, and it doesn't look like we're going to get it anywhere else

Back downstairs I pick up another TM for Dig and teach it to the newly-evolved Aunt Sue. It should help her out against threatening Rock-types, as well as playing to her physical strengths.

After our little shopping trip we head back to the Celadon Mansion. Going in through the front door this time, we meet an old lady who's brewed a spot of tea and seems more than happy to share it with us:

As a kid who grew up playing Blue, this subtly re-worked puzzle caused me a lot of headaches the first time I played LeafGreen

This Tea can be palmed off to the thirsty guards blocking passage into Saffron City, giving us access to another of Kanto's main cities and eliminating the need to keep using the underground passages to get around. I'll drop it in to the guards later though, as a more pressing matter requires my attention - getting the Silph Scope back from Team Rocket!

Because that behaviour is in no way suspicious

The entrance to Team Rocket's HQ is hidden beneath the Game Corner, which is apparently just a front for their nefarious Pokémon-stealing operations. The hidden entrance is triggered by a switch, behind a poster, being guarded by a Rocket Grunt. He battles us to try and dissuade us from investigating the suspicious poster, but his team is no match for the strength of ours, who with the exception of SparkyBall are all now well clear of level 25. The grunt flees, leaving us free to enter the hidden HQ of Team Rocket...

It's time to find that Silph Scope!

The Team Rocket HQ is a dungeon that I always think is much harder than it actually is - no doubt a hold-over memory from childhood, perhaps made worse by watching hours of the original TwitchPlaysPokémon stream where 70,000 people were all trying (and failing) to navigate the floor tile puzzle simultaneously. It's actually a pretty straightforward dungeon with a surprisingly small number of dead ends. Even the heinous floor tile puzzles aren't that difficult providing the player stops once in a while to actually take note of where the tiles around them will lead them to. The biggest threat to Team Judi Drench comes from the squad of Rocket Grunts that are based here, scattered throughout the base and packing some serious Poké-heat in a lot of cases. Aunt Sue comes into her own here, her newly-acquired Dig making short work of a lot of the Poison types that the Rocket Grunts like to use. Unfortunately though, it's not all sugar and rainbows...

R.I.P. SparkyBall - the latest victim of the dreaded Critical Hit Quick Attack

SparkyBall's tenure in the team was short and largely uneventful, but that doesn't make its loss any easier to bear. Once again our party is back down to just four Pokémon, and with only Howard the Beedrill, Boris the Spearow and Splosh Boy the Magikarp sitting in the box, these are exceedingly worrying times for the future of the Nuzlocke.

Eventually we make our way down the bottom floor of the basement hideout, where we come face to face with Giovanni, leader of Team Rocket, for the first time. He's got the Silph Scope we're after, but he's not going to give it up without a fight.

Giovanni leads with a powerful Onix. I decide to switch straight into Judi Drench, knowing Giovanni's Rock/Ground type will suffer a double weakness to his Water-type attacks. Sure enough, Water Pulse puts the Onix down in one hit. Next up is a Rhyhorn, which suffers a similar fate. His third and final Pokémon, a powerful Kangaskhan, proves tougher to deal with. Judi Drench and Aunt Sue manage to double-team it, dancing between its bevy of Mega Punches and Bites to deal the finishing blow with Aunt Sue's HP dangerously in the red. Shocked to be defeated by a mere kid, the Team Rocket boss flees, leaving behind the all-important Silph Scope. I grab it and use one of my Escape Ropes to zip straight out of the lair.

With Silph Co.'s ghost-viewing device now safely in our possession, the only thing left to be done in Celadon City is to take on the resident gym leader, the Grass-type trainer Erika. While our team isn't exactly the strongest it's ever been, the combination two reliable Flying types and a newly-gained Fire type should stand us in good stead. I heal the team up at the Pokémon Center, make my way south towards the city's gym, and--

Triple Fuckbiscuits

Ah. Shit. In all the excitement, I've completely forgotten that we need Cut to get into the gym. And since Aunt Sue can't learn it, we're still in a position where none of our surviving Pokémon can help us progress. With no available captures remaining on nearby routes, and no means of getting into the gym to earn our fourth badge, has the journey of Team Judi Drench imitated the lives of most of its members by coming to a painfully premature demise? It looks like we're going to need a miracle to move on past this impasse...

