No, we're not done with the Soul Badge yet. This is what you get in a JRPG that actually lets you roleplay a bit and explore large swathes of the game, as opposed to a more linear, progressive, handholdy style. Not that I refer to anything in particular.
Saffron City: the shining, golden city of commerce. There doesn't seem to be a ton of commerce going on at the moment, however. The Pokémon Center and Poké Mart are open for business, as is the house of Mr. Psychic where Demo is given one of the best moves in the game absolutely free, but most of the other buildings in Saffron City are blockaded by members of Team Rocket. That's all the citizens can talk about, and there are plenty of grunts roaming the streets as well. One of them gloats to Demo that Team Rocket's goal is to exploit Pokémon. Exploit them for...what? Demo is getting closer and closer to the heart of this mystery.
One other place that the journeying philosopher can access is the Fighting Dojo. Always eager for a bit of training, he takes up the challenge. It's a good place for a level or two, as everything on Demo's team has a passable matchup against Fighting (all but one of them are Poison or Flying) and soon the four students are put in their places. With Magnesium in the lead, Demo challenges the Master.
Despite all of his followers hyping him up, this utter BUFFOON turns out to be the easiest fight in the whole building. His two prized Fighting-type Pokémon are level 37, but he wastes his time with two X Attacks and a missed Rolling Kick from Hitmonlee while Magnesium sets up Leech Seed and PoisonPowder and scores a crit Razor Leaf for the KO. Hitmonchan comes with all the elemental punches, I'm pretty sure, but since its Special is garbage I'm not worried. Indeed, a super-effective Fire Punch barely does enough damage worth mentioning. Unlike its brother, Hitmonchan is slower, so it only gets a chance to do that and miss a Comet Punch...while Magnesium sets up Leech Seed and PoisonPowder and scores a crit Razor Leaf for the KO.
Out of my way, old man. Demo's earned his right to the one thing Trainers ever come here for. One of these two Pokémon is pretty well accepted to be a lot better than the other, and that's fine with me, so Demo picks out the Hitmonlee. This species is named after Bruce Lee, so this individual will be christened Seaborgium, the first element to be named after a person who was still alive at the time of the naming. (The other one is now oganesson.)
Obtained Seaborgium the Hitmonlee in Saffron City!
This does of course mean Demo can't receive Lapras later, but that doesn't bother me. He's already loaded with Water-types, and having Ice-type moves is a lot more important than having Ice-type Pokémon.
Another building being blocked by a Rocket Grunt is the Saffron City Gym, which is a detail I hadn't remembered. Guess there's really no choice for it now but to tackle Silph Co. Before Demo heads inside he purges his Bag of as many unnecessary things as he can, such as Great Balls and Escape Ropes. I'd really rather not have to make extra trips just to grab items.
Silph Co. itself isn't a huge deal, at least at the beginning. The levels of the grunts' Pokémon are hanging out in the upper twenties, which is decent training since the exp yields are relatively high and Demo's upper-thirties team can take them out easily. Sodium's Surf is a lot of fun, even though Bite and Water Gun can still two-hit KO pretty much everything. The odd Sonic Boom and Selfdestruct from various Electric-types are annoying but not insurmountable. I'm scared to death of running into Awfe at a bad time, though, but I assume Demo will have some kind of warning? Even if it's just a hallway that looks a little more important than the rest. Speaking of which, the overall design of Silph Co. seems eerily familiar to the design of the secret base in Celadon. Are we entirely sure this business wasn't just another front for Team Rocket all along?
The teleporters aren't bad either. Most of them either loop with each other in obvious ways, or lead to single, closed rooms. It's in one such room that Demo finds the TM for Take Down. Hah, why do I need a TM to teach that when that's what I'm already doing? It's in another such room that a terrified Silph Co. employee gives Demo the TM for Selfdestruct as thanks. Hah, some thanks, you Team Rocket sleeper cell. At least I know what's getting trashed first should Demo ever need more room in his Bag.
Even as Demo advances through the beginning floors, the levels peak at 33 on teams consisting of one Pokémon. One Scientist who opts for this strategy sends out a Hypno. Phosphorus puts it to sleep and then Scandium takes the kill. It occurs to me that this is Demo's first time doing any serious battling against Trainers with Scandium, but the Charizard gives a fine account of himself with Slash and Fly. In the next room Demo's challenged by a Juggler. First of all, what the heck is he doing here? Second, he leads with a Level 29 Kadabra, who despite being 8 levels lower than Phosphorus, is able to outspeed her and wipe away a third of her health with one Psybeam. Oh man. All I can think about is how much Sabrina's Gym is going to suck. At this rate Demo will be lucky to even get past all her Gym Trainers without suffering any casualties.
