Last Updated: September 27, 2023
Originally popularized by a webcomic simply titled Pokemon: Hard-mode (I promise that the illustration improves over time, and the comic actually gets reasonably good), “Nuzlocke” is a broadly defined category of self-imposed rules for playing the Pokemon video games.
The core mechanic of a “Nuzlocke Run” is two rules:
- You must release a pokemon if it faints
- You may only catch the first wild pokemon you encounter in each area
Players generally also nickname all of their pokemon, as this helps foster affection for them.
Where does the title “Nuzlocke” come from?
In the aforementioned comic, the author’s first capture is a nuzleaf. When the nuzleaf is used, its face is depicted as the character Locke from the show Lost, which was running at the time of the comics initial publication. The name “Nuzlocke” is a portmanteau of Nuzleaf and Locke, and came into popular use after the ghost of the author’s Nuzleaf became a sort of “spirit guide” for the hero.
That sounds brutal. How can I possibly succeed?
Knowledge, practice, and patience.
Know the Routes
If your game is one of official games there will be walkthroughs all over the internet. Bulbapedia is my go-to for information on the pokemon games because their content quality is excellent and the wiki is well-maintained, but other popular sites exist. Know the wild pokemon you’ll encounter on a route.
Don’t go into a new route under-leveled. Don’t go in without a reasonable supply of pokeballs (running out of pokeballs means that you failed to catch your pokemon for that route). Don’t go in wounded, if you can avoid it.
Know how IVs, Natures, and EVs Work
Each pokemon is unique (Well, there are at minimum 32^6 * 25 version, multiplied by the number of possible abilities for that species). Beyond just their type and their moves, their stats matter a lot more when losing actually matters. If your pokemon has a problematic nature or bad IVs you may need to avoid using it. EV training can also go a long way to improve your odds of survival.
IVs are the dice rolled when a pokemon is generated, and determine how high its stats are compared to others in its species. Reading up on IVs and how they work, but since you generally can’t do anything about them you don’t need to know much other than “higher is better”. Consider using an IV checker to periodically examine your pokemon. In addition to their nature, this can also be helpful when deciding to emphasize physical or special moves on pokemon which are evenly split between the two like Lucario.
If you have duplicate pokemon, IVs will frequently be the factor that decides which pokemon you use. Especially bad IVs can, and should, stop you from using a pokemon.
If you find that a pokemon is terrible, despite being appropriateley leveled and being a useful species, the issue might be a poor set of IVs. EV training can help mitigate the issues, but the longer you use the pokemon the more apparent the problem will be.
Read up on Natures and what they do. Most natures won’t cause you too many problems, but if your pokemon is only useful as a physical attacker and it has a nature that reduces its Attack stat you may need to dump it.
The unsung hero of pokemon training, EVs are what separate a pokemon you’ve trained from level 1 from the wild pokemon that’s the same species and level. Read up on EVs.
Most of the time you just need a vague understanding that EVs exist, and that more is better. Your pokemon will naturally acquire EVs as they fight, but that means that pokemon you’ve used longer will always have an edge over new pokemon unless you invest in things that grants EVs (vitamins, super training, etc.).
In more recent games mechanics were introduced to reduce pokemon’s EVs, allowing you to remove useless EV points (berries, etc.) in favor of ones which work better. If your Charizard only uses physical moves, dump the Special Attack EVs in favor of literally anything else. These won’t be available until late in the game, but the effects of EVs are based on your pokemon’s level, and they won’t be a huge part of your pokemon’s stats until roughly when you get access to these mechanics.
Know the Routes
When you enter a route, check the encounter tables for that route. Knowing what pokemon you’ll encounter and where can help you decide how to approach the route. If none of the land-based pokemon interest you, consider using a fishing rod or another alternate encounter table to get a chance of catching something more useful. Knowing the levels of the wild pokemon on the route can also help you to enter the route prepared. Losing a pokemon while grinding for experience is tragic and totally avoidable, though it still happens from time to time.
If you want to, you can also check the pokemon used by trainers on a route. I don’t recommend this because it takes away one of the more interesting challenges inherent in the Pokemon games. Of course, if you play the same game back-to-back in different runs you may remember a few of the trainers anyway, especially the ones that gave you trouble.
Know the Pokemon
When you catch a new pokemon, take some time to check its Bulbapedia entry. Consider its typing, its ability, its moveset (don’t forget to check the correct generation), and its IVs. Is the pokemon going to be useful? Does it fill a strategic gap in your team? Can it stand on its own in battle?
Nuzlocke is a game about making do with the tools you’re given, not about playing with your favorites. I’ve come to love a lot of pokemon that I had never considered before because they came through in places where the rest of my team couldn’t. At the same time, I’ve tried to rely on my favorite pokemon and found them seriously lacking.
Plan a Capture Strategy
Losing a chance to catch a pokemon because you knocked it out is totally avoidable in most games. Pick up False Swipe as soon as possible, and be sure to have an attack that can paralyze or put your targets to sleep without dealing damage. There aren’t a lot of pokemon that can do both by themselves, so plan to do some switching when you’re trying to catch a pokemon.
Personally I prefer to rely on paralysis over sleep. Thunder Wave is available on wider variety of pokemon and has 100% accuracy, and paralysis doesn’t wear off. Sleep has a better effect on capture chances, but Sleep Powder is inaccurate, Yawn has a delay which could be problematic, and Spore is only available on a very small number of pokemon, and often not until fairly high level. Still, Nuzlocke is about making do with the tools you’re given, so use whatever you can get.
I’m ready. Where do I start?
Pick the Pokemon version you want to play and get going. I recommend an unmodified Classic Nuzlocke (see the rules above) for your first run, but after that consider using my Nuzlocke Calibrator to tweak your game experience a little bit.