Recently, I invented a new Pokemon challenge run that involves only using Pokemon. Now, this seems like the premise for a regular playthrough of the game. However, it turns out this is actually one of the hardest and most impossible ways to play the game.
When you really think about it, the vast majority of the things you do in Pokemon don’t involve using Pokemon. Moving your characters isn’t using Pokemon and, therefore, not allowed. Getting into any sort of dialogue is off the table. Even using items, getting into battles and healing are all disallowed.
All in all, this makes a Pokemon Only challenge legitimately impossible; you can’t even get past the title screen, making it the only Pokemon challenge run that is failed before starting the game…probably.
This could be the end of the road for Pokemon Only runs, but to make the run playable, we approach failing a little differently. As failure is a constant throughout the run, every time we fail, we just record it as a fail and keep going. This doesn’t mean we can just casually and willingly collect fails, not at all. We must avoid as many fails as possible.
Ultimately though, I found the most fun part of this run to be the discovering of how we are forced to play the game. If we are mandated to acquire the least number of fails, then we are made to follow a very specific route forward. It becomes really interesting to see what you are required and allowed to do in order to progress.
This leaves us with five major categories for fails, which act as the de facto rules for how we have to play the game. We are never allowed to break these unless absolutely necessary.
The Rules/Categories for Fails
Dialogue: Any time we get into any conversation, this is a fail, so we can only engage in the dialogue necessary to move the game forward.
Menuing: Any time we use a menu, which will mostly be when we make a yes/no choice. It should be noted that moving through the menu isn’t a fail, it’s only the act of making the choice, so we are free to pick whatever option we want.
Items: Obviously, we can’t use items unless imperative for beating the game, but any item we acquire is also an item fail.
Battles: The fourth major category for fails: While Pokemon battling is the main area you use Pokemon (the other being HM usage), getting into the battle itself isn’t an act of using a Pokemon. So, this run is a minimum trainers run.
Pokemon: Similarly to the battle category, Pokemon fails are very related to using Pokemon but aren’t always explicitly that. Learning moves, leveling up, evolving, all this isn’t directly using the Pokemon, so they are all fails.
Outside these five major categories we have:
Moving: This just means we have to try and take the shortest, most direct route to the next objective, but I’m admittedly a little loose with this rule.
Whiteouts: As we have no other way to heal than simply dying, this is something that will be happening constantly, and every time it does, it’s a fail.
Guiding Principles to Make the Challenge More Fun
On top of the rules, there are also a few principles that I followed throughout the run.
To me, the run is partly about acquiring the fewest fails, but I found it more fun whenever I followed the rules incredibly closely, even if this leads to more overall fails.
The biggest way this is true is the fact that you will battle certain trainers over and over again. While you die time and time again, you will slowly level up and will eventually win. Every time you lose, you acquire two fails, one for whitening out and one for needing to retry the battle.
This creates the opportunity for you to optionally acquire fails in order to make the battle much easier. Teaching your Pokemon a move, giving them a hold item, catching another Pokemon. All of these can lead to less overall fails, but to me it just too closely resembles a regular run and dismantles the actual challenge.
The other principle is fairly straightforward. When you are put in a position where you will be forced to acquire fails (something that happens a lot), you must make the choice that leads to the least fails. The most prominent way this affects the run is when learning new moves. When given the choice to learn a new move, you must always reject it as this is less fails.
This does mean your moveset will be just the first four moves your Pokemon can learn, plus the HMs that are needed to beat the run. While this makes your moves fairly terrible for most of the run, I found this really important for making the challenge actually hard, and this sort of restrictiveness is what makes the run a really unique experience.
Ultimately though, do whatever version of this challenge you find most enjoyable as there are lots of ways to approach this concept.
Have Fun with Pokemon Only Challenges
There are many more nooks, crannies, litigations and footnotes to the rules, but those are the main set that are enough to get you going for your own playthrough.
Since I created this challenge, I have absolutely loved it and have now completed Platinum, SoulSilver and Emerald versions of the run. All are really different, super engaging and have brought a renewed sense of enjoyment and accomplishment to games I’ve beat a million times.
If you are interested in seeing my playthrough of Pokemon Platinum, then you can watch it here. I recorded every single fail, so you can find out how many times you do fail (it’s way more than you think). I also go into more depth about the rules and talk about the subcategories for failing as well.