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YAFVP: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Zero Isle South

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Aug 24, 2012, 5:51:55 PM8/24/12
It's pretty rare to get YAFVPs for commercial roguelikes on here, but I
managed one (after over a year of trying), so here we go. For people who
have never played the game, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is mostly a very
nontraditional roguelike, with save points everywhere and a lot of
ability to carry things over between runs, but it has an unlockable game
mode, Zero Isle South, that is a true roguelike: only suspend saving is
allowed and a save file can only be loaded once, and you can't take
anything from outside into the dungeon, so you're starting from scratch
each time. And it's really, /really/ hard; most experienced PMD players
will refuse to help people out if it involves going there. So it seemed
like a good place for a roguelike fan like me to try to crack.

The roguelike's play itself is quite unusual; your character has a basic
attack, plus four moves which each have a limited number of uses, one
slot for equipping items, and a limted-size inventory which is generally
full of consumables. It's also enforced ironman, so keeping stashes is
impossible. I may end up implementing something similar in an
open-source roguelike at some point.

This ascension was mostly unspoiled on ZIS itself, by the way; I didn't
know much going in apart from some suggestions on good character
choices (this is actualy the reason I named my Mew Zero; I had a hunch
it would be coming here eventually). However, I've played both the rest
of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, and other Pokémon games, extensively, so I
had a lot of knowledge that could be applied to the game from other
contexts. Also, this is after a huge number of attempts, so I'd learnt
quite a lot about the mysterious Isle itself.

The Last Outing

Dungeon: Zero Isle South
Zero (a Mew)
cleared the dungeon.

Level: 27 Exp Pts.: 105027
HP: 158
Attack: 39 Defense: 62
Sp. Atk.: 48 Sp. Def.: 63 (boosted by item)

Item: Zinc Band

Final inventory:
Def. Scarf (I never used this because Bulk UP is awesome,
was planning to sell it)
Weather Band (equipped through most of the midgame)
Zinc Band (equipped through the endgame whenever I didn't need
the Weather Band)
Miracle Chest (B96F reward)
Iron Thorn(4) (used as my main thrown weapon early, which is
why I have so few of them)
Silver Spike(11) (would have resorted to these in emergencies, as the
strongest thrown weapon in the game, but never found an appropriate
emergency to use it on)
Stick(23) (used these to chase down fleeing Pokémon early)
Gravelerock(26) (set; used these when confused midgame, to chase
down fleeing Pokémon late, and spammed them at out-of-range
enemies on the last few floors)

Grimy Food (besides the obvious use, I used these as a makeshift
poison cure on occasion; paralysis, one of the possible results,
overrides poison)
Grimy Food
Grimy Food
Big Apple (my staple diet; I used regular Apples when I could
because they have a worse inventory-slot-to-nutrition ratios)
Big Apple (I was OK for food; I only ran out altogether at one
point, and found one while I still had most of my health left,
and some emergency sources like bad seeds and oran berries)
Big Apple
Cheri Berry (for Mew, generally only useful against Arboks or
for nutrition; the first berry I ate for nutrition was Rawst,
though, because burns are pointless)
Pecha Berry (mostly in short supply in this run, I picked this
one up late)

Pecha Berry
Sitrus Berry (my only remaining heal berry; I had over a pageful
at one point, and would likely have run out of resources soon)
Blinker Seed (I'm souring on this item; it's not reliable
enough for use in an emergency, and as it's single-target
isn't so useful the rest of the time)
Reviver Seed (I found seven of these in the run; the first two
I used were not deliberate, but in situations where I badly
needed healing; the last three were stupid mistakes)
Reviver Seed (most of these were found lying around, but
I bought a couple with the money I was being careful to
Sleep Seed (not my favourite escape item, but I put one to
good use against an Altaria on B96F which would otherwise have
killed me first)
Totter Seed (because they're unreliable, I only use these as
a last resort)
Totter Seed