Progress Report:

Time: 12:42 --- Location: Celadon City --- Deaths: 10
The Graveyard

I have to admit, I never thought the Nuzlocke would be threatening to end on such a frustrating technicality. I was pretty sure the team would crash out somewhere around badge six (I've never liked battling Sabrina, and having to do so under the conditions of a Nuzlocke is a terrifying prospect). To be in this position, where the game may end just because we can't do something as simple as using Cut to clear a damned tree, is pretty annoying to say the least.

This isn't an eventuality I was prepared for. The rules outlined in Part Zero don't account for this happening. As a result, I've been forced to look deeper into the workings of other players' Nuzlockes to see how they've dealt with similar occurrences. To add to the existing frustrations, there doesn't seem to be a clear consensus on this front - some players consider it to be a 'Game Over' scenario, while others permit the catching of an HM slave to allow progress to continue, with the proviso they're never used in battle. Personally, I'm finding myself leaning more towards the former - it may well bring our adventures in Kanto to a premature close, but the latter seems too much like a lenient work-around that doesn't match up with the core 'no do-overs' spirit of the Nuzlocke challenge.

Thankfully, all isn't lost just yet. With the Silph Scope in our possession, we can head back to Lavender Town and scale the Pokémon Tower. Doing so will net us a Poké Flute, which will let us wake up the sleeping Snorlax on Routes 12 and 16 and give us access to more areas for potential captures. If we're really lucky, we'll be able to catch something capable of using Cut on one of those routes, which will put us right back into the game. Part Eight will see us embarking on this new leg of the journey, in search of a new Cut-master, and should be up some time next week. Until then, thanks very much for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Version (GBA)

<< Part Six - Tunnels Of DeathBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Eight - The Search For A Cutter >>
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Previously In Dan's Gaming History...

Hey guys. I've been a little slack on the blogging front over the last week or two, so I'll begin this entry with an apology. There should have been another couple of episodes of the Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge series last week, as well as the April instalment of Letting Off Some Steam last Saturday, so I'm sorry those blogs are yet to see the light of day. This blog is neither of those things. It's more of a recap of the games I've been playing over the last month or so, with a handful of thoughts about each one.

Pokémon Y

Yep, I'm still playing this

I have no idea how this happened. Three years ago I was expressing nothing but indifference to the Pokémon franchise, feeling disappointed with the apparent lack of innovation in the then-newly-released Black and White versions. Fast forward to the present and I've become almost obsessive about the series, having played through almost every single core game in the back half of last year and continuing to be invested in the series through the start of 2014 as well. Nowhere is this obsession more evident than in the game clock on my Pokémon Y save file, which currently stands at an unbelievable 490 hours. I'm pretty sure I've never invested that amount of time into a game before, and certainly not in a single save file - before this Final Fantasy X stood as my highest hour-count at a comparatively meagre 120 hours. So yeah - I have played a lot of Pokémon Y.

This guy is the fulcrum on which my entire team is set. I love it.

So what have I been doing in the game all this time? Well, breeding, training and battling mostly. My main aim has been putting together a team of six specially-bred, finely-tuned Pokémon to take into competitive battles online, and after a lot of time spent at the Daycare and in Super Training, I think I've finally settled on my team of six - Galvantula, Tyrantrum, Excadrill, Politoed, Scrafty and Charizard. The basic goal of the team is to set up hazards and take out any major threats, so that Charizard can come in, Mega-Evolve into Mega Charizard Y and completely wreck house. The team is a lot of fun to use and comes good more often than not, although it does have a glaring weakness against powered-up priority moves (the popular combination of Belly Drum and Aqua Jet on Azumarill has undone me more times than I'd care to mention). I've had a lot of fun getting deep into the meta-game of competitive Pokémon battling, and being able to build a strong, synergised team that battles well has been a really rewarding experience.

