The Nuzlocke Challenge is a set of rules intended to create a higher level of difficulty while playing the Pokémon games. A playthrough using these rules is often simply called "a Nuzlocke". Many challengers feel that the rules encourage the use of Pokémon the player would not normally choose and promote closer bonds with the player's Pokémon. The rules are not an in-game function, but rather self-imposed on the part of the player, and thus subject to variation.
The basic rules were invented by Nick Franco in early 2010. Franco posted comics detailing his playthrough of Pokémon Ruby on 4chan's /v/ board, where they gained attention and inspired others to try the challenge. Later that year, Franco moved his comics to a dedicated website, and a forum for others' chronicles was created. Over time, the concept spread to various websites and formats such as written stories, animations and livestreams.
Franco uses "Nuzlocke" as a screen name while calling his comic "Pokémon: Hard-Mode". However, the word "Nuzlocke" eventually came to be associated with the ruleset itself.
The Nuzlocke Challenge has only two rules that must be followed:
- Limited Encounters: The player may only catch the first wild Pokémon encountered in each area, and none else. If the first wild Pokémon encountered faints or flees, there are no second chances.
- Dying: Any Pokémon that faints is considered dead and must be released. If you run out of living Pokémon, you've failed the challenge and must restart the game.
- The move Revival Blessing cannot be used to bring back a dead Pokémon.
- Mandatory Nicknames: The player must nickname all of their Pokémon, for the sake of forming stronger emotional bonds.
- "Met in" Confirmation: If the player is unsure whether a location is a valid new encounter or not, such as multiple levels of a cave, you can verify by looking at the Pokémon's Summary page to see where they were "Met" in order to confirm whether it's a new location or not.
- No Resets: The player may not voluntarily reset and reload the game to undo progress. Being able to do so would render all other rules pointless.
- No Cheating: Cheating devices (such as GameShark) may not be used.
- Full Wipe: A black out/white out is considered to be a "game over" even if there are usable Pokémon left in the Pokémon Storage System.
- No Outside Trading: The player may only use Pokémon they have captured themselves, meaning Pokémon acquired through trading, Mystery Gifts, etc., are prohibited.
- Boxing: The player may put Pokémon that have fainted in the Pokémon Storage System permanently rather than releasing them.
Though the above rules tend to stay consistent with all players, many optional variations and amendments have been created to adjust difficulty based on personal preference. Many other rules exist besides those listed here. Regardless of the optional rules being used, the run is considered a Nuzlocke Challenge so long as the two basic rules are still in place.
- Set Mode Clause: The battle style must be changed to "set" in the options menu, meaning the player does not get the opportunity to switch out their Pokémon after an opponent's Pokémon faints. In Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, where there is no set mode, the player must manually decide not to switch each time instead.
- Level Restrictions: The player may not use Pokémon above a certain level limit based on the next Gym Leader/Elite Four/Champion's highest leveled Pokémon (their "ace"). Pokémon that exceed the level limit might be left in storage until they become eligible, or they might have to be released.
- Random Starter: The player's Starter Pokémon must be randomly chosen. A common system is if the last digit of the player's Trainer ID number is 1-3, the player must choose the Grass-type starter; if it is 4-6, the Fire-type starter; if it is 7-9, the Water-type starter; if it is 0, free choice. Alternatively, use the Trainer ID modulo 3 for the same purposes.
- Monotype/Monocolor Challenge: Only Pokémon of a certain Type or color may be used. Rather than the first Pokémon encountered in an area, the player may catch the first one which fits the category or will evolve into fitting the category. If a Pokémon would lose the category upon evolution, it may not evolve.
- One Per Gym: The player may only catch the first Pokémon after each Gym battle instead of in each area.
- Equal Parties: During Gym Leader or rival battles, the player must use the same number of Pokémon as their opponent.
- Caught Only: The Starter Pokémon must be released after the first wild Pokémon is caught.
- Notepad Clause: No Pokémon may be kept in the PSS; in other words, the player may only own six Pokémon at any given time. This was named after its inventor, Notepad on the now-defunct original Nuzlocke Forum.
- Notepad Extreme/First 6 Only: The player may only own six Pokémon throughout the entire run. If all six die or otherwise become ineligible, then it's an instant "game over".