Max Elixir (PP was only a minor problem early, and not a
problem at all late; I even abandoned two or three of these)
Max Elixir
Max Elixir
Max Elixir
TM Embargo (was sticky and unusable; picked this up very late
hoping it was something useful, by then my inventory was empty
enough that it wasn't worth the trouble to drop)
Lob Orb (kept forgetting to use this, it's good on approaching
enemies, but Gravelerocks are so much more convenient…)
Trapper Orb (second-worst item in the game to actually use
after TM Stealth Rock, IMO, and sells for less money; it's
here for the same reason TM Embargo is)
Key (I used two of these on early-floor reward boxes and then
sold them for cash; it was /totally/ worth it, I have loads
of those specific rewards and they can't be used in-dungeon)

Oran Berry (oh, seems I had two heal berries left; that last
one must have been picked up incredibly late as it hasn't even
been sorted into the right place)
Deluxe Box (B99F reward; not sure if /anyone/'s ever left
that one behind, because B99F has no dangers; it contained a
Joy Seed)

…and 2964 G.

Moves used:
Pound +3 (starting move, and I kept it all game; this was my
main exp-marking move throughout the first half of the game,
and my main damage attack late)
Transform (LOL, would be the worst move in the game if not for
the ones that actively harm you; starting move, was forgotten
at the first opportunity)
Bulk Up (singlehandedly won me the game, IMO, and known at
endgame; this is a strong candidate for being the best possible
TM move for a ZIS run, especially for a psychic-type like Mew)
Brine (I found three Brine TMs and used all of them; this was
used to finish defensive enemies in the early-mid game, and
for water damage in the midgame and endgame; known at endgame)
Dragon Claw (via TM; used on tougher enemies earlier to get
a bit of extra damage in; I chose not to learn Mega Punch
because this was more useful)
Overheat (via TM; used early on when fire damage was useful,
and/or when surrounded to hit multiple enemies, and occasionally
in emergencies)
Energy Ball (via TM; used for ranged damage midgame; I kept
it longer than I was planning to)
Metronome (unexpectedly awesome; my main exp-marking move
throughout the second half of the midgame, and a surprisingly
good damage attack; learnt via level up)
Flamethrower (via TM; found the TM early, but used it late;
used for ranged damage in the late midgame, and fire damage
towards the start of the endgame, eventually deleted)
Brick Break (via TM; I swapped Flamethrower out for it to
conserve a bit of PP, and it did decent neutral damage, but
its type coverage isn't great)
Fire Blast (via TM; found midgame, used near the end (and kept
to the end) for coverage and as a powerful attack, I had enough
Max Elixirs then to really spam it ;) )

Many roguelikes have items that make the game much easier if
you find them early. NetHack has its wands of wishing; Brogue
its daggers of quietus; and, it seems, Zero Isle South has its
Bulk Up TMs. Bulk Up, with its Attack- and Defense-boosting
properties, is a move I hadn't really considered before this
game, but now I've played a game seriously using it, it's a
strong candidate for best TM in the game; and unexpectedly,
it's for the Defense boost, not the Attack boost. The thing is,
the way the damage formula works is kind-of weird, with boosting
your Attack not increasing your damage much if you were already
doing a reasonable amount; but boosting your Defense past a
certain point will knock all physical attacks from enemies
with low Attacks down to 1 or 2 points, which makes their
attacks mostly ignorable past the earlygame. This is a really
massive advantage; many of the most dangerous moves in the
game (Doubleslap, Fury Attack, Bullet Seed, Comet Punch, and,
most importantly for Mew, Pin Missile) are physical, and it's
much better to be taking single-digit damage from them than
it is to be potentially one-shotted. (Towards the late game,
using Bulk Up three times upon entering a level was enough to
gain this near-immunity to multi-hit moves.) And it has a huge
advantages over other hugely powerful moves, such as Protect and
Explosion: you can use it when you arrive on a level, and the
effect lasts all level. Throughout the first half of the game,
when you're grinding for experience, you're going to spend
/way/ more than 3 PP per level on killing opponents; in fact,
you're going to spend much more than that just on exp-marking,
and are going to spend still more on survival. Later on, you
have enough Max Elixirs that PP isn't really a problem, and
while diving, you can skip Bulking Up if you spawn in sight
of the stairs (and if you're feeling like playing a little
riskily, you can start using it when the first enemy appears,
rather than as soon as you spawn, in case you find the stairs
first). It has a few disadvantages, too, but they're minor by
comparison: because it doesn't target, it can't be used for
exp-marking; its effect is stopped by Wonder Tiles, so you
have an interesting choice to make if you get hit with stat
reductions; and it does nothing to help against special attacks.