Now that my team is finished, I'm trying to ease off on the Pokémon a little bit. A few of my friends who are also playing the game have agreed to starting a small, friendly league in June, so I'll probably go back to the game in late May just to get back to grips with battling so I don't go into the tournament too rusty. I'd also like to try and get back around to actually, y'know, catching 'em all at some point as well (I currently only have around 500 of the 718 available Pokémon in my possession). Until then, I'll have the FireRed Nuzlocke to fill the Pikachu-shaped hole left by Y.

Final Fantasy VIII

It's taken thirteen long years, but I've finally seen the credits roll on FFVIII

Final Fantasy VIII has been one of my personal gaming bugbears for over a decade. I received a copy of the game for my eleventh birthday way back in February 2001, and despite a number of attempts to play through it between then and now, I'd never seen the adventure of Squall and co. through to completion. I honestly couldn't tell you why - as a die-hard fan of the franchise through my teenage years, there's no rational explanation for why I never finished it. I just... didn't. Last month saw me finally lay the game to rest and remove it from my Pile of Shame, the end of a two-month journey that, on reflection, definitely had more highs than lows.

There's no denying that Squall is a massive arsehole...

There are a few things about Final Fantasy VIII that didn't bother me when I was younger, but which just don't wash with me now. The game has arguably the series' worst protagonist in Squall Leonhart, a guy who's probably supposed to appear stoic and reserved but really just manages to come off as a moody, pubescent dick. I get the reasoning behind it, given that he's scared of getting close to people in case he loses them, but... does he really have to be such an arsehole about it? It also makes it really difficult to believe that any of the game's other characters admire him, because seriously, who would realistically look up to a man whose stock response to any situation is "...whatever."? On top of that, the game's second act is really uninteresting from a narrative perspective, relying far too heavy on the usual JRPG cliché bullshit in a ham-fisted attempt to start tying its plot threads together (amnesiac protagonists, anyone?).

...but Rinoa's playful cheeriness is usually enough to make up for it

Thankfully the game makes up for it in other areas. The combat and character development are excellent, largely thanks to the incredibly flexible Junction system. Treating magic as a resource as well as an ability leads to an addictive balancing act of trying to find the best magic to boost your stats, while at the same time leaving yourself plenty of magic options in combat. It's easy to get lost in, and hilarious fun when you find a way to 'break' it and turn your characters into super-human fighting machines through unique combinations of Junctioned magic and abilities. The resource management is fun as well, hunting down items that can be either refined into useful magic or combined at Junk Shops to make more powerful weapons. The story picks up after its woeful middle third, jumping off the deep end in a way that's so silly it's difficult not to smile and suspend your disbelief just for the fun of seeing it unfold. Finally, as a counter-point to the terrible main character, I think Rinoa might be one of my favourite female leads in any Final Fantasy game period. She's pretty well-written, combining almost childish levels of idealism and naivety with both strength and determination in a way that's really refreshing, especially when juxtaposed with Squall's general asshattery.

I'm really glad I've finally finished Final Fantasy VIII. As it stands it's definitely my least favourite of the three original PlayStation Final Fantasy games - although its not bad by any means, my personal ties to Final Fantasy VII and the general brilliance of Final Fantasy IX were always going to be tough to stand up to. I get the feeling I probably would have enjoyed its story and characters a lot more if I'd managed to play through it in my teens, rather than waiting until my mid-twenties when my tolerance for teen angst melodrama has started to crumble a little. More than anything, though, it feels great to finally have put that personal demon to rest after thirteen years.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Following last year's Metal Gear May Madness blog feature, my good friend Duncan noticed that there was one glaring omission from my Metal Gear marathon - namely the combat-action spin-off from PlatinumGames, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Not wanting me to miss out on Raiden's cyborg-ninja adventures in a post-MGS4 world, he gifted me a copy of the game for Christmas. I spent about a week playing through it in early April, and came away from it a lot more impressed than I was expecting to be.

