A Meowth Solo Run of Pokemon Sword and Shield: How Meowth Became My Favorite Pokemon
Meowth is best cat.
Going into Pokemon Sword and Shield, I was unimpressed with the new starter Pokemon.
I normally gravitate towards fire-type starters, but Cinderace was a little too humanoid-rabbit-wearing-pants for my tastes. Inteleon was just "lol no." Rillaboom hit the closest to my usual favorite powerhouse aesthetic (think Charizard, Blaziken, and Incineroar), but something about him didn't quite feel right (or maybe I just don't connect with grass types?).
Ever since I was a kid, I've played the storyline of every mainline Pokemon game in the same way. I use my starter as my primary Pokemon for the whole game, imagining a sub-story wherein him and I are going on our journey together as a pair. Starter Pokemon tend to be decently powerful, too, so by mid-game, my starter can usually blow through every challenge in a single hit.
During my childhood, I loved the feeling of sweeping each late-game gym with my powerhouse partner, imagining myself as the greatest trainer in the world. But as I got older, my lust for power subsided for another feeling––boredom. Eventually, each new Pokemon game played out like a cookie-cutter exercise in knocking down targets. Worst of all, by the end of the newer games, I blew through everything so quickly and easily that I didn't even feel close with my starters.
For Sword and Shield, considering none of the starters spoke to me in the first place, I decided to shirk tradition. While I've never been a huge fan of Meowth (he's just a goofy, weak cat Pokemon, after all), I found the Gigantamax Meowth Longcat design absolutely hilarious. So as soon as I gained access to the Mystery Gift mechanic and obtained my long Meowth (nicknamed Longboi), I benched Grookey and made Meowth the leader of my team.
From there, I crafted a brand new story for me and my Meowth. Our destiny was to become the Galar region champions together. Oh yes, other trainers would underestimate us. Gym leaders would see us and say, "Who is this lunatic trying to take on my gym with just a Meowth." Yes, just a Meowth. Their hubris would be their undoing. My Meowth is the best Meowth, the longest Meowth, and they would rue the day they crossed us. I had surmounted plenty of championships with overpowered starters, so why not try to do the same with a Meowth?
Going in, I set a number of self-imposed rules for my game, which I subsequently dubbed "Poke Souls" in homage to the design philosophy behind Dark Souls. My rules were as follows:
1. Meowth can never die. If Meowth dies, I must reset to my last save, no matter what I had accomplished in-between. This is important because in our championship narrative, Meowth is undefeated.
2. Meowth must solo every non-double trainer battle in the game, including all gym battles, rival battles, and the championship. Meowth must also defeat every legendary at least once before I can capture them.
3. Any level grinding must be done through wild battles and not through item usage (i.e. no rare candies).
4. Other Pokemon can accompany us for the journey, but Meowth and I will take on the Championship with an otherwise empty team.
The resulting journey was easily the most fun I've had with a Pokemon game since as far back as I can remember.
Meowth is a much more fragile Pokemon than the starters I'm used to blowing through games with. With the exception of Speed, his stats aren't amazing in the first place and my Meowth, Longboi, had a "Gentle" nature which gave him a natural decrease in Defense––this made him extra susceptible to attacks. As such, if I wanted to beat all the story content with Meowth, I needed to pay closer attention to battle tactics than ever before.
Most of the time, Longboi could attack his opponent before they could attack him. On the other hand, Longboi could only take two or three hits before being knocked out. Later in the game, almost any powerful attack would one-shot him. Luckily, Meowth has access to a whole array of move typings (Ground, Ghost, Fairy, etc.), which gave him potential type advantage over plenty of our opponents. If we could strike first, we could win.
Every battle, even random trainer encounters, felt like a real scrap. If I didn't pay attention for a single move, Meowth could get knocked out, which meant an instant reset. Optimizing moves and held items for specific battles was often necessary. Some battles took over a dozen tries to beat (I'm looking at you, Fighting gym). Potions, X-Attacks, and X-Defenses became our best friends. But ultimately, after hundreds of defeats and resets, Longboi and I stood before Leon, the Galar Champion. When Leon's Gigantamax Charizard exploded before the sheer longness of Longboi's catbod, I knew we had made it.
Sword and Shield no longer has a Hall of Fame. Instead, when you beat the Galar Championship, the game's title screen changes to you and your winning Pokemon team. Now, whenever I turn on Pokemon, I'm greeted by Longboi and I in the center of a giant stadium. For the first time since I was a kid, I truly feel like we earned our titles as champions.
It's funny––Eight generations into the franchise, Meowth had never been on my radar before. I gravitated to the Charizards and the Garchomps, the Mewtwos and the Lucarios. In my hunt for power, I overlooked the little cat with the coin on his head. But sometimes journeys aren't about the destination. They're about the road to get there. Longboi helped me savor the journey and learn a thing or two about perseverance along the way. Safe to say, I've never felt closer with any character in any video game than I feel with Longboi, truly the longest Meowth.
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