Conquering Zero Isle South: A Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Warstory (spoilers)

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; 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.

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)
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 accumulate)
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 ;) )
as much as i like PMD and a PMD warstory is a new and refreshing concept, having like 3 blocks of text make it hard to read :(

i feel smoochum is probably a better ZIS explorer than Mew, since Mew takes eternity to clear a monster house while Smoochum can smack them all immediately with Powder Snow, Forewarn is sex and sweet kiss helps as well. I normally use a generic one though, so I'm not sure if you can bring one in with egg moves (hatch a smoochum egg at chansey's, it'll fill up its moveslot with egg moves iirc)
Mew's major advantages are near-immunity to paralysis and the ability to learn all the TMs in the game (which makes it easier to adapt to things, and avoids the PP issues you normally get early). I like the Smoochum suggestion, though (is there a reason to run it over Jynx?). I've also heard Drifblim suggested (for Unburden abuse).

In general, one of the most important things in ZIS is avoiding getting oneshotted by things (either in a single attack, or via things like Bronzor stunlock). This is why Bulk Up was so valuable for me in the run. Even if you can efficiently clear out rooms in single attacks, it's not going to help much if a Bronzor or Ledian or any of the powerful midgame physical attackers ambushes you from round a corner.
jynx doesn't get confusion and sweet kiss, and lovely kiss admittedly starts getting shitty once enemies acquire nonsleeper

lick early on is also a god-send because of parahax properties.
I just finished ZiS with THE GREAT BLIMP.
It starts off with Astonish/Constrict/Gust/Minimize, so you spend all your time double attacking and dodging anything you want, just keep in mind to use Minimize and being lvl.25 at B50+F to beat Weawile ( damn dat feint ) and to NOT steal from keckleon if you don't feel it NECESSARY ( Pierce Band! ) and you should win without breaking a sweat.
Also don't worry if its stats are lacking, because if you level-up
right, you couldn't be oneshotted and you can oneshot back ( or at least kill with move + standard attack and dodge that attack they do if you are Minimized ).
Sadly, you can't go throught walls, but at least you hover, so...
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