I'll get this disclaimer out of the way now - I don't play a lot of these kinds of action games. I enjoy the God of War series, but that's more because of its unique take on Greek mythology than because I like chopping dudes in half with chain-blades (although I will concede, that's pretty fun too). I've never really been able to get into stuff like Devil May Cry or Onimusha, so I had understandable apprehensions going into Metal Gear Rising. Thankfully they proved to be unfounded - Rising is a brilliant thrill ride, cramming plenty of both Kojima's and Platinum's distinct brands of crazy into its admittedly short story to satisfy my Metal Gear itch. The combat is fast-paced, stylish to watch and viscerally rewarding to execute. I did have some problems with the game's more active parry mechanics, although I put that down to being conditioned by "hold-this-button-to-parry" games like the aforementioned God of War rather than any fault with the system itself. I also thought the final boss was accompanied by an unnecessarily fiendish spike in difficulty - my total game time ran to around eight hours, of which over two were spent just trying to beat that last boss battle. Those complaints aside, I found Rising to be a lot of fun, and I definitely won't be leaving it out of any future Metal Gear marathons. Thanks, Duncan!

Assassin's Creed: Revelations

Revelations feels like a potentially brilliant game that spreads itself way too thin

I'll be honest - I wasn't expecting to be in a position where I could talk at any length about my feelings towards Assassin's Creed: Revelations right now, having only started the game just under a week ago. However, in just five days I've already made it to the fifth of the game's seven DNA sequences. Considering ACII and AC: Brotherhood were both sprawling open-world masterpieces that took me about a month each to play through, Revelations feels incredibly short by comparison. The city of Constantinople is pretty big, and there's plenty to do in it, but I think that's part of the problem - Revelations seems to spread itself way too thin in terms of its multitude of gameplay mechanics. In addition to the usual open-world fare the series is known for and the return of the Assassin's Guild stuff introduced in Brotherhood (which has been further expanded upon with additional layers of complexity to consider), there are also (pretty poorly-implemented) tower-defence sequences and weird Portal-esque first-person puzzle sequences involving Desmond.

Ezio may be older and wiser, but his eye for the ladies is as keen as it's ever been

What this all adds up to is a game with a ton of deep and complex side content, all of which sadly seems to have detracted from the core gameplay and resulted in a significantly shorter story than past Assassin's Creed games. For me that's a real shame, because the culmination of Ezio Auditore's story arc is what I primarily came to Revelations for. To that end it's certainly proving satisfying so far. For what it's worth I think Ezio was one of the better-written protagonists of last generation, and it's great seeing an older and wiser incarnation of the character, but still susceptible to the same weaknesses. The core open-world gameplay of the series is still just as fun as it's always been as well, even if it's starting to feel a little 'been-there-done-that'. It's just kind of disappointing that the experience looks like it's going to be over much sooner than I expected.

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So that's what I've been playing over the last month or so. Again, apologies for my lack of blog activity over the last couple of weeks. I'm going to try and rectify that by putting out Part Seven of the Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge before the end of the long weekend, so keep an eye out for that either tomorrow or Monday (most likely Monday). Until then, thanks very much for reading, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Assassin's Creed: Revelations (X360)

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Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge - Part Six

<< Part Five - Grounded LightningBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Seven - The End Of The Road...? >>

Hey guys, and welcome to the sixth part of my Pokémon FireRed Nuzlocke Challenge. Once again, I'd like to start by apologising for the delay in bringing you this blog. I was off work last week and had plenty of time to turn out an extra episode or two of this serial blog, but I ended up pouring pretty much all of my Pokémon time into Pokémon Y on my 3DS. I won't go into too much detail here, but I will throw some more information in at the bottom of this blog for anybody who might be interested in my current Poké-happenings. As always, if you're new to the Nuzlocke Challenge, you'd probably be best off starting with Part Zero of this series - it explains what a Nuzlocke is, and outlines which specific rules and caveats I'm using for this run. If you missed the previous episode (which, judging by its reception, may apply to a few of you), you can navigate back to it, along with other blogs in this series, using the handy-dandy navigation links at the top and bottom of this entry. To everyone else, welcome back to The Extended Adventures of Team Judi Drench. Let's pick up where we left off, with the team preparing to backtrack to Route 2 via Diglett's Cave...