OK, so I was playing on easy mode by using Mew, but Zero
Isle South is hard no matter what you do (unless you find a
Bulk Up TM and are able to use it :) ). I think I agree with
the conventional wisdom that Mew is the best Pokémon for
ZIS; its obvious advantage (the ability to use all TMs)
isn't so necessary by itself, but it lets you use the
TMs that matter. Mew also has a few other pecularities;
despite having a Psychic typing, it rarely gets Psychic-type
moves, but its typing is reasonable defensively, giving it
weaknesses only to three types, each of which is uncommon. (And
which overwhelmingly tend to be physical, meaning Bulk Up
can mostly blunt them.) And perhaps non-obviously, Mew is
unusually susceptible to confusion and unusually resistant to
paralysis. The corridor trick for avoiding confusion doesn't
work with Mew if there's water around (the trick, in short,
is that you walk to a corridor square if you think you might
get confused, then retreat along the corridor until it ends,
relying on the way that you only have one square to move to
each time and so your movements aren't intefered with; Mew
can often move sideways into the water due to its levitation
ability). However, Mew's ability Synchronize is great against
paralysis (and kind-of pointless against poison or burn,
both of which will do marginal damage to your opponents and
possibly steal your experience); if you're paralyzed, the enemy
will get paralyzed too, and both paralyses will wear off at the
same time, so you don't lose any turns to your opponent unless
there are other enemies around or you're fighting something
with paralysis resistance itself (only Ekans and Arbok will
give you this issue in ZIS). Apart from the confusion issue,
levitation is generally useful; it lets you move out into water,
which makes exploring levels faster as you can sometimes take
shortcuts, heal up in relative safety (although I didn't need
to do that in this run), disengage from fights against things
that don't swim (which saved Mew's life on two occasions) and
heal burns easily on levels which have water (not that being
burnt is really noticeable, as it doesn't stop regeneration
like poison does).

My early strategy was the usual one of clearing every level,
using Pound to exp-mark enemies (unless they gave trivial
experience) and basic attacks to finish them. (PP is a definite
problem early for Mew, unless it finds a particularly good set
of TMs. For people who don't know the game: enemies give half
experience if you kill them only with basic attacks or items;
to exp-mark them and so get full experience from them, you have
to hit them with a move. You can know four moves at a time;
each has its own PP stock, and the move can't be used when
its PP stock is depleted; and in Zero Isle South, you can only
practically refill PP using Max Elixirs, which refill all four
slots to max at once.) I moved on when I'd made sure to scour
every room of a level for items; fully exploring for items is
pretty necessary early on, in order to avoid missing important
hold items, TMs, or consumables (you need enough food to eat,
and Reviver Seeds are uber-consumables that can be used for
nearly anything, or everything at once). A few Pokémon I ranked
as more dangerous than others, and were worthy of being Dragon
Clawed to kill them before they caused too many issues; in the
first few levels, this was only Chingling (Wrap can cause huge
trouble if other enemies turn up). I think the optimal hold item
for the first few levels is a Twist Band, to nullify all the
Growls and Charms flying around, but Bulk Up, which I found very
early, is a partial proactive counter to those Attack-decreasing
moves, and I could (and did) use Wonder Tiles in emergencies
even though they wiped out my defence boosts. I kept Joy Seeds
until level 10, when I started using them upon levelling up;
and I used other stat-boosting items instantly. (Apart from
Sitrus Berries; I used a few to boost HP to save inventory
space, but most were kept for healing purposes. Life Seeds
give a bigger boost anyway.) Ginseng was placed on Pound;
increasing the damage on your exp-marking move saves a lot of
PP and a lot of damage over the course of the game because
it gives you more of a head start when you exp-mark things,
and it gave me a viable high-PP move to use for combat lategame.

