Note: I will not be reviewing Emerald in this guide. I’m sticking to Ruby and Sapphire only.
Choosing the right starter should not be about at what point in the game it is effective. Rather, your starter choice should be effective, or at least useful, at all points during a League Challenge. If you must choose a section of the game to define your starter by, use the endgame as your guide.
In the last two guides, I’ve used the game’s beginning to inform my decisions. For Ruby and Sapphire onwards, expect to see strategies based on the later gyms and Pokemon League. I will cover the early gyms for the sake of completeness, but they will be brief compared to the late-game.
Fight with Fire-type
Unlike Red and Blue where Fire is the challenge type, or Gold and Silver where I recommended Cyndaquil in error, here I’m firm in my belief in Blaziken and its predecessors. First of all, I think it’s the only worthwhile Fire-type in Ruby or Sapphire, and its Fighting dual-type can come in quite handy later in the game. While Fighting does add some troublesome weaknesses, Flying and Psychic, by the time these become an issue your team should be able to fill in for the fire chicken.
I find Ruby and Sapphire to be the first Pokemon game where sacrificing your starter isn’t always a last resort. While Blaziken is capable of beating almost any of the gyms in Hoenn if it was your sole Pokemon, you should build your R&S team to fill in for its weaknesses. When you run up against said weakness, don’t be shy to send Blaziken to the wolves so your strong type can be fully ready for battle. Especially against your rival and Wally late in the game.
Roxanne: Much like Charmander before it, Torchic would have a tough time with the Rock type. In Ruby and Sapphire, however, beating the Rock gym is all about evolving the little bird into Combusken and Double-Kicking your way to victory. If you picked up a Ralts after watching Wally do it, spend a little time levelling it would be in order, just so it might get some experience in this battle. It might come in handy for the next gym.
Brawly: You should have a Tailow by the time you make it to Dewford. Combusken should also have Peck, and if all else fails, a few Embers should win the day without an issue.
Wattson: Electric types don’t pose much of a problem to any of the starter evolutions in Ruby and Sapphire, but pose the most threat to the Fire birds. Fortunately, two of Wattson’s Pokemon are dual-Steel type, so Fire or Fighting attacks will take them down quickly. Voltorb’s Sonicboom and Self-Destruct can pose problems, especially if Combusken is already weak. If Wattson hasn’t sent out Magneton yet, use another team member to take out the Pokeball with eyes.
Flannery: Combusken has no inherent advantages against Fire. You should have picked up a Good Rod east of Mauville city before or after beating Wattson. Pick up a Barboach or Carvanha (I prefer the Barboach) and Water gun the bastards into submission. Pull out Combusken for the finishing blow if you like. Torkoal can’t take too much punishment before it runs out of steam.*
Norman: The fifth gym is the whole reason I think Blaziken is the best overall choice. Slaking has some of the best stats in the game outside of a legendary. Take full advantage of his idle turns to hit him hard. You’ll need to sacrifice several of your team unless you’ve power levelled your starter. Don’t be afraid to tackle Norman a few times for XP, but it’s best to beat him the first time. Teach Blaziken Focus Punch if you’ve got it, and wail away.
Winona: Blaziken is a sacrifice in this battle. Electricity is your best friend, except against Altaria. Earthquake will take Electric and Rock types straight out, so you’ll want a non-Rock to take her on. Whiscash is my choice against the fluff bird, but if you’ve a better answer, by all means use it.
Tate and Liza: Water is once again your friend in against the Psychic gym of all places. Both Solrock and Lunatone are vulnerable to a well placed Surf or two, and while they are immune to Ground attacks, Steel is another good choice. Blaziken can use some Fighting attacks, though they won’t do a ton of damage. Sharpedo’s dual-Dark type would also make short work of both celestial stones, and Surf is an option from it as well.
Wallace: What can I say about Wallace and his Milotic? Hit him with everything you have, Electric and Grass, though the former isn’t susceptible to Ice Beam. Blaziken can act as a delay while you keep up your shocky-monkey, but like Winona and Norman, this fight can be a grind.
Sindey: As a reward for sticking through the tough gyms, the Elite Four reward you with a Dark-using opener with two Grass types. Take out Sharpedo with Grass or Electric, and beat the rest into submission.
Phoebe: Sharpedo can be your best friend here. Crunch will take out almost Phoebe’s entire team, and Sableye is just a matter of a few hits. If you don’t have access to any Dark type moves, almost anything else will do. Just be aware that only one of Phoebe’s Pokemon has an anti-Blaziken attack.
Glacia: Ice has always been paired with Water in the Pokemon games, so against the seal trio, you’ll want to use Electric and maybe a little Rock if you can get an attack in. Against the Glalie’s, one or two Blaze Kick’s should do more than enough damage to take them down. Be cautious around the Walrein and Sheer Cold, as a lucky hit will spell doom for the victim.
Drake: If your Shapedo knows Ice Beam, or you’ve kept Kyogre around, he’ll put in a full day’s work with just one battle against Drake. Blaziken can do damage if you have the right moveset, but nothing beats a Dragon-type like a few cold ones.
Steven: While Steven is technically a Steel-type trainer, a goodly portion of his team is part Rock or Ground. Further annoying your efforts, the dual-type is something not easily countered by Blaziken’s Fire or Fighting attacks. That said, against Skarmory, Cradily, and Aggron, your fire chicken is more than enough. Armaldo should fall easily to a Water attack or two, as should Claydol if you can get through