Part Six - Tunnels Of Death

Having just beaten Lt. Surge and earned the Thunderbadge with no casualties, Team Judi Drench are riding on a high as they take the next step on their journey - a return visit to Route 2 to pick up a gift from one of Professor Oak's Aides. Because I can't back-track through Mount Moon on account of some annoyingly-configured ledges, the only option is to travel through Diglett Cave. I perceive it not as an inconvenience, but as a good opportunity to earn a bit more experience and boost my blossoming party's levels a little higher. I put Kit-E-Kat, presently my weakest Pokémon, at the front of my party to pull in experience and set off through the cave.

In the last part of this series, Diglett Cave was where I foolishly forgot basic Pokémon type match-ups and sent the Poison-type Monty the Ekans out to his death against a Ground-type Diglett. On this visit to Diglett Cave, I once again overlook one of Diglett's traits, and it's once again to my team's detriment. See, Diglett has a chance of carrying the Arena Trap ability, which prevents the player from switching their Pokémon out. It's not until Kit-E-Kat is trapped by one, utterly helpless, that I realise my mistake. The previously fool-proof 'switch in, switch out' training strategy has been spectacularly turned against me. Kit-E-Kat fights valiantly, but her Bite attacks aren't enough to subdue the Diglett before it issues a high-level Magnitude attack.

And this... This is just the beginning...

For the sake of safety, I put Bird Jesus into the first slot (his Flying type guarantees immunity to both Ground-type attacks and Arena Trap), keeping Judi Drench in reserve, and move through the rest of the tunnel much more cautiously. Sure enough, the other end emerges at Route 2, just south of Pewter City. Not too far from the cave mouth is a small building, and inside I find Professor Oak's Aide. Upon showing him my Pokédex as proof that I've caught ten different kinds of Pokémon, he hands over the gift from the Professor - an HM containing Flash.

Flash is going to be crucial in navigating our next big obstacle - the dark, dangerous depths of Rock Tunnel. I thank the Aide for this handy present, and then head north to Pewter City for a little pit-stop. Kit-E-Kat is laid to rest in the Graveyard, and in her place I withdraw Clownbat, the Zubat I caught in Mount Moon back in Part Three. I'm a little apprehensive about bringing along a level 7 Zubat for the ride, but I've never trained one before, and another Flying type could be a useful asset in the upcoming gym battle in Celadon City. Having lost our Cutter, I re-teach that HM to The Mole, and I give Flash to Uri Geller. I also pay a little visit to the city's museum by way of its back door, and pick up the Old Amber. This gives us the choice of reviving either Kabuto or Aerodactyl when (if?) we finally reach Cinnabar Island, depending on which will better serve our team's needs at that point.

Having a little freedom of choice should be a welcome change in the largely random context of this Nuzlocke

From here I have two choices as to how to proceed - do we go back through Diglett Cave and take the Underground Tunnel north from Vermilion, or head east and revisit Mount Moon? I opt for the latter - it's a good opportunity to start getting Clownbat up to par, and less risky for the team as a whole. Our second time through is wholly uneventful, probably because my team is stronger and there are no longer any trainers looking for battles in these parts. It doesn't take me too long to get back to Cerulean City this way. After another rest stop at the Pokémon Center, it's time to head even further east and onto our next new destination - Route 9.