I also had the good fortune to find a Persim Band about
when it starts to matter. As I explained earlier, Mew is
unusually susceptible to confusion, and there are several
late-early-game and early-mid-game opponents who use it,
first just to prevent you attacking while they pile on
damage, and later for them to set up other status (Ledian's
Supersonic/Double Team/Flash/Comet Punch is a combination
that's really nasty to beat without some sort of protection
against it; luckily I typically could kill the Ledian quickly,
and Bulk Up and Mew's typing make Comet Punch much less
dangerous). That was my permanent item throughout the first
third or so of the game. Eventually, I lost it testing out a
new strategy against Drifloon; Drifloon's double attacks are
very dangerous, but only happen if it's not holding an item,
so I decided to just give it an item. This worked great, but
I'd forgotten that Drifloon also has a chance of exploding,
and that one did and took my Persim Band with it. Luckily,
that happened when the Persim Band was reaching the tail end of
its usefulness anyway; I switched to a Weather Band instead,
both because hail and sandstorm hurt regeneration rate, but
also because they're really annoying in terms of message spam.

I started to have PP issues as I went into the midgame; mostly
self-inflicted, as I'd found an above-average number of Max
Elixirs, but didn't want to use them in case I never found
more. (I was using more PP than usual merely exp-marking,
because I only had 3 moves to mark with, not 4, Bulk Up being
unable to mark. I also hadn't got the hang of pacing Bulk Up
correctly; I remember using it 8 times in a row to use up its
remaining PP before I used an Elixir, although being at +8/+8
for the level is reasonably awesome.) I /had/ found loads of
TMs, though, so used the TM-swapping trick to get PP refills
(newly learnt moves are maxed out on PP); this is why I deleted
Brine for the first time, for instance. (It also helps to
give some variety, which keeps the game more entertaining,
and adapt to the elemental balance of the floor range you're
on. I knew I could go back, as I'd already found a second
Brine TM at that point.)

Poison was something of an issue in the early midgame; I
didn't want to leave levels until they were fully explored, but
exploring while poisoned is a rather time-limited proposition. I
used Pecha Berries if I had one and needed one, but usually
I didn't have one; once I used a Heal Seed purely to cure
poison (one was used on confusion, IIRC, and once on poison
+ confusion), because I had no better option and wanted to
survive. And once, I even used an Oran Berry to buy more turns
while poisoned, because I would have died otherwise.

The run was also surprisingly short on shops. I keep bad TMs,
bad hold items and even treasure boxes throughout the early
game, because they sell for decent money, but I didn't see
a Kecleon until I'd built up almost two pages of items only
useful for selling. (And then I started dropping some of them
to save slots just before I actually found a shop.) Doing
that left me a little squeezed for inventory slots, but in
retrospect it was probably the right decision; it gave me
enough money that I could afford the two Reviver Seeds that
spawned in shops later on. (I also stole from a shop at one
point using a Trawl Orb, I think because it had a TM I wanted;
Trawl Orbs and Pure Seeds are both reliable ways to steal from
shops in ZIS runs, although both are useful in other ways
(Trawl Orbs to get monster house rewards, Pure Seeds as one
of the most reliable escape items in the game).)

Another thing that the run was surprisingly short of was items
for dealing with monster houses. The first one I encountered,
I used a Petrify Orb (I think that's what it's called) to take
on the enemies one at a time, which is probably the safest
item for dealing with monster houses, but I didn't find any
other reliable anti-monster-house items throughout the game
(I think I abandoned a Sleep Orb at one point, which may have
been a mistake, but that's about it). On one level, I had to
use three Warp Seeds merely to survive (the first to escape
the house, the others to escape when the enemies caught up to
me.) I was actually unusually paranoid about monster houses,
skipping the level on several occasions when I found them;
Warp Seeds were my usual escape item of choice upon meeting one,
but in one situation, I was in sufficient trouble (a very large
house, on a large level that would have taken ages to explore,
and already reasonably injured) that I actually used a Pure
Seed to escape one, something I don't think I've ever had to
resort to before.

