Gee, it seems that I can’t get enough of good ol’ Sinnoh, can I? I have at least ten Pokemon games waiting in line to be played, and instead of humouring them, I’m waltzing back to Sinnoh for the third time in five months. Well, blame this on Suikoden Tierkreis: after having endured 30 hours of narrative absolutism at the hands of that game, I desperately needed to grind. No more overstuffed storylines, no more cutscenes by the truckload: just pure, unaltered grinding—preferably in a cozy and welcoming game world, for I’m not in the mood to tackle brand-new hardcore grindy games right now. (Blame that on the upcoming winter.) Compensation, I cried thy name—and thy name was Pokemon Pearl.
Coming back to Sinnoh was quite a pleasant experience, shall I say. I didn’t discover it very long ago, but it already feels like a very familiar place—not as familiar as, say, Koholint Island in Link’s Awakening, but definitely more so than I expected for a game world that I only crossed twice beforehand. I can only imagine how wonderfully sweet it must be to play Pokemon games as a child and have the nostalgia factor added to the mix—especially since Pokemon regions are so welcoming and comforting to start with, which was not exactly the case of Koholint Island.
The feline run
My initial plan for my Pearl run was a Glameow Solo Run: I was thrilled by the idea of clawing my way through Sinnoh with that aloof purple feline and couldn’t wait to see it expand to massive proportions at the lv.38 mark. Alas, that was not meant to be: unbeknownst to me, that plan had no chance of materializing, for Glameow is a Pokemon that can only be recruited in the latter stages of the game—on Routes 218 and 222 to be more precise. Teary and disappointed, I had to wave my Glameow Solo Run goodbye and settle for a compromise. The said compromise took the form of a Shinx Solo Run, which would evolve into a Shinx/Glameow Duo Run as soon as I could get my hands of the coveted purple feline. This seemed like a neat endeavour, and I dove into it with gusto.
Once again, I gave my trainer the fitting name of Pearl—I think we have a pattern here, indeed—and chose a Piplup as my starter, with the idea of using him as a convenient HM move wielder after the recruitment of my Shinx. I was rather surprised to discover that my over-excited tsundere best friend was not named Barry in that game like he was in Diamond and Platinum. Instead, a totally different selection of names was available, none of them sounding pleasant to my ear. I proceeded to give him the name “Barry” and made an interesting discovery in the process: if you hit the OK button while no name is written in the name selection screen, the game attributes the name “Diamond” to the guy. I thought this was a nice Easter egg, and since my own trainer was named Pearl, I decided that this was a very fitting name indeed and kept it. Out of curiosity, I conducted the same experience with my copies of Diamond and Platinum; and it turned out that the little chap is given the name “Pearl” in Diamond and “Diamond” in Platinum. Nice touch, Game Freak. (Incidentally, this trick also works for your trainer; but the names attributed are classic, run-of-the-mill ones, which is far less interesting. Oh, well.)
Everything went smoothly and according to plan: I recruited a Shinx on the outskirts of Sandgem Town and cruised through Sinnoh with that electric feline, taking down one Gym Leader after the other. I expected this run to be very similar to my Piplup Solo Run of Platinum, but things unfolded quite differently in the beginning. The Grass-based Second Gym in Eterna City that had been such a pain with my Piplup turned into a total breeze with my Shinx; on the other hand, the Rock-based first one in Oreburgh City, which was mere gravel on the road for my Piplup, was a painful trudge for my Shinx. Of course, this all boils down to elemental complementarities, and I’m quite delighted to see that I’m starting to identify and remember them more clearly after three leisure trips through Sinnoh.
When I finally reached Route 218, I recruited a Glameow without too much hassle, to my great delight. I tried to start battling with the lithe feline right away, but the fights were annoyingly difficult compared to the walk in the park they had become with my overpowered Shinx—who, by that time, had evolved into a proud Luxray. I thus amended my plans once more: I equipped my newly recruited Glameow with an Exp. Share so that she would gain levels without having to fight and forged ahead with my pleasantly strong Luxray. The newest version of my plan involved trying to tackle the Elite Four with my two felines together, and then with each one of them individually if the duo attempt worked out. I reached the Elite Four headquarters without a hitch and started clawing and scratching my way through it, confident that the Lv.68 of my Luxray and Glameow-turned-Purugly would give me a good edge over the Elite Four ‘Mons, who were hovering around the Lv. 58 mark. Alas, the edge was definitely not sharp enough: after a couple of painful failed attempts, it became abundantly clear that my two felines were not strong enough to conquer the Elite Four together, let alone single-pawedly. Some grinding was most definitely required if I wanted to become the new Champion; but the thought of grinding in Victory Road was so painful that I cowardly decided to give up instead. This taught me that a Solo Run can be carried all the way through only if the involved ’Mon garners all the experience from the fights. My Glameow didn’t take part in a single fight until I reached the Elite Four heardquarters, so my run was technically Solo until then and went quite smoothly; however, the experience share that my Glameow reaped from fights sapped the progression of my Luxray, enough so to compromise my chances of tackling the Elite Four right away and without extra grinding—whether it be with one feline or the two of them. The effects of that experience sharing were actually quite drastic: while my Piplup had reached a lofty Lv. 90 when we crossed the Elite Four Headquarters’ threshold in my Solo Run of Platinum, my Luxray and Purugly were only at a mere Lv.68, which was definitely not enough to breeze through the challenge. Well, be it. It was a well-learned lesson that I will put to good use in my next Solo Runs of Pokemon entries.
