The Nidoran route used by the currently published run
is well-established, and used throughout all Gen 1 games, for TAS and RTA runs.
Nidoking has good stats and a great move set through TMs, is available early on, and can deal with virtually any matchup.
But Nidoking also has downsides. Its main downside is that it is very slow to get going: Catching a Nidoran is very much out of the way, it requires the help of Squirtle to get through the first gym, and starts with only slow moves.
It loses more than a minute and a half up to Mt. Moon, compared to just using Squirtle the whole way.
Nidoking does later make up for it with efficient moves like Thrash and having access to both Fissure and Horn Drill as one-hit KO moves for the late game.
What I initially wanted to find out is whether this Nidoran route is really without alternative, or if it's possible for the Squirtle route to hold the large initial lead to the end, being overall faster than the Nidoran route.
And the answer turns out to be yes
: It's possible to end up ~6.5 seconds faster than the published run.
I created a TAS to demonstrate this
It's an interesting run in its own right, and that could have been the end of it.
However, it turns out there's actually an even faster route.
This route started out as a meme, which was meant to be interesting to look at, not necessarily fast.
To my surprise, even though it was an unoptimized meme-fest (e.g. fighting Brock with Charmander; canceling Charmander's evolution), it ended up actually being faster than the Squirtle route.
When I looked into how this could possibly be, I realized something that is obvious only in hindsight: Changing your main battle Pokémon during the run can actually be faster.
All serious routes tend to use the same Pokémon throughout the whole game.
And it makes sense, at first glance, main switching mid-run seems like a terrible idea, for many reasons:
- It takes a lot of time to catch a new Pokémon
- Wild Pokémon are generally lower level than your current one
- You lose all your accumulated Stat Experience, lowering your effective stats
- You lose your redbar setup, and need to take damage again
- You need to split up your TMs across the different Pokémon
But on closer inspection, there are actually also a lot of positives, mitigating these issues:
- You can re-use your previous mains for using HMs, avoiding the need to catch additional Pokémon just for using HMs and negating the time it costs to catch the new main
- You can get Pokémon with high base stats earlier, mitigating the lower level and loss of your Stat Experience
- You can avoid slow elements of leveling up your current main, e.g. learning unnecessary moves or evolving
- You can utilize the available TMs more efficiently by always having a good Pokémon that can use the best moves, speeding up the fights
- Your current main only needs to be performing well until it is replaced, so it does not need to be able to beat all fights in the game efficiently or have amazing DVs
The route used in this submission main-switches twice: to Clefable in Mt. Moon, and to Tauros in the Safari Zone.
Clefable has very good base stats for early in the game, and can make good use of the TMs that are available early on, like Mega Punch (extra powerful due to STAB), Bubblebeam and Thunderbolt, allowing it to OHKO anything beyond Misty.
As an added bonus, it does not learn any new moves on level-up, saving extra time.
It would not be able to perform well in the late game, but it doesn't have to, because it is replaced by Tauros before it runs into any difficulties.
Tauros has amazing base stats, with 110 base Speed, great Attack and decent Special. The high speed is doubly important as Tauros can also learn both Horn Drill and Fissure, which in Gen 1 are dependent on your Speed stat, allowing it to outspeed the vast majority of enemies without any X Speed items.
Its physical moves have STAB boost, and it can also learn available strong late-game TMs like Blizzard.
Overall, it can OHKO every enemy thought the remainder of the game.
Compared to the published run, this new route saves almost 52 seconds.
General speed techniques
Every character printed to the screen costs one frame, so you want to minimize the amount of text shown.
This means any name that appears more than a few times should be made to be only one character long to save time.
This also extends to fights, where additional text for critical hits or super-effective moves cost extra time and should generally be avoided.
Even with with battle animations turned off, there are two types of animations, a shaking animation and a blinking animation.
The shake is about a second faster than the blink and generally preferable, even if it causes additional critical hit or effectiveness texts.
All moves that have a side effect have the fast shake animation (even if the side effect doesn't trigger), and all moves without a side effect have the slow blink animation.
When your Pokémon is low on health, a constant beeping sound plays which overrides lots of other sounds and speeds up the run.
This is especially noticeable during level-ups.
The redbar time save does not apply for level-ups that happen at the very end of a fight, so level-ups should generally happen in the middle of a battle where possible.
In menus it's often possible to do multiple inputs in the same frame to save time, both when scrolling through lists, and when selecting items from a list.
Whenever you see the cursor apparently over the wrong list item, this is what happens.
Notes on the run
Squirtle is the fastest starter to reach Mt. Moon, and after being replaced will still function as the user of HM Surf.
The battle animations are only turned off after the initial rival fight, as Tackle's animation is faster while they are enabled.
The fight against a wild Pikachu both sets up redbar and gives Squirtle enough extra EXP to learn Bubble before Brock
Due to how crits are calculated in Gen 1, Geodude cannot be defeated in one crit, even though the non-crit Bubble takes way more than half of its HP.
The money earned so far is exactly enough to buy the 7 Escape Ropes and 4 Poké Balls we need.
Bubble is used over Tackle for all fights, since it has the significantly faster shake animation, compared to Tackle's blink animation.
Rattata's speed is lowered by Bubble to allow Squirtle to outspeed it in the following turns.
A Pidgey is caught to use as the HM Fly user later.
TM Mega Punch is somewhat out of the way, but it's essential for Clefable, as it is an 80 power move with STAB, allowing Clefable to defeat most enemies in one hit.