I do like the way the Pokémon games 'gate' their worlds, although I would like to see them move away from HMs and try something new that doesn't inhibit the party's battle potential quite as much

There aren't any new captures on Route 9, due to us having already caught one of every kind of Pokémon on the route in other places, but there are loads of trainers to fight, and therefore loads of experience to be had. Clownbat laps it up, rocketing up to level 15 by the time we reach the far end of the route, and the rest of the party get their fair share too. At its eastern end, Route 9 merges into Route 10, and here we have an opportunity to catch a new critter. Our encounter for the route is an Electric-type Voltorb, which I manage to capture with a third Poké Ball after it breaks out of the first two I throw.

An Electric type would have been a cool addition, but Uri Geller has that base covered since I taught him Shock Wave. Still, good to have something in reserve. You never know what's going to happen down the line...

There's a Pokémon Center on Route 10, located conveniently close to the entrance of our next destination - Rock Tunnel. It's a good opportunity to rest up, and take stock of our party situation. We've got a great spread of types and builds across our team at this point in the Nuzlocke - hard hitting physical attacks from Rosie and The Mole, special attacks from Judi Drench and Uri Geller, and an impressively speedy team all around. I take a quick look at the Pokémon sitting in the PC, but I've no desire to change up this team right now. It's strong, it's fast, and it's proved very reliable up to this point. Happy with things as they are, I leave the safety of the Pokémon Center and take my first step into Rock Tunnel, a place I will soon come to equate with Hell itself.

If you look really closely, you can make out the words 'Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here' just above the cave mouth

The inside of Rock Tunnel is pitch black, a situation that calls for the use of Uri Geller's newly-learned Flash. With the cave illuminated, it's a lot easier to navigate, It doesn't take long to run into my first encounter for the area, a male Machop. Again, it manages to break out of a couple of Poké Balls before finally coming to rest in a third, perhaps a sign that I need to think about using Great Balls from here on out. I name him Daniel-San, and he's sent straight to Bill's PC.

He's called Daniel-San because he's a Karate Kid! Geddit?! Jeez, tough crowd...

So with our capture gained for the area and our party in fine fettle, all that remains to be done is focusing on making it through Rock Tunnel without any major setbacks. Can't be too hard, can it?

...boy, I could not be more wrong.

Initially things are fine. Clownbat continues to pull in a decent chunk of experience from being at the head of the party, and I'm able to switch in party members as necessary to deal with threats in the most efficient manner - Judi Drench to deal with Onix, Rosie for Geodude, Bird Jesus for Machop, and Uri Geller for Zubat. It's logical, and it works. For a while. Then, in a routine encounter with a Geodude, Rosie switches into a strength 10 Magnitude - the most powerful form of that Ground-type attack. As if that wasn't enough, it's also a critical hit. Rosie is knocked to the ground by the strength of the quake, and doesn't get back up.

It's bad luck, pure and simple. Magnitude has just a 5% chance of being at its maximum strength, and only a 1/16th chance of being a critical hit. But however much the odds were in my favour, the outcome wasn't. Rosie, our hard-hitting, fast-moving, all-out-offensive Mankey, is dead.

I try to shake off the shock and focus on pressing on. In the context of Rock Tunnel, Rosie's loss means Judi has to do a little more of the work. He's more than capable, but it's an unnecessary drain on his precious PP for Water Pulse. I check my bag. There's an Ether in there. We should be okay.

There are a lot of trainers in Rock Tunnel, covering several different disciplines - alongside the expected Hikers, there's also an abundance of Campers and PokéManiacs, making it difficult to say with certainty what kinds of Pokémon the team will be up against. One of the trainers I encounter along the way has a Meowth, a Normal-type Pokémon with unremarkable stats and nothing particularly threatening up its sleeve. I send out Uri Geller to quickly dispatch it with a powerful Psybeam attack, but the spoon-bender's move leaves the little cat with a sliver of HP remaining. It's a fatal slip, as the opposing Meowth readies a deadly Dark-type Bite which tears through Uri's feeble defences and turns him into the second casualty of Rock Tunnel.

I'm in denial at this point. This isn't happening, I tell myself. But it is. Rosie is gone, and now so is Uri Geller. Between them their moves offered a huge amount of reliable and impressive coverage - Fighting, Rock, Ground, Psychic and Electric type moves, all but one of which are now nowhere to be found in my team. The strong, versatile party I've spent the last few episodes catching and cultivating is being torn apart by the evil residents of Rock Tunnel, and they're not finished yet.