Dipping a toe in Nuzlocke waters
After that interesting confirmation that there is indeed no room for two in a Solo Run, I was still in the mood for some Pokemon action. I thus decided to try my hand at the Nuzlocke challenge, which had been tempting me for quite some time. I dutifully stuck to the classic rules and added a few extra ones for good measure:
—Following the Trainer ID last number rule for the choice of my Starter: 1-3 for Grass, 4-6 for Fire, 7-9 for Water, 0 left to my discretion.
—Having the Battle style on “Set”—which I always did anyway in order to shorten battles.
—Not using Battle Items and not making my ’Mons hold Berries—which I usually forget to do anyway.
—Not running away from random battles.
—Not healing during battles, except if the opponent uses healing items, in which case I could use a similar one—including Berries.
I was initially planning to rely only on Pokemon Centers for healing, but I gave up as I realised that this would make me lose a tremendous amount of precious time during the levelling-up process by forcing me to go back and forth constantly between town and field—not to mention that such a choice would render my ill-earned cash totally useless. I was considering doing the opposite, i.e. not using Pokemon Centers and relying solely on healing items; but the idea of navigating the menu to heal every ’Mon individually felt a little too close to a chore for my comfort, and I finally decided to make this first Nuzlocke run lenient as far as healing was concerned and to rely on both healing techniques.
And so began my Nuzlocke epic. Randomness dictated that I should select a Piplup as my starter, and I happily complied, before making my way through a Sinnoh that was suddenly much less welcoming and forgiving. I failed to capture any ’Mons on Routes 201 and 202 and was nearly wiped out by the first two Trainers I met on Route 202, whom I fought in a row without healing in-between: when I emerged from that ordeal, I was literally hanging on to my last HP point. True story, folks. Overjoyed and incredibly proud of my amazing survival feat, I made my way to Jubilife City without too much extra hassle. But the elation was not meant to last: as soon as I set foot in town, my Piplup was wiped out during a fight against a pupil at the Trainer’s School; and since I had failed to recruit any other ’Mon, my trainer blacked out—in Nuzlocke words, game over. Gee, what an epic failure!
Of course, I was not going to give up that easily: my competitive streak had been stirred, for better or worse, and I started another playthrough right on the spot. Randomness dictated once again that I should start the game with a Piplup, and I’m definitely starting to think that I share some kind of mystic connection with that Water Starter. At any rate, I dutifully complied and this second run unfolded in a more successful way: I managed to recruit two ’Mons on Route 201 and 202, survived the Trainer School in Jubilife City, earned the first Gym Badge in Oreburgh quite easily thanks to my Piplup and reached Floaroma Town. It was in this lovely blooming town that I took the ominous decision to give up on that run, despite the fact that it was sailing quite smoothly. The reason was quite simple: with a Piplup, a Starly and a Shinx, my team was virtually a copy-paste of the one that I recruited in my run of Diamond. This all boiled down to chance, obviously, but the results were the same: I ended up with a team that I already knew fairly well, which was not what I had signed for. Had I started with a Chimchar or a Turtwig and recruited a Bidoof and a Kricketot instead of a Starly and a Shinx, the face of my run would have been changed drastically; and to be honest, I contemplated erasing my file and starting anew a third time. However, I had gotten my fill of Sinnoh already, after a 20-hours-long Solo Run and two attempts at Nuzlocking my way through, and I decided to pack up and leave that lovely region for the time being.
That being said, these small bites of Nuzlocke Challenge were absolutely scrumptious and left me craving for more. This is a tremendously fun and compelling way of playing that radically transforms the whole Pokemon experience and gives a vibrant new intensity to that usually indolent series: danger looms around every corner on previously quiet Routes, every fight threatens the very existence of your run, and the first encounter in every new area suddenly becomes an event of huge magnitude in lieu of the barely registered occurrence it usually is. I could feel a brand-new shiver of anticipation every time the familiar battle music started after I set foot in a new Route and a vivid pang of disappointment when the coveted ’Mon broke free from the Pokeball. Oh, the thrill! This was a fantastic experience, and I’m most definitely going to try the Nuzlocke Challenge with a different set of Pokemon games in a not-to-distant future.
So, after having scoured Pearl to my heart’s content, I’m now bidding Sinnoh farewell. It will probably be a while before I go back there: I’m now eager to move to new pastures and to discover other Pokemon regions, and I have more than enough material to satiate these exploration urges. I cannot say for sure which entry my gaming instinct will elect next, but I’m confident that my next Pokemon run will happen quite soon indeed. For now, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!