One other thing to mention is Reviver Seed strategy. Sometimes
when playing ZIS I end up in a bad enough situation that using
a Reviver Seed intentionally (via spamming expensive moves
and not bothering healing until you die) is the best strategy,
but that never happened here. All the Reviver Seed uses were
unintentional; early on, I was in a bad way anyway when it
triggered, but later, it was just stupidity: once due to not
realising that the enemy could oneshot me from around 50 health
(I forget exactly what it was, but it was with a move Mew is
particularly vulnerable to); once due to using a Two-Edge orb
from full health against three enemies, all of which were out
of melee range, because I thought they hadn't got any ranged
attacks that could finish me from 1/8 health ­– when one
of them had been throwing Gravelerocks at me, and I'd totally
forgotten the fact even though it happened last turn; and once
oneshotted from full health by a Duskull's Shadow Sneak, which
I could have played around but didn't. (Trying to run along
a corridor to the stairs rather than fighting is generally
a bad idea anyway against opponents with two-square attacks;
when they're super-effective, it's just madness.)

The midgame went as standard for the most part, except that
Bulk Up completely blunted most of the most dangerous attacks
(which were physical). I only had a few Chesto Berries and never
found an Insomniscope, so I ended up fighting Drowzees/Hypnos
and Bronzors without sleep immunity, but Bulk Up made these just
inconveniences rather than game-ending mistakes. (I never had
to face Nightmare; and Bronzor's Hypnosis/Imprison stunlock is
a lot less scary when nothing can do meaningful damage to you,
so you can just wait it out until you regain the ability to
act something like twenty turns and a minute of realtime later,
and still have more than half your health left.) One noticeable
mistake in the late midgame that I should mention was losing two
Oran Berries to the same Ariados, due to playing too quickly
and not really thinking (Ninjask gives an immediate KILL IT
KILL IT response due to Bug Bite; I'd forgotten Ariados could
do it too). After losing two important items to it, I threw
a disabling seed at it to prevent further damage.

Eventually, I learned Metronome for the first time ever, and
decided to take a risk deleting a known viable move (I think
it was Energy Ball at that point) for an unknown move that I
thought might be entirely useless. But unlike in the mainline
Pokémon games on which Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is based,
Metronome is unexpectedly awesome in a ZIS game. Its 22 max
PP, and the way it rarely backfires (unlike certain other
high-PP moves like Take Down or Struggle which always damage
the user), make it worth considering by itself. And for a move
with above-average PP, it does average damage (by definition:
Metronome has the effect of a random move when used), and
average damage is often better than your other moves are capable
of. (With Bulk Up occupying a precious moveslot, often enemies
were hard to hit effectively. But spamming Metronome until you
get something that works can deal with anything, and it's always
a great feeling when it picks something that's particularly good
in your current situation.) I kept it through most of the game,
until the final few levels when enemies were getting much too
hard (due to diving rather than grinding), and I had enough
Max Elixirs and TMs spare to pick high-end moves like Fire
Blast, that were appropriate against the level's enemy sets,
and that are very expensive in PP as a result.

