Pokémon games area all about players collecting small creatures and commanding them in battle, but in the end-game section of Pokémon Emerald called the Battle Frontier it’s the Pokémon who call the shots. Always up for a mind-bending challenge, one speedrunner decided to speedrun it.
Mark “Werster” McKenzie is no stranger to the series and currently holds first and second place records in a number of entries including Pokémon Crystal and HeartGold. For Emerald, however, Werster has been committed to a more exotic goal. Rather than simply finish the base game as quickly as possible, he wanted to also complete its incredibly tedious and difficult Battle Frontier section. And this weekend he was successful, posting a mind-boggling sub-twenty hour time of 19:04:14. For comparison purposes, the fist-place time for beating the game in the Any% category is 2:33:23.
But the Battle Frontier is an entirely different animal then the rest of the game. First introduced in Emerald, the section set in a Southeastern island within the Hoenn region was intended as a replacement for the Battle Towers from Ruby and Sapphire. It’s unlocked after the player defeats the Elite Four and includes a bunch of different battle arenas with different rules. For the Battle Factory you have to rent the Pokémon you use to fight while in the Battle Pyramid you have to climb seven different floors in search of exits while battling different trainers. And then there’s the Battle Palace, a section where all of your Pokémon operate somewhat independently. You can tell them to attack, but which move they use is up to them.
That’s the final arena Werster completed for his most recent attempt. The very last battle came down to his Latios versus the opponent’s Suicune. With the end-line in sight and a very exhausted Werster howling for it all to be over, his Latios trollishly disobeyed. But then one turn later the psychic dragon type fired back with the thunderbolt he’d been praying it would use the whole time. And with that, one of the most impressive Pokémon speedruns ever attempted had been completed.
There are two reasons a run like this is so difficult. First, it’s terribly long, with the player needing to complete each arena several times in order to get the gold ratings that will net them the special symbols gifted by each arena’s representative. The whole point of Werster’s run was to get these symbols, seven in all, so that meant hours of repetitive dungeon crawling and fights. And if he lost? Well then everything would have been reset. Werster had tried this type of run in the past only to quit as things started going terribly downhill. The Pokémon games are already so heavily predicated on randomness, from the latent stats and traits of the Pokémon you catch to whether or not they land an attack or miss in battle, that drawn out runs are fraught with all types of potential setbacks.
But then there was the added complexity of having the run the first part of the game differently in order to maximize his chances of success later on. The same team of Pokémon that will get you through the Elite Four might not be ideal, or even enough, to power you through each of the Battle Frontier arenas with their idiosyncratic rule sets. You can read Werster’s strategy behind the run here, but like any in-depth Pokémon guide, it includes careful attention to what movesets they end up with and how their stats are developed along the way in order to limit the amount of blackouts (Werster only died three times during the run).
“I am fucking done,” he said at the end of his nearly day-straight marathon. “I’m so happy that I did that. And now I can sleep.”