A few panels from the Hard-Mode Nuzlocke comic series next to a the player in Pokémon Ruby riding on a bicycle.

What Does “Nuzlocke” Mean?

Making your life harder...for fun!

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Reyadh is a writer of fantasy, horror, and science fiction who loves to play video games full of monsters and magic. When he's not scribing unique and unrelenting speculative fiction or slaying demons in virtual worlds, he is writing strategy guides to help others reach their gaming goals.

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Marshall is a seasoned writer and gaming enthusiast based in Tokyo. He's a prolific wordsmith with hundreds of articles featured on top-tier sites like Business Insider, How-To Geek, PCWorld, and Zapier. His writing has reached a massive audience with over 70 million readers!

Key Takeaway

The term “Nuzlocke” describes a type of challenge run exclusive to Pokémon games. While there are many optional rules, here are the two mandatory ones:

  1. The player may only catch the first Pokémon encountered in each area
  2. If a Pokémon’s HP drops to zero, that Pokémon can no longer be used

As for the origin of the word: “Nuzlocke” is a combination of the name of the Pokémon Nuzleaf and the name of the character from Lost, John Locke. These two get combined in the webcomic that helped spread the idea for this particular challenge run. This webcomic is titled Hard-Mode and comes from the website nuzlocke.com.

The Pokémon games are famous for many features—one of which is that they’re among the easiest RPGs on the market. Some players have taken it upon themselves to make their Pokémon journeys more interesting and challenging through specific self-imposed rules; enter the Nuzlocke.

Table Of Contents

    What Is a Pokémon Nuzlocke?

    Brock from the Pokémon anime talking to a Nuzleaf and a Sudowoodo.

    There is a general consensus that a Pokémon Nuzlocke run (regardless of the chosen game) has two basic rules that must be followed. If either of these basic rules are broken, the run is no longer a Nuzlocke; instead becoming more of a normal playthrough of the game.

    Basic Pokémon Nuzlocke Rules

    1. First Come, First Serve: The player may only catch the first Pokémon encountered in each area (routes, caves, towns, etc.) If the player fails to catch the first Pokémon they encounter, they are not allowed another attempt in that area. Tough luck!
    2. Hit Points Are Life Points: If a Pokémon’s HP drops to zero, that Pokémon can no longer be used in the current Nuzlocke run. Whether this Pokémon is stored in the player’s PC or released is up to the player. Essentially, it’s like the fainted Pokémon has died.
      • Some players like to change the wallpaper of a PC Box to a graveyard and then place fainted Pokémon in it as a sort of macabre memorial.

    Popular Pokémon Nuzlocke Rules

    These next few rules are not essential to a Nuzlocke; however, many players use them to add more difficulty to a run. Depending on the particular community, some of the rules below may be considered mandatory.

    1. No Resets: Using soft or hard resets is forbidden, as it defeats the purpose of the “First Come, First Serve” rule.
    2. No Cheats: Using any sort of cheats or hacks is forbidden, as they make the game easier—which goes against the difficulty-enhancing spirit of Nuzlocke runs.
    3. Nicknames Are Mandatory: Giving all captured Pokémon nicknames creates a deep bond between them and their trainer. As such, losing any Pokémon in a Nuzlocke run becomes tragic.
    4. Dungeon Level Rule: Some players consider different levels of a dungeon (such as different floors of a cave or a multi-floored building) as a different area. If they do, then attempting to catch a new Pokémon on every floor is allowed.
    5. Gift Pokémon: Pokémon gifted to the player by NPCs may be allowed in your party depending on your community’s rules. If this is true, then gifted Pokémon do not count towards the “First Come, First Serve” rule restrictions.
    6. Permanent Game Over: If all of your party Pokémon get knocked out, some players will claim this to be the end of their run. To continue, they’ll start over from the beginning of the game.
      • Some players, when they experience a full team wipe, will box or release all of their party Pokémon and continue playing with pocket monsters they’ve caught and stored in another box. These latter Pokémon must have never been knocked out for the Nuzlocke run to continue being valid.
    7. No Player Trading: Trading with other players is prohibited, as this can make the run too easy through a friend giving you a powerful Pokémon.
      • Trading with NPCs in-game is usually fine, but some communities may frown upon players doing so.
    8. Repeated Species: If the same species of Pokémon is the first encounter in multiple areas, some players may not count the latter of such cases as the true “first encounter” of that area. In such cases, players are allowed to attempt to catch the first Pokémon encountered of a different species.
      • This rule is highly subject to community opinion.
    9. HM User: In older Pokémon games, HMs are moves that are needed to traverse terrain. These are sometimes essential to making progress. As such, some players allow themselves to have Pokémon solely used for HM reasons. HM users are not allowed to be used in battle; they’re only for terrain traversal.