By the time the team hits Level 37 across the board, the Awfe fight is still scaring the heck out of me, and Demo's Bag is full. He's also out of mid-tier healing items. He waltzes right back out the front door, hops on Scandium for a ride to Lavender, and buys a ton of Super Potions. He also unloads a few things at the Poké Mart, such as that Selfdestruct TM. The game allows me to sell the PP-restoring items...for $0. That's really dumb, the equivalent of throwing them away, but it's not like I typically use those things anyway. Then it's back to Rocket-infested Saffron City.
Demo has reached a point where it seems the teleporters can't get him any farther. Courtesy of the elevator, he starts back on L2 and makes his way directly up Silph Co floor by floor, scanning everything. I'm mildly surprised that he can go all the way to the top floor right away, but of course it's not that easy; there's nothing there except a blank hallway with one (pathetically weak) Grunt.
This is weird. I swear I haven't missed anything. I can't think of anything to do except run around aimlessly for a while until I spot an item sitting in a hallway where there definitely wasn't one before. Sure enough, it's the Card Key. Now the fun begins. As Demo begins checking out rooms that were previously inaccessible, I almost immediately catch a glimpse of his rival on the other side of a wall. Nope nope nope. Fortunately all my fears of an ambush were unfounded; it looks like Demo gets two tiles' worth of warning in Awfe's chamber.
I resolve to do that last, since I want every shred of experience for Demo's team. There really is a lot of cool stuff just lying around. They're like storerooms which have two or three items all bundled up together, and it does look like there are a couple more Trainers as well. One of the Grunts says that he smells a rat...and then proceeds to send out a Raticate. There's your answer, buddy. One of the Scientists, who walks up to challenge Demo, asks how the man knew he wasn't working for Silph. We, uh, didn't, my guy. Better luck next time. After swiping his Card Key through one particular door, Demo is greeted by a bunch of beds and even a Nurse Joy, who completely restores his team. That incident really makes me wish I remembered more about this place. Could have saved me a trip outside, though I suppose item space would still have been a problem.
It isn't too much longer before I admit that it's time to face Awfe. Half the team is Level 37, half is 38. That's not bad. I already worked out which teleporter leads to Awfe, so Demo drops Sodium in the lead slot and gives it a whirl.
Oh yeah, there's that music. Awfe taunts Democritus about being so slow to get there, apparently not noticing his pockets absolutely bulging with loot, and then demands to see how much stronger his rival has become. Lights, camera, action.
Sandslash is out first, finally evolved from a Sandshrew, but only at Level 35. It has time to do exactly nothing before going down in one hit to a fat Surf. Once Jolteon comes out, Demo will switch to Silicon for that, who can deal with the rest of the team minus Cloyster...or, Awfe could send out Ninetales next. Okay then. This Pokémon has time to use a singular Tail Whip before also going to Davy Jones' Locker and boosting Sodium to Level 38. Then comes Cloyster. Hey, Awfe, you do know I'm doubly weak to Electric, right? Regardless, Sodium has the best matchup on the team against Cloyster, so I'm eager to get this one out of the way.
Cloyster might resist Water, but it has pretty poor Special. Still, a Surf doesn't do nearly as much damage as I'd hoped, slightly less than a third. It fires back with Supersonic. That could be trouble. Sure enough, Sodium hurts herself on the next turn, and I mean really hurts herself because of the Defense drop. Cloyster takes that opportunity to use another Supersonic. I shouldn't feel so irritated that this fight is being handed to me on a platter. Sodium can attack on the next turn; Bite knocks Cloyster under half and flinches it. Another turn, another Bite, and a missed Supersonic. Come ON, dude. Sodium then snaps out of confusion and puts down Cloyster with Surf. Fourth is Kadabra. I'm starting to suspect the rival is coded to always send out his starter last, regardless of matchups. I could have Scandium deal with Kadabra, and he'd likely do a good job with his decent Special for taking a hit and strong physical power. I can't help thinking, though, that something like a crit Psybeam on the switch would put Demo in a really tough spot, so I just leave out Sodium. Kadabra goes first, fails a Disable, and dies to a single, non-crit Bite. Sheesh. After having 80% of his team utterly steamrolled by a dual Water/Flying type, Demo finally sends out his Electric-type Pokémon, who coincidentally is also his strongest. That's your cue, Silicon. The Dugtrio takes a Double Kick on the switch, because of course that was Jolteon's best option against a Gyarados, and is then outsped and takes another one. Even with Silicon's very bad defenses, these two attacks combine for around 60% of his health. Jolteon opts for Pin Missile while its target is underground, and is then OHKO'd by Dig. Go HOME, Awfe.