Zero Isle South has 99 levels (98 of which have enemies;
the B99F is a small reward level with no dangers at all);
it's perhaps surprising, then, that I started my final dive
very early, around B55F or so. It's at that point that I
stopped fully exploring levels, and started just taking the
stairs at any opportunity (perhaps making a slight detour
to pick up items in plain sight); the reason was that I was
reasonably well equipped and had plenty of consumables (and
issues carrying them) by then, and even grinding I was finally
starting to drop behind the enemies in combat potential, with
combats becoming increasingly taxing on my damage ability. So
I just ran for it. Important items through this stage of the
game included Violent Seeds for when combat was unavoidable
(I misused a few, too, due to forgetting the length of the
dungeon), Mobile Orbs to escape through walls a couple of times
(I literally only walked through two wall squares, so the
cost of 10 nutrition total wasn't crippling, and it helped me
escape a couple of fights which would otherwise have been very
awkward), and items used to deal with single enemies (my choices
for this included X-Eye Seeds, Sleep Seeds, Blinker Seeds,
Shocker Orbs, One-Shot Orbs, Decoy Orbs, and even an Itemizer
Orb at one point when I was surrounded and one of the enemies
surrounding me would have taken ages to kill). After a while,
getting into a major fight before I'd remembered to or had the
chance to Bulk Up required me to use one or even two healing
berries – per fight. (Or just a fight against something that
relied on special attacks; Ember in particular was annoying
to deal with, as I could only take four or five hits from it,
and didn't have Brine at that point; eventually I wised up and
used the TM. The failures to Bulk Up were through a variety of
reasons: arriving on a level next to enemies, being low on PP
and trying to burn PP of other moves a bit before I Elixired,
thinking I'd find the stairs before the fight started, or
simple forgetfulness.) Just as in many other roguelikes,
stockpiling healing items through the first half of the game
to use them in emergencies in the second half definitely seems
to be the right healing strategy in Zero Isle South. Towards
the end of the game, I'd also accumulated a lot of ammo, so I
started using first Geo Pebbles and later Gravelerocks to chase
down fleeing enemies, and eventually just used Gravelerocks
indiscriminately against anything when my moves were out of
range. (Gravelerocks are particularly useful when confused,
by the way, because they still aim in the right direction
anyway, and I was using them for that reason earlier. They
can also hit out-of-sight enemies around corners, something
which nothing else but Geo Pebbles can manage.)

One of the largest difficulties came in the last few levels;
in particular, B96F was unusually cramped, and short of
alternate routes, so I had to fight my way through. (It also
had a treasure vault, which causes the AI to act oddly; I
had a Key on me at the time, so once I'd finished the fight
I opened the vault, to get better rewards to take back to the
non-ZIS part of the game.) I got through it mostly via burning
consumables, disabling the enemies I couldn't defeat easily
with Seeds. (Even though a Violent Seed gives you 8 Bulk
Up's worth of attack boosts, it was only boosting my damage
potential by a factor of somewhere between 2 and 3 compared
to regular attacks, I think.) The other problem I had was
with ghosts; some of them I killed by spamming Flamethrower
(having nothing else that could hit them easily), the rest
I simply ran from (leading to the Duskull mistake mentioned
earlier). I remember stocking up on status buffs from items on
B98F just because I knew, by then, that it had to be the last
remaining potentially difficult level (the game's level counter only
has two digits, the last level of a bonus dungeon is always either
a boss level or trivial, and I knew ZIS doesn't have a boss); it wasn't
trivial, but it wasn't that bad. Eventually, I made my way through to
B99F, picked up the reward box, and walked onto the warp out of there.

I'd heartily recommend this game to people here, if not for the fact
that it costs a lot of money for a roguelike, and that you'd be likely
to find the 85% or so of the game that needs to be played through to
unlock Zero Isle South very tedious.


Jun 17, 2015, 2:27:36 AM6/17/15
Thank you for your post. I at least found it useful for my own ZIS expedition planning, if three years late.


Jun 17, 2015, 8:25:16 AM6/17/15
to wrote:
> Thank you for your post. I at least found it useful for my own ZIS expedition planning, if three years late.

How are your ZIS expeditions getting on? I admit I haven't been playing
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon much recently, but it's still interesting to
hear about it.


Sep 1, 2017, 12:23:34 PM9/1/17
I remember finding a randomizer for PMD EoS, which would change item spawns, enemies, moves, and even an option to randomize the text (optional, fortunately).

Text randomization was unstable, but kind of hilarious, I got one where whenever you took hail damage it would say "I HAVE SUSTAINED MASSIVE DAMAGE, BUT I MUST PRESS ON. Another time, whenever you leveled up, it would say "will become a turtwig" and "is not a dark type". That, and the personality quiz was chaotic.

Text randomization also affects move names, so you could get moves like 'rock slide' renamed to 'bossy scarf', or get a new move called 'be patient' and then be very confused and scared as to what a move called 'be patient' might do.

Sep 1, 2017, 12:24:37 PM9/1/17
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