Clefairy has a wide range of acceptable DVs, the ones in this run are 12/10/12/12.
Most importantly, it has a HP DV of 0, to minimize the amount of damage it needs to take to get into redbar.
Losing some initial turns against Rattata in order to get into redbar still saves time overall.
Paras is caught as the HM Cut user for the run.
The Bike Shop is used to get Instant Text three times in this run. Instant Text is lost in certain menus, including the start menu and any yes/no options menu.
Misty is fought before entering the Nugget Bridge in order to get TM Bubblebeam early. The additional PP and its fast animation makes it the best move by far at this stage in the game.
The Pokécenter is used to restore PP and set the Escape Rope location. The yes/no dialog cancels Instant Text.
The Hiker with the single Onix is faster to defeat, but gives less EXP.
The additional EXP does not matter at all during any of the following fights, but it changes when the level-ups happen.
Level-ups that happen at the very end of a fight don't benefit from redbar, costing ~2.5 seconds each.
Getting the additional EXP here makes it align more favorably and overall saves time.
The hidden Ether is collected and used to extend the PP of Bubblebeam, which is faster than using the Pokécenter again.
Due to Instant Text and the music transition when entering the Underground Tunnel, collecting the hidden Full Heal is very fast.
The item is not needed outside filling the inventory in order to avoid receiving TMs from gym leaders later.
It's the second-fastest way to fill a bag slot after buying extra items from a mart.
Fighting the male Jr.Trainer first is generally slower, but it prevents the level-up from happening at the end of the fight, saving time in this instance.
When buying items from the Celadon Store, it's advantageous to buy 2 of each in order to keep the bag slot full even after it has been used.
There is no need to buy X items, Tauros will be plenty fast enough on its own.
After the fight before reaching the heal pad, Clefable's PP for Bubblebeam, Thunderbolt and Mega Punch are all exactly 0.
It's not worth to get into redbar again after the heal pad, as Clefable will soon be replaced by Tauros.
This is helped by Clefable's relatively short cry.
While it seems that talking to the Rockets directly would be faster, talking to them from below makes them take extra steps in their exit cutscene, overall losing time.
The Pokécenter is used exclusively to set the warp location, which overall saves time as we need to return here multiple times.
Picking up the Max Elixer here is slightly slower than the Max Ether on Route 10 which would also suffice, but this way it's in a better position in the item bag, making it faster to eventually use.
Tauros' DVs don't need to be very specific, this run uses 12/6/12/10. It's all that's needed for the remainder of the game, and minimizes the HP and therefore damage it needs to take.
Kadabra outspeeds Tauros, and is a convenient place to take redbar damage.
Koga's Weezing is manipulated to use Self Destruct, as Tauros ran out of PP for Horn Drill.
The Max Elixer is used not only to restore the PP of Horn Drill, but also to make space in the bag for the items found in the Cinnabar Mansion.
Tauros learns both Blizzard and Strength.
Strength is a strong move due to STAB, but not a fast move due to its slow animation, and only used rarely in battle.
During the Giovanni fight, restoring Tauros' PP and maintaining redbar are conveniently compressed into the same turn.
Since Tauros outspeeds pretty much everything, there are not many good places to take damage efficiently.
The Escape Rope used before flying to Viridian City was the last one, conveniently freeing up the necessary bag slot to receive Giovanni's TM Fissure.
During the rival fight, replenishing the PP is again combined with maintaining redbar in a single turn.
All Pokémon besides Tauros are deposited to speed up the Hall of Fame cutscene.
Agatha is by far the most difficult fight, because her Gengars have very high Speed stats making it difficult to use OHKO moves on them, even for Tauros.
The first Gengar is outsped by using the Rare Candy before the fight to increase Tauros' stats.
This is still not enough for the second Gengar though.
In order to be faster than it this run abuses a miscalculation the game makes when computing badge boosts: When Arbok uses Screech to lower Tauros' Defense, it re-applies all badge boosts, which also increases its Speed as a side effect, making it fast enough to outspeed the second Gengar.
This extra turn on Arbok is combined with restoring Tauros' PP.
In the final rival fight, animations are forced enabled, changing the rules for what moves are fast or slow to use.
For example, Horn Drill is significantly faster then Fissure, Which itself is significantly faster than Blizzard.
It is worth taking extra crits and effective texts in the previous fights, just to be able to use the shortest animations here.
So one big question with this route is, would it also be faster RTA?
With proper setups to manipulate Clefairy and Tauros encounters, it's feasible to use a similar route in RTA runs in principle.
In fact for Clefairy such a setup already exists, as part of an "alt-main" category
that uses Clefable throughout the game.
It would still not be as straight-forward though, as main-switching generally is more expensive in RTA runs.
Doing the manips costs extra time due to saving and resetting, so it might be advantageous to skip Clefable and keep use Squirtle until switching to Tauros, as the time difference between these routes is not that big.
There will also need to be some necessary deviations to make it more safe, like the use of X items.
Maybe this will be nothing more than another meme route for RTA, but that's what I initially thought for this TAS as well. Time will tell.
I set out to break up the monotony of the familiar Nidoran route, and ended up succeeding more than I expected.
I hope this will be seen as a sign and an opportunity to experiment more, in this game and others, and not just assume the current route is "obviously" the fastest.
There's a good chance that more improvements are possible still with more creative routing.