As we near the end of this hellish mountain pass, our party of six now reduced to just four, it's becoming more and more difficult to deal with the wide variety of types being thrown at me with every new trainer. Flying types in particular are proving really problematic in the absence of Uri Geller's Shock Wave. So it's with great joy that I stumble upon a Move Tutor at the end of the tunnel, who offers to teach The Mole to use Rock Slide. Ecstatic I now have something to hit Flying types with once again, I decide to try it out on a nearby trainer's Pidgey...

For the second time on this journey through Rock Tunnel, the dreaded critical hit claims another victim. The already-speedy Pidgey gets priority over The Mole with its Quick Attack, and the added power boost from the crit slices through our little Diglett's woeful defences with no resistance. We're now down to just three party members, one of which (Clownbat) still isn't really ready for battle. I think it's safe to say that this is the lowest Team Judi Drench has been since the Nuzlocke Challenge began.

Judi Drench and Bird Jesus muscle their way through the remainder of Rock Tunnel, finally emerging into the warm sunlight of southern Route 10. This should be a joyous occasion, but the achievement is deeply tainted by the losses that the party have endured to reach this point.

A short walk to the south brings us to Lavender Town, a long-overdue opportunity to rest and recuperate from the ordeals of Rock Tunnel. While the staff at the local Pokémon Center patch up Judi Drench and Bird Jesus as best they can, I take my three departed companions to the Graveyard, and lay them to rest. Three of our most powerful, most important Pokémon, friends that were instrumental in winning us our first three gym badges. have gone before their time. In an attempt to bolster the ranks, I move our two newest acquisitions, Daniel-San the Machop and SparkyBall the Voltorb, into the party. They are not replacements, but new friends who will hopefully find ways to shine alongside the old guard in the challenges to come. With our new party in place, it's time for Team Judi Drench to start the journey west towards Celadon City, and the fourth gym badge...

Progress Report:

Time: 10:51 --- Location: Lavender Town --- Deaths: 8
The Graveyard

So now that today's episode of the Nuzlocke Challenge is done and dusted, here's a little more detail about those delays. Pokémon Y continues to have control over my gaming life at the moment. I was in pretty deep for about a month after its release back in October, but decided to put the game down for a bit until the Pokémon Bank launched and I could move all my Pokémon over from White into Y. That finally happened about eight weeks ago, and since then I've been importing, transferring, breeding and training in pursuit of that Holiest of Poké-Grails - a complete National Pokédex.

Truth be told I'm still a long way from managing that, though, because I've also been caught up in the thrilling, tense world of competitive battling. I've tried my luck online a few times, and while I'm not amazing and am still prone to making stupid mistakes, I'm managing to hold my own in the majority of battles. I'm currently in the process of building my own dedicated competitive team, a wearisome endeavour that's resulted in me abandoning my last bastion of sanity and finally diving into the deepest of the Pokémon breeding holes - breeding for perfect IVs. So far I've managed to breed three of my team of six, all of which have either four or five perfect IVs in relevant stats, and I'm hoping to secure the fourth before this weekend is out. Then I'll hopefully be able to take them online and do a little better against the other competitive battlers.

Anyway, that's enough Poké-rambling from me. Thanks are due once again to your good selves for reading and supporting this blog series. This continues to be a really fun serial blogging experiment for me, and I hope it's proving fairly entertaining for you guys too. I'll try to be a little more punctual in getting these things up from here on out - two per week (one mid-week and one at the weekend) seems like a reasonable schedule to aim for. So with that said, expect Part Seven some time on Tuesday or Wednesday, when I should be covering the Celadon City gym and Rocket Hideout portions of the game. Take care guys, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon FireRed Version (GBA)

<< Part Five - Grounded LightningBack to the Pokémon CenterPart Seven - The End Of The Road...? >>
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