At this point, most any Pokemon fan worth their salt knows what a Nuzlocke is.
Growing from a gimmick established in a comic made by Nick Franco in 2010, the playstyle has evolved and led to the creation of a sub-community of Pokemon Nuzlockers within the wider fandom. Placing restrictions on playthroughs such as perma-death and limiting the Pokemon one can catch to their first encounter on a route, it serves as a more challenging way to play the game that has attracted hundreds of thousands of players over the years. As time has passed and new entries have been released, it has likewise grown and changed via tweaks to its ruleset as well as quality-of-life improvements made through hacks and emulation.
Such has remained true even with the release of new titles like Pokemon Sword and Shield and Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, though these most recent titles also present a problem: For all of the modern innovations they bring to the series, they have also made it harder to continue Nuzlocke runs as they've traditionally been done. New elements like an open-world design, random encounter removal, and a heavier focus on story have all made the traditional approach to runs less viable.
In the face of this, the community has continued to do what they've always done: Reinvent what it means to play the Pokemon games their way.
Pokemon Nuzlockers and the Pursuit of RNG
This started rather immediately with discussions regarding how to address the bigger changes made to the games' design. More specifically, they needed to find ways around the RNG mechanics which have been phased out or removed in more recent installments.
"There's been discussion on how to adapt the Nuzlocke rule set to the most recent games," Brett, better known as MahjongDaily on Reddit and a decade-long member of the community, said. "In past games, you could walk through a patch of grass or cave and have no idea what the first Pokemon you encounter would be before the battle starts. Now, in Scarlet and Violet, all Pokemon appear in the overworld before you battle them, which blurs the line of the first encounter rule."
RNG remains integral to Nuzlockes, as it serves as a backbone to the run's whole ethos. One of the most important rules for the play style is the first encounter rule, which states that whatever the player encounters first is the Pokemon they have to catch. This could result in getting a great Pokemon that is highly useful, or it can lead to getting a less viable team member that players will need to work around.
For some, the answer lied rather simply in changing their approach to how Nuzlockes are played.
"The biggest part is obviously the aspect of random encounters being gone - which is good for the series as a whole, it's a pretty outdated game mechanic," Jan, better known as the YouTuber behind Pokemon Challenges, said. A prolific and years-long member of the community who makes the claim of being the best Nuzlocker in the world, he has played a slew of different games and applied the Nuzlocke ruleset to them in a variety of new and evolving ways. This has made him no stranger to innovating or changing up aspects of Nuzlocke runs to keep things fresh, and he applied this to his livestreamed Nuzlocke of Pokemon Violet.
"The community has to find tools to keep the spirit of random encounters. For example, for my Violet Nuzlocke I used lists of all the Pokemon on one route to make a wheel I could randomly spin for my encounter. The run was pretty fun that way."
Many players have used similar solutions to keep the aspect of RNG alive. Some use random-number generators, with all the Pokémon one can catch assigned to a possible number. Others go after the first overworld Pokemon to appear on their screen.
It has yet to be determined which of these methods - if any of them - will be a new go-to. All the same, community members have continued to attempt Nuzlockes of these newer titles.
"There's not a community consensus on the best or official way of handling encounters," MahjongDaily said. "This hasn't stopped a fair number of players (myself included) from playing and enjoying the games."
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Others, meanwhile, have avoided the newer releases entirely and stuck to older titles in the franchise for the time being. This is due to a variety of factors, from the aforementioned removal of RNG elements to the bigger time commitment needed by more recent games.
For others, the viability of Nuzlocking newer titles is likewise dependent on how Game Freak designs future games around their new open-world approach, and whether they incorporate elements that would better serve runs.
"If Game Freak keeps going the open-world road for future titles, they very much need to have level scaling in place, because if you’re going to have an open-world RPG, you need level scaling,” Empoleon777, a Nuzlocker on Reddit and member of the Nuzlocking community for seven years, said.
“For example: Maybe if Katy was the first badge holder you fought against, her team would look just like it already does in Scarlet & Violet. But maybe if her badge was the last one you had to get, she’d come at you with a team more reminiscent of her post-game rematch team; where all of her Pokemon from her original team are fully-evolved now and she has a few extra members (albeit scaled appropriately for late game), but also the surrounding wild Pokémon.”