    Hardmode Pokémon Nuzlocke Rules

    A Pikachu that has fainted.

    For the masochists out there who want to make their Nuzlocke runs even harder, there are other rules you can add. These depend on your preferences and community acceptance, so feel free to pick and choose which ones you want to use. These rules are purely optional.

    Some communities have their own special rules that don’t appear on this list. Furthermore, you’re welcome to make up your own as well!
    1. Set Mode-Only: In the options of most Pokémon games, you can choose Set Mode (you don’t get a free switch when an opponent sends in a new Pokémon) or Shift Mode (you get a free switch any time the opponent sends in a new Pokémon). This rule makes it so that you must use Set Mode (or choose not to switch out while in Shift Mode).
    2. No Overleveling: You’re not allowed to increase the level of any of your Pokémon above the highest level of the next Gym Leader you’re about to battle.
      • Pokémon that exceed this level restriction may be allowed to wait in a storage box until they’re eligible for the current run.
    3. Randomized Starter: For those playing a randomized version of a Pokémon game (through the use of mods and hacks), it can be more fun and challenging to have a random Pokémon as your starter. You could get lucky and land a Dratini or get unlucky and score a Weedle.
    4. No PC Storage: Only six Pokémon are allowed at any given time. Any newly caught Pokémon must either be added to your party or immediately released/boxed permanently. Party Pokémon that are replaced must be released/boxed permanently.
    5. No Items: No items of a certain type are allowed to be used. This can mean held items, healing items, level-up items, Exp. items, any items, or any combination of item restrictions.
    6. Limited PokéCenter Visits: Healing Pokémon at Pokémon Centers is either prohibited or restricted to a certain number of uses.
    7. No PokéMarts: Players are not allowed to buy or sell goods at Pokémon Marts.
    8. No Evolving: Evolving Pokémon is not allowed; when one tries to evolve, the player must press the “B” button to cancel the evolution.
    9. No Legendaries: You’re not allowed to catch and use Legendary Pokémon. Depending on the community, the same may be true for Mythical Pokémon and Pseudo-Legendaries.
    10. No Fleeing: Players are not allowed to flee from battles with wild Pokémon.
    11. No Day Care: You’re not allowed to use Day Cares to increase the level of your Pokémon or to breed more of them.
    12. No Guides: Players are not allowed to look up game-related information online or use out-of-game resources.

    How to Nuzlocke Pokémon Scarlet & Violet

    Pretty much all of the rules above can be used when doing a Nuzlocke run in Pokémon Scarlet & Violet. Since these games are open world, you can potentially have even more crazy fun with a Nuzlocke run! With that said, we recommend following the games’ natural progression route for a balanced experience. That is if you want a balanced experience. If you don’t, that’s fine as well.

    Origin of the Term “Nuzlocke”

    The term “Nuzlocke” originated from the same-name website featuring Pokémon comics created by artist Nick Franco about this specific type of challenge run. In the webcomic series titled Hard-Mode, the protagonist catches a Seedot early on, which soon evolves into a Nuzleaf. In some panels, the Nuzleaf looks at the protagonist with a face similar to that of John Locke from the TV show Lost.

    A webcomic showing a Nuzleaf with the face of John Locke from the TV show Lost.

    This meme was so popular in the Pokémon community that a combination of “Nuzleaf” and “John Locke” (Nuzlocke) became the unanimously used name for this particular brand of Pokémon game challenge runs.

    Tough enough for you? If not, you can always come up with hilarious and soul-crushing rules for your own Nuzlocke. While you’re at it, maybe consider streaming it online to see if others want to get in on the fun. If you’re planning on doing so in Pokémon Scarlet & Violet, make sure to take some selfies to capture the highlights!

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