Maybe I should have known not to worry. Even though the rival had a Pokémon at a higher level than Demo's for the first time in about three fights, that was still laughably easy. He rambles on about going to the Pokémon League to give the Elite Four a drubbing and becoming the world's strongest Trainer. Well guess what, you're not even the strongest Trainer in this room, so pack it up. The teleporter from which Demo just emerged carries Awfe away from Team Rocket and Silph Co.
That leaves Demo free to strike up a conversation with the one other person in the room, a seemingly random Silph Co employee trapped here like the rest. However, then man then presses upon Demo...a Lapras. Wait, what?! Don't I even get a chance to reject this thing?! Looks as though I don't. Dang. Lapras will be going straight to the dead box alongside Carbon and Nitrogen, but I give it a nickname anyway: Deuterium. This is a heavy isotope of hydrogen, and a component of so-called heavy water. Lapras is heavy and a Water-type, so...yeah. Importantly, being an isotope of hydrogen and not an element in and of itself, "deuterium" is not anywhere to be found on the periodic table of the elements.
Received Deuterium the Lapras in Saffron City.
The teleporter previously guarded by Awfe leads Demo straight to the 11th floor. Time to go crush Gio....oh? Another familiar track takes over.
I've never played Yellow before, so I can't blame my spotty memory of Blue for not warning me about another ambush by Jessie and James. They lead with Weezing at Level 31. This is child's play after the rival fight. Weezing and Arbok go down easily, but I suppose a Persian might be somewhat tough, due to its high Speed and Attack and STAB Normal moves...and it's still a Meowth. Okay then. Quit wasting my time.
Now Demo can fight Giovanni. The Team Rocket Boss seems almost excited to see him; he explains that Demo will be in a world of pain for interrupting him in the middle of his "business proposition," and that all Pokémon exist for Team Rocket. Seriously, what is this guy on about? If he's trying to do business, but using Pokémon...is he trying to make money with them? Put some gold in his pocket? ...wait. Turning Pokémon, the elements, into...gold? THAT'S IT! Team Rocket...are alchemists!
Having suddenly realized the true nature of his enemy after all this time, Demo is happy to put them in their place. Giovanni leads with Nidorino, against Magnesium. That's not a Ground-type but whatever. The boss wastes his time with a Guard Spec and then spams Focus Energy while Razor Leaf takes it down. Next up is Giovanni's Persian, who receives another Guard Spec on Demo's switch to Scandium. Slash does over half to Persian, but the Normal-type responds with Screech. Uh, that's dangerous. Back to Magnesium, who comfortably eats a Pay Day and finishes things with Razor Leaf. The incoming Rhyhorn can barely blink before Razor Leaf knocks it out as well. Last up is Nidoqueen, and oh boy, she's at Level 41. This is where things get interesting. Magnesium sets up Leech Seed and braces itself to eat a massive...Scratch. Okay then. On the subsequent turn, Giovanni drops his third Guard Spec of the battle, while Razor Leaf slices off half of the Nidoqueen's health. One more Grass move finishes her before she can move again.
That was a nice little stretch of the legs. Unfortunately, Demo's team is now only at Level 38 across the board, and he's running out of criminal syndicates and/or sports clubs to beat up on. I resolve to head back to Fuchsia City and clear out Koga's Gym Trainers, but first, Demo has time for a slight diversion.
While at the Pokémon Center to move Deuterium to the dead box, Demo grabs his Good Rod again and heads to the beach on Route 19. All he could get here by surfing is Tentacool, which there'll be plenty of time for later, but fishing with a Good Rod guarantees Demo something new: 50% chance of Goldeen, 50% chance of Poliwag.
Demo fishes up a fine Level 10 Goldeen. Any of his attacking moves would knock the thing all the way to Johto, but Magnesium is in the lead. He sets up Leech Seed and PoisonPowder, then spams more PoisonPowder while the chip damage drags Goldeen to yellow health. A Great Ball finishes the capture. Naming this thing "Gold" would be pretty lame imo, but since Goldeen and Seaking do have a rather regal theme, I want to choose its name from among the elements known as noble metals. Rhodium jumps out at me, only because Demo caught this Pokémon with a "rod." See what I did there?
Obtained Rhodium the Goldeen on Route 19!
Despite their master's Pokémon topping out at Level 50, none of Koga's followers go higher than 38, which means they aren't too troublesome. However, for whatever dumb reason there are a ton of Psychic-types in here, and those are always something to watch out for. Ironically, it makes Phosphorus in particular quite difficult to train, even though she'll likely be of some use against the Gym Leader.
The Jugglers and Tamers of the Fuchsia City Gym aren't good for many levels. I've put it off for a little while, but I have to face the fact that now all I can do is grind for a while. The best grinding spot available is still Route 17, against Ponyta, Doduo, and Fearow in their upper twenties. Oh boy. If I can just get high enough to beat Koga, several more areas will open up with Surf that should give me an easier time preparing for Sabrina. Time will tell.