- No Items: No items may be used during battles except for held items. Limitation due to perceived power-level of X-items.
- No Held Items: Held items may not be used.
- No Heal Items: Potions and status-healing items may not be used.
- No/Limited Pokémon Centers: Pokémon Centers may not be used, or only used a certain number of times per Center, or a certain number of times between each Gym.
- No Candy: Any type of candy that helps level up the player's Pokémon (such as Rare Candy or Exp. Candy) may not be used.
- No Poké Marts: Poké Marts may not be used; the only items that may be used are those found in the overworld or given to the player by NPCs.
- Limited Balls: The number of Poké Balls able to be purchased per Poké Mart is limited to a certain number.
- No Masterball: Master Balls may not be used.
- Gift-Locke: Poké Balls may not be used. Any Pokémon obtained must be either given to the player by an NPC or hatched from an Egg.
- No Evolving: No Pokémon may evolve while under the player's ownership.
- Challenge Mode: (Black 2 and White 2 only) The difficulty must be set to Challenge Mode, which increases the levels of opposing Trainers' Pokémon.
- Ban List: Certain Pokémon such as Legendaries, Pseudo-Legendaries, and/or other powerful Pokémon are not allowed as they mitigate the difficulty of the challenge.
- No Escape: The player may not flee from battle.
- No Wild Encounters: Alternatively, the player must flee whenever possible, in order to limit the amount of experience gained.
- No Child Support: The Day Care may not be used.
- No Exp Share: The Exp. Share may not be used. (This does not apply to games starting from Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!, where the Exp. Share can't be disabled.)
- Limited Training: Quality-of-life features such as Pokémon-Amie, the DexNav, or Super Training, may not be used.
- Memory Only: Online aids (walkthroughs, trainer info, etc.) may not be used.
- Progression Sacrifice: After each Badge the player randomly selects one party member to sacrifice.
- Slow Start: The two basic rules are not in effect until the player has gained their first Poké Balls and thus the ability to catch Pokémon. For example, encounters starting from the PoochyenaRSORAS/ZigzagoonE that the player has to save Professor Birch from, up to when the player has the ability to catch Pokémon, are not counted. Likewise, in the games where the first rival battle is immediately after obtaining the starter Pokémon, the "release or permanently box a Pokémon if it faints" rule is often not enforced at that time.
- Species/Dupes Clause: The "first wild Pokémon in each area" rule does not apply in an area until a species or evolution line is encountered that has not been caught yet. For example, if the player's first encounter in an area is with a Caterpie and they already own a Caterpie, Metapod, or Butterfree, it wouldn't count as their first encounter in that area. This is to allow for increased variety in a player's Pokémon collection.
- Dupes Exception: A limit may be set on how many times the player can apply the Species/Dupes Clause in an area. If this many duplicate Pokémon are encountered in an area, the Species/Dupes Clause is no longer applied for that area and the player has to settle for the next Pokémon they encounter, regardless of its species.
- Second Chance: The player may have a small number of "second chances" or revives of fallen team members. Typically this type of ruling is done after gym battles such as getting 1 revive per gym.
- Shiny Clause: Shiny Pokémon do not need to be released if they faint, and can be caught regardless of whether or not an encounter has already been done in the area. Whether the Shiny Pokémon may be used during the challenge or not is up to the player.
- Shiny Replacement Clause: If a Shiny Pokémon is a duplicate of a Pokémon already in your party you may replace it with the Shiny.
- Checkpoints: Each Gym Badge may act as a checkpoint. If the player gets a game over, they may start over from when they got their previous Gym Badge.
- HM Helper: If the player has no Pokémon that can use a field move that is required to continue the game, they may catch another Pokémon that can learn the required field move. However, this Pokémon cannot be used in battle for any reason and must be released as soon as it is no longer needed or if the player catches another Pokémon that can use the same field move.
- On Safari: The "first encounter only" rule is modified for within the Safari Zone. One encounter may be had for each area, rather than the more restrictive interpretation that the entire Zone is one area.
- A Little Help From My Friends: Cheating devices (such as GameShark) may be used.
- Rare Candy Clause: Hack in infinite rare candies to avoid tedious grinding. Popularized by the Youtuber Pokémon Challenges.
- Masterball Clause: Hack in infinite Master Balls to avoid wild Pokémon fainting, running away, or using escape moves like Teleport and Roar.
- Hardcore Nuzlocke: A general name for any Nuzlocke variant which restricts item use and over-levelling, in order to produce a more difficult run and more strategic play.
- "Wonderlocke": In this variant, any Pokémon caught must immediately be traded using Wonder Trade and the received Pokémon is used instead. Typically, this comes with a level restriction where if the received Pokémon is more than a certain number of levels higher than the original Pokémon, it must be traded again until an appropriate-level Pokémon is received.
- Soul-Link: Two player variant where both players' Pokémon are linked per encounter. So the starter Pokémon are linked together, the Pokémon from Route 1 are linked together, and so on. If a Pokémon dies, its soulmate does too. Linked Pokémon must be in both players' parties at once, i.e. one player cannot leave a Pokémon in the PSS while its soulmate is on the active team.
- Common additional rules include restricting duplicate types between the two players. If either player is using a Pokémon of a certain type, the other player cannot use any Pokémon of that same type. If both players find the same type of Pokémon for one encounter, neither is able to use it.
- Egglocke: Player catches Pokémon 1 per route as normal, but instead of using the Pokémon caught, they hatch a randomly generated egg. Usually this is done via trades or through cheat devices, where the egg Pokémon are chosen by a third party, such as friends or a streaming audience.
- Randomizer: Randomizers can be used to add more variety to Nuzlockes. However, this often causes unbalance as encountering a Legendary early can reduce difficulty greatly. Additionally, catch rates may have to be adjusted via the Randomizer in order to allow for Legendary Pokémon to be more easily caught early on.
- Ballocke: Instead of limiting Pokémon by route, this variant limits by type of Poké Ball. Only one Pokémon may be caught in a Poké Ball, one may be caught in a Great Ball, etc.
- Repel Encounter Manipulation: Having a Repel active and a Pokémon in the first position at a specific level can be used to filter out unwanted encounters and in some cases guarantee specific encounters.
- Sacking: For difficult encounters, it is wise to have at least one Pokémon you are willing to sacrifice in order to switch to a better one. Recommended Pokémon to be sacked are: ones with weak base stats, ones whose type is shared by a more powerful teammate, or ones who could have a replacement caught in an upcoming place.
- Play around the Crit: Being aware if your Pokémon is in danger of being taken out by a critical hit is key to avoiding unnecessary deaths. Generation I has a critical hit damage multiplier between 1.5× and 1.95× depending on the level, with higher levels doing more damage. From Generations II to V, the damage dealt by a critical hit is 2× as much as a normal hit. From Generation VI onward, critical hits deal 1.5× more damage than normal. Warning, critical hits ignore stat changes, such as increased Defense with Defense Curl.
- Avoid Unnecessary Encounters: Trainers use better decision-making and have higher levels on average than wild Pokémon within the same route. Avoiding non-required trainer battles increases the chances your Pokémon will survive.
- Be Aware of Mandatory Battles: Don't trigger mandatory battles, such as rival fights, without first making sure your team is fully healed and properly leveled.
- Don't Underlevel: There is no reason to have an under-leveled Pokémon for encounters. Even with Gym Leader level restrictions, make sure to have your team at the level restriction by the time you trigger the battle.
- Baiting: Trainer-owned Pokémon will choose the move that is most effective against the enemy Pokémon. As such, you can bait certain moves in order to get a free switch. A common example is having a Pokémon weak to Ground-type moves out on the field and then switch to a Pokémon that is immune to Ground moves, such as a Flying-type Pokémon or a Pokémon with Levitate.
- Generational Awareness: Be aware of changes between generations. Example: Sturdy, in Generations III and IV only, protects against one-hit knockout moves, while in Generation V onward, it protects the Pokémon from being knocked out with one hit when at full HP.
- PP Stall: Using healing moves or items (if allowed) in order to force a dangerous encounter to waste all their good moves. Typically, this is used for low PP moves that deal large amounts of damage. If successful, this can lead to the enemy using Struggle to knock itself out.
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