Although they are beloved by a multitude of fans around the world, Pokémon games are generally not considered to be incredibly difficult. Some titles in the series are more challenging than others to complete, but players nevertheless often have little trouble progressing through the stories, except for perhaps a tough battle or two.
The games based in the Galar region are no exception to this. A permanently activated experience share system and the ability to see many wild Pokémon as overworld spawns make these games some of the easiest in the series. With certain self-imposed rules, however, players can make their playthroughs of Sword & Shield much more challenging.
One of the two most basic rules of a Nuzlocke Challenge, permadeath means that when a Pokémon faints, it is treated as deceased and can no longer be used in the playthrough. If players do not want to commit to the multiple rules of a Nuzlocke Challenge, using only permadeath would still grant them a challenging run. The potential to lose Pokémon at any moment increases players’ emotional bonds with their pocket monsters, so if they want to have a stronger connection to Sword & Shield, the permadeath rule can be a great asset.
9 Limited Attacking Moves
A useful move set is an invaluable tool for a playthrough. If players want to make Sword & Shield more difficult, an exciting way to do so would be to limit the number of attacking moves their Pokémon can learn. If a Pokémon is limited to only knowing two attacking moves, for example, players must be much more careful when it comes to battles. Coverage moves are important, and a lack of them can make a Pokémon less viable. This makes each battle much more challenging if type matchups are unfavorable.
8 Time Limit
A time limit rule could be implemented in a variety of ways. Some potential ways would be for players to only allow themselves a certain amount of time to progress through certain routes, catch Pokémon before progressing through the story, or complete the entire game, resetting if the goal is not met.
Players would need to prioritize speed, ignoring many Pokémon that would be useful on their team. Strategies must be used as many of the players’ Pokémon would likely be under-leveled going into important battles. This would be an extremely challenging, but interesting new way to play the games.
7 Limited Wild Encounters
The second basic rule of a Nuzlocke Challenge is that players can only catch their first wild encounter in each new area. Another way limited wild encounters could be implemented is by players only being able to catch Pokémon in the first route, using only them for the rest of the playthrough.
While limiting, this would grant players access to Rookidee, which evolves into one of the coolest regional birds in the franchise. Aside from this, however, the creatures found in the first route are usually much weaker than other late-game Pokémon, which would add an interesting layer of strategy to a playthrough.
6 No Using Healing Items
During tough battles, healing items can be a lifesaver. If players were to not allow healing items, whether only in battle or not at all, they would have to consider other strategies. The latter would be much more difficult, causing players to rely solely on the Pokémon Centers.
Since players’ Pokémon are healed in between each battle of the Champion Cup, however, the implementation of this rule is much more accessible than in many previous games. While it is feasible, it would still be much more challenging, especially if combined with other rules.
5 Themed Teams
Team composition is an important part of a successful playthrough. If players want an extra challenge, they could choose to only use Pokémon that revolve around a specific theme. The players decide the theme, but they must adhere to the rule for the entire playthrough.
One potential rule could be only using Pokémon whose names begin with the letter “S”. Scorbunny is considered perhaps the best starter from Generation VIII, but since the first letter of its name changes when it evolves, it must remain a Scorbunny or no longer be used, limiting its potential.
4 Nature Hunting
While this method does not make the games inherently more difficult, it makes the ability to find Pokémon efficiently much more challenging. There are twenty-five natures available in Sword & Shield, with all except five boosting one stat while lowering another. Players can only learn about a Pokémon’s nature after catching it.
If players want to increase the difficulty of finding Pokémon to use, they could allow themselves to only use Pokémon with a specific nature. Although players could nature hunt as long as they wanted, it makes finding usable pocket monsters much more tedious, meaning players would likely only nature hunt specific Pokémon to save time.
3 Level Cap
With the experience share feature always active, leveling up in Sword & Shield is a relatively easy task. A way to make the games more challenging would be to only allow Pokémon to reach a certain level before specific milestones. For example, taking on the Grass gym leader Milo means that players are battling against Pokémon that are level 19 and 20. Installing a level cap of 15 would make the battle more difficult. If Pokémon surpass the self-imposed level cap, players could reset to a previous point at which they saved the game.
2 Surprise Trade
A way to make the games more difficult is to Surprise Trade with either one member or an entire team after reaching certain milestones. This can include after each gym, rival battle, etc. Surprise Trade is a system where two unacquainted trainers from anywhere in the world trade Pokémon, but they do not know what they will receive in the trade.
This rule, utilizing the similar Wonder Trade, was used after each gym in the Polygon YouTube channel’s Pokémon Y Nuzlocke Challenge. The Surprise Trade feature in Sword & Shield requires a paid subscription to Nintendo Switch Online, but it is an exceptional tool in making the games more difficult.
1 Play In Set Mode
The default battle mode is Switch Mode, which means that players can choose to switch Pokémon in battle upon learning what an opponent’s next Pokémon will be. Set Mode eliminates this option. This makes the game much more difficult because players lose a turn if they need to switch out a Pokémon due to an unfavorable matchup. This also increases the usefulness of coverage moves on Pokémon, as they may need to battle a pocket monster against which they are weak.