Near the beginning of the grind session, when Magnesium is at 39, something funny happens. For perhaps the first time in its metaphorical lifetime, Razor Leaf does not score a critical hit. The wild Ponyta gets off lucky and avoids the two-hit KO. Wonders never cease.
Once everyone hits 40, the next milestone I set for myself is getting everyone to 42. This takes about an hour, and a few small but noteworthy things happen. Demo experiences the 256 glitch twice more, when Curium is using Double Kick and Phosphorus is using Confusion. Demo finds the first wild Dodrio he's ever encounter on this Route, which is taken out by Phosphorus. Magnesium KO's a second one a bit later. The Dodrio take a couple more hits to kill than other things, but frustratingly, they don't give any more EXP than the Fearow or Ponyta. Finally, when Sodium levels up to 41, she attempts to learn Hydro Pump! I had not been thinking about that at all so it came as a very nice surprise. Forgetting Dragon Rage was a little sad, but it was definitely Sodium's worst move at that point.
I decide at this point to go beat all the Trainers in the Saffron Gym. Due to a bit of prior research I know that, similar to the Fuchsia Gym, the Trainers all have Pokémon at much lower levels than they have any right to be compared to the Leader. In addition to the Psychics there are a few Channelers with Ghost-types in here. One of them turns out to be insanely annoying; her first Gastly goes down easily to Phosphorus's Psychic-type attacks. The second Gastly is quickly chipping away at her health with Night Shade, so Demo switches to Magnesium to beat it. The Channeler's final choice is a Level 33 Haunter, and thank goodness Magnesium pulls off a Leech Seed. For a long time I simply cannot hit this Haunter. It uses Confuse Ray and Hypnosis on everything and has superb luck. It's at least eight turns, based on the amount of damage from Leech Seed, before it's finally finished by Silicon's Dig.
Only one other fight from that Gym is worth mentioning. A Psychic explains to Demo that the Saffron Gym is known for its Psychics, before sending out a Level 38 Slowbro. That is the slightest bit scary. I don't want to leave Magnesium out to face that, so Demo substitutes Sodium. Slowbro is bulky and of course resists Water, so even Sodium doesn't do a lot. In that time I see this Slowbro use Water Gun, Headbutt, Withdraw, and Growl...no Psychic moves at all. And after the Trainer was gloating about his psychic power, too. Demo recalls Sodium and has Magnesium finish the battle with a quick Razor Leaf just out of spite.
The Gym fights were good for spreading around some EXP but only one level was gained, by Curium. Back to the grindstone. When Magnesium hits 43 he attempts to learn Growth, and I think about it. Tackle isn't great, and in Gen I Growth raises the Special stat. Since that's SpA and SpD rolled into one this is basically Calm Mind, so I go for it. I'm kind of proud of that until I enter a battle against a Ponyta and immediately realize my mistake. Magnesium's only attacking move is Razor Leaf. Razor Leaf scores a critical hit about 99.5% of the time. In Gen I, crits ignore all stat changes, even positive ones. As things stand, Growth is essentially only good for raising the "Special Defense." Heck. But, I'm stuck with it now, unless I decide to throw on one of the Normal-type TMs.
Once another hour of grinding is up, the team is sitting at Level 44. This is the minimum level at which I'd consider challenging Koga, finally on par with his lowest-leveled Pokémon. However, I don't think banking on the minimum possible effort is a great idea for a Nuzlocke, so...a little more grinding. Almost there. I had thought that by this point the rest of the game might be catching up to Sodium, but man, her stats are still through the roof.
The team grows to Level 45. The closer Demo's Pokémon get to being able to oneshot everything in sight, the lower the likelihood of there being anything interesting to report. Dodrio seem to be showing up more frequently; Demo fought 4 in about half an hour. During a trip back to Celadon City to restore PP, and after a bit of thought on my part, Demo withdraws the TM10 from his PC and uses it to teach Magnesium Double-Edge in place of the poorly-chosen Growth. I understand that it might be a slightly counter-intuitive choice for a Nuzlocke, but this will only be used to clean up what Razor Leaf doesn't finish off, and grinding with just one move was painful. Better to use Double-Edge now than something like Body Slam, which will be safer against late-game opponents should another Pokémon need a better move.
The team grows to Level 46. Scandium learns the coveted Flamethrower at the minor cost of Ember. It's been this way for a couple levels, but Silicon's HP is finally in the triple digits (still not even 2/3 of Sodium's though, haha). I wasn't waiting for those things in particular, but they only reinforce my previous decision that this level would be good enough. I'm done grinding, thanks. Demo takes another leisurely cruise down Cycling Road to Fuchsia City. He's ready to take on Koga.