However, Empoleon777 and other community members acknowledge that more radical changes like this could change what Nuzlockes are currently known as. Established rule sets and shared challenges found in gym leaders requiring a more set design approach could be lost in the process of modernizing the play style.
And yet, it also opens up new opportunities for expanding upon the rules tied to Nuzlocking and what such a run could entail.
“People might create a rule that they have to randomly select what their next major fights are, so they can’t just always go for the ones they handle best. They might even randomize a set number of areas to get encounters from before each major fight,” Empoleon777 said. “For example, maybe a Nuzlocker only allows themselves to catch encounters from six randomly selected areas before getting the first badge, after which they must get said badge to seek out any more encounters.”
ROM Hacks for Your Daily Nuzlocke Life
Others still have turned to different, fan-made means of keeping the Nuzlocking scene alive. ROM hacks in particular have gained widespread attention in recent years and have proven highly viable for offering new and interesting spins on Nuzlockes of existing titles.
"I'd guess the main cause of this is Jan/Pokémon Challenges, who made a lot of YouTube videos around Nuzlocking hacks that became quite popular (particularly when he started doing SinisterHoodedFigure's Emerald Kaizo, I think?)," said Drayano, one of the most prominent Pokemon ROM hack creators in the wider fandom. "Nowadays, there's a pretty large Twitch community doing hardcore Nuzlockes of hacks!"
In addition to allowing players to dive into existing experiences with new or increased levels of challenge, these ROM hacks also provide more accessibility in terms of replayability and an adjustable level of challenge. They also allow players to circumvent the aspects of newer Pokemon titles that could impede or deter players from Nuzlocking them long-term.
"The newer games tend to be much more dialogue-heavy, which makes replaying them much more of a hassle," Drayano said. "On top of that, the games have phased out random encounters which, while not impossible to play with, does require having to think of ways to replicate the original methods (e.g. blindfold, random-number generators) which can be a bit annoying.
"On top of that, the main series games still generally don't provide as much of a challenge: While you can keep adding more and more restrictions to make things harder, ROM hacks give you a much harder baseline to start with. They also tend to give you a lot more options - both in terms of gameplay and quality-of-life changes - which can in theory make them a lot more ideal for challenges like this."
Most members of the community are in agreement on this and hold that ROM hacks will remain integral to the Nuzlocking ecosystem moving forward.
"I firmly believe the future of Nuzlocking is in fan-made ROM hacks," Jan said. "Game Freak and Nintendo have shown time and time again that they do not care about this aspect of the community. Meanwhile, the community itself has achieved amazing things itself and made fantastic games tailored to the Nuzlocking experience."
Rising to the Challenge
This in turn speaks to the wider feeling within the community regarding its future: Regardless of how viable newer titles are currently, there's little doubt Nuzlockes and those who care about them will continue to thrive.
As it currently stands, the community has never been in a better place. In addition to more universally accepted rulesets being established to make it easier for Nuzlockers of all skill levels to jump in, exposure to the playstyle has grown thanks to the expansion of the community through YouTube and Twitch.
"It's pretty great to see how it's grown over the last few years," Jan said. "The YouTube scene used to be all pretty casual randomizer runs. Nowadays, people do all sorts of crazy challenges. Specifically the popularization of the Hardcore Nuzlocke ruleset (no items, no over-leveling, switch mode) has contributed a lot."
There are likewise no signs of the community giving up on making every title in the series Nuzlockable in some way. Many players are finding ways that newer titles can contribute to the overall experience, and actively Nuzlocking them as a result.
"I think Scarlet and Violet are honestly super fun games to Nuzlocke, some of the best vanilla games," Jackson, also known as RedditGamingDoor on Reddit and a community member of two years, said. "They're not that easy; the Team Star fights, Brassius, Iono, are actually kind of tricky. Not to mention that, assuming you're using level caps, you have to do a back-to-back fight, with Norman right into Nemona."
The ROM hacking scene remains vibrant and lively as well. New hacks are being made in addition to mainstays made by Drayano and other creators, ensuring players have a wide variety of options for fan-made Nuzlocking content.
This has just about everyone from the Nuzlocking community confident that the future is bright for the playstyle and that it won't be going anywhere anytime soon. And, as always, the community sees its future as something they'll shape themselves.
"I do think the community will find a way to ensure that Nuzlocking continues into generation 10, and I honestly don't think it's Game Freak's job to make a game that supports Nuzlocking," RedditGamingDoor said.