Review From the Vault: Pokemon: Hard-Mode (Webcomic)

[Originally posted on comics class discussion board on January 24, 2014] (Nuzlocke’s personal website, which contains all 3 arcs of the still running Hard-Mode, plus his discontinued “Speedrun” webcomic and the in-progress “Space Cat” webcomic) (The Nuzlocke forums, where many others have posted and completed their Nuzlocke challenges. There are some good reads in there if you take the time to pick through them)

Oh, I hear you all now: “What, first Yu-Gi-Oh! and now pokemon? Jack, you’re an enormous nerd, you know that?” Why yes, yes I am. The difference being that this review isn’t about the pokemon Manga (Which does exist. It’s actually incredibly long, and though I haven’t finished it, what I’ve read is pretty good). Instead, I want to talk about a webcomic that took the Pokemon community by storm: Pokemon Ruby: Hard-Mode.

Before I get into what the Comic is about, let’s talk a little history. Back in 2010, a user by the name of “Nuzlocke” posted a comic on the /v/ board of 4Chan (Because really, everything on the internet is connected to 4Chan in SOME way) detailing a run of Pokemon Ruby that he would be chronicaling. Wishing for an extra challenge, he self-imposed two rules on himself:

  1. You may only catch the first pokemon you encounter in each area.
  2. Release a pokemon if it faints (It’s dead).

With the rules in place, Nuzlocke dubbed the run “Pokemon: Hard-Mode” and created what would end up being a 14-strip long comic detailing the adventure of the main character, Ruby, as he tackled this challenge.

This challenge would become extremely popular in years to come, and the challenge would simply become known as “The Nuzlocke Challenge” (Though Nuzlocke himself continued calling it Pokemon: Hard-Mode). You can find hundreds of people detailing their Nuzlocke Challenge throughout the internet, be it through animation, comic strips, Let’s Plays, screen-shots, stories, poems, and there are dozens of variations of the original Nuzlocke rules to make the challenge more difficult or what have you.

So now, what about Ruby: Hard-Mode? The original series was a simple tale about the main character of Pokemon Ruby, who, obviously, is named Ruby. Ruby adopts what he simply calls “The Challenge” and is determined to become the Pokemon League Champion with these rules. Along the way, he gathers a team of pokemon with their own unique personalities such as Katie the Spheal, Mr. Humpy the (Female) Numel, and of course, Nuzlocke.

Here is where the name “Nuzlocke” comes into play. Early on in the series, after Ruby’s Zigzagoon and Beautifly die, he begins to blame his Whismer for being too weak, whereupon Ruby’s Seedot is seen drawn with the face of John Locke (From the television series Lost) and says “I believe this is all happening for a reason.” This would become sort of the tag-line for the series. Seedot eventually evolves into Nuzleaf (The combination of John Locke and Nuzleaf leading to “Nuzlocke”) and perishes in a gym battle, leaving Ruby to grieve and think of the consequences of this challenge for his friends and pokemon.

It seems like a laugh, thinking of someone writing a comic about their Pokemon playthrough, but it’s surprisingly well done. If you’d believe it, Nuzlocke is still writing this series today. After Ruby: Hard-Mode, he went on to Fire-Red: Hard-Mode and is currently writing/drawing Pokemon White: Hard-Mode. In addition, he started two additional comics: Speedrun (Which he discontinued) and Space Cat (which he’s writing alongside Hard-Mode). While the original Ruby: Hard-Mode has a very rough stick-figure black-and-white art style, looking at his comics today, it’s clear he grew quickly as an artist, and the comics are now smooth, colorful, and beautifully done. More importantly, it’s packed with humor for all sorts of people and will have you laughing throughout the read.

What about the story? Well, as I explained, in Ruby: Hard-Mode, we simply follow Ruby as he attempts “The Challenge”. Though still rough, as party members fall and Ruby struggles to the end of his journey, you really feel a twinge for Ruby’s loss. However, the story really gets going in Fire-Red: Hard-Mode. Not wishing to spoil the ending of Ruby: Hard-Mode, I’ll go into as little detail as possible, but it takes place approximately two years after the events of Ruby: Hard-Mode. Ruby decides to move regions and attempt to resume his challenge in the Kanto region. Meeting a new rival with Gary Oak and an evil organization named Team Rocket, Ruby has a new slew of challenges between him and the League.

People who watch Lost will notice right off the bat that Fire-Red: Hard-Mode references the hell out of Lost. Hell, parts of the plot outright mirror Lost, and as a fan of that series, I really enjoyed how he put a pokemon spin on an already oddball story. Other references and in-jokes litter this comic (Including a rivalry between Ruby’s Charmander and Gary’s Squirtle that ends up as a Dark Knight reference, in a good way) making it very funny. At the same time, with the stakes still high, there are times where the comic is an outright tear-jerker. Party members falling will tug on your hear-strings, learning the history between Squirtle and Charmander is its own sad story, and the plot resolution with Giovanni (The leader of Team Rocket) is an utter shock for non-pokemon fans, and a nice reference and nod for the more hardcore pokemon fans. Not to mention, Ruby’s struggle against redeeming himself and risking his new friends on this dangerous challenge has the reader right alongside Ruby with his tough decisions and his risky battles right to the bitter end. The final comic in Fire-Red is really what sets it aside and makes for such an excellent webcomic. Again, I’ll avoid spoilers, but it’s a hell of a comic, and a great cap-off to the arc.

So, with the comic still running and still managing to draw you in, this is a classic in the making. If you haven’t yet, I highly suggest picking it up. It’s a quick read once you get going, and well worth looking into.


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