Pokémon games are made accessible to all. Most are rated E for everyone and their difficulty matches their ease to play. To make it more difficult, many Pokémon players have tried a common challenge called a nuzlocke. The basic rules of a nuzlocke challenge are simple: you can only catch the very first Pokémon you encounter on any route; you must name every single one of your Pokémon; if a Pokémon faints, it is considered dead and can’t be used again; no legendaries allowed; and if you lose any battle, the run is over.
There are many more stipulations and rules that you can add to increase the challenge, but for most, those four rules completely change how you have to play the game. Nuzlockes force you to use Pokémon you normally wouldn’t and strategize beyond the game’s expectations. Some games are easy, even with the extra challenge, but others are renowned for their difficulty.
9 Pokemon Firered & Leafgreen
The Kanto region remakes are tougher than their original copies by bringing in better AI and movements. As remakes however, they still hold true to the original 150 Pokémon available in Kanto. Early on, your choice is quite limited with what you can get, but you may find new appreciation for Rattatas and Spearows.
If you don’t have knowledge of what each gym leader has in their team, it can be a little tricky to fight, but they’re all manageable. What is the true threat is your rival popping up when you least expect it and challenging you to a tough fight. If you’re not at full strength you’re probably going to lose Pokémon. Firered and Leafgreen are the best games for your first Nuzlocke.
8 Pokemon Heartgold & Soulsilver
The gen 2 remakes are vast improvements on the original games. Pokémon get better moves, and the AI knows it. Heartgold and Soulsilver also came to be as part of the generation where Pokémon moves were split into physical and special moves.
This change made most Pokémon more dangerous as their best stats would be used more often by the moves they would learn. When doing a Nuzlocke for Heartgold and Soulsilver, there are two win conditions. One is to become the Pokémon champion, which is the easier option. The second is to go through all the Kanto region and beat Red, the final boss. Choosing the latter makes a much harder experience, as you have 16 instead of eight badges to collect, and you need to beat the elite four twice.
7 Pokemon Sword & Shield
Pokémon Sword and Shield makes it both easier to build a strong team and easier to lose it. As a nuzlocke, there are more ways to manipulate it than its predecessors because you can see Pokémon in the over-world. You can use that to get better Pokémon, or you can impose the rule you have to take the first one you see. Wandering Pokémon make the rules a bit less clear.
The difficulty is carried by its gym and league fights. Dynamax is a powerful tool, making Pokémon giant and powering them up. Usually it’s on your side, but when your opponent can do it too, getting hit by a sudden high-powered move will leave a hole in your team. The wild area poses risk and reward as you can catch high level Pokémon there, or get steamrolled by one you couldn’t escape.
6 Pokemon Black & White
Pokémon Black and White decided they would be the first games since the very first generation to have a wholly unique roster. Starting a blind nuzlocke in Black and White means you’ll really be out of your depth as you catch whatever Pokémon you can. More than any other game, it has the nuzlocke spirit and is difficult for it.
Experience yield in gen 5 is pretty lacking, meaning you’ll have to spend time grinding, or take risks and challenge gyms underleveled. Black and White also hit you with more Rival fights than other games, and these challenging battles can come from nowhere. The gyms and elite four aren’t as hard as they should be, and none of them have more than four Pokémon. The champion fight is another story, as N will have the opposite legendary Pokémon from yours.
5 Pokemon Emerald
Pokémon Emerald pulls no punches as it builds on the earlier ruby and sapphire versions for a harder challenge. Gym battles in Emerald are much harder as early as the third gym, and double battles in the world make victory far less certain. As a gen 3 game, Emerald’s move pools aren’t subject to the physical and special move split, meaning a lot of Pokémon have stats that are completely opposed to the moves they learn.
The two things that make Pokémon Emerald as hard as it is are the gym battles and the legendary Pokémon plots. Compared to other games, you’re essentially facing two criminal organizations instead of one, and you face their leaders multiple times. When it comes to gym leaders, Winona is particularly notorious as a run-ender with her Earthquaking Altaria. Since you can’t catch them, the legendary pokemon are scary fights to play.
4 Pokemon Sun & Moon
Pokémon Sun and Moon shook up the Pokémon formula by doing away with gyms and implementing Pokémon trials. In these trials, you mostly deal with stronger, if still wild Pokémon. The challenge comes from totem Pokémon, boss monsters with stat raising auras and the ability to call for backup. Managing these fights can be tough since you will often find yourself fighting 2-on-1.
Sun and Moon’s villain plot also has its share of hard hitters. Guzma for team skull has a powerful Golisopod that opens with a fast and devastating move that can one-shot your Pokémon if you’re not ready for it. The aether foundation’s leader, Lusamine, is an even bigger danger because all her Pokémon are given the same stat boosting auras of totem Pokémon.
3 Pokemon Black & White 2
Pokémon Black and White 2 are direct sequels that build upon their previous game’s world. Already, you can make it harder since this generation is the only one with a difficulty setting. Using the game’s challenge mode enhances the AI for a harder experience, and if you’re already seeking a challenge, doing a nuzlocke on this mode will give you one.
The elite four are actual threats in Black and White 2. Their levels are higher, and on challenge mode, they make proper use of held items to level the playing field. Even after all that, champion Iris can end your run right near the finish with her team of versatile monsters.
2 Pokemon Platinum
The Sinnoh region Pokémon games, Diamond and Pearl, were already regarded as difficult before any challenges came along. It gave you an extra rival to contend with, and is infamous for having the toughest champion of all regions. With Pokémon Platinum’s release, it raised the bar even higher.
Platinum switches around how some of the gyms are ordered, putting a difficult threat like the ghost leader, Fantina, in front of you earlier than before. The gyms themselves also have more puzzles and more opportunity to fight trainers. Team Plasma also poses a bigger threat than before, with better Pokémon and movements. The endgame threat is also stronger than nearly every other game even now; the distortion world is home to the deadly Giratina, and Cynthia still reigns as Champion, but with an even stronger team.
1 Pokemon Ultrasun & Ultramoon
Pokémon Ultrasun and Ultramoon focused on the best parts of their original games and made them harder. Like their predecessors, they don’t have a gym; instead you have to test your skills against totem Pokémon, and this time they’re out for blood.
The major threats in game; the totem Pokémon, ultra beasts, and the champion fight are all tough, but the game’s story bosses are by far the hardest. In the ultra beast plot you eventually face Ultra Necrozma, the Pokémon with the highest total base stats of all Pokémon. There is no greater enemy. These two games also have a difficult post game story you can choose to include in your challenge, and if you do you go up against the villain leaders of past games, and they’re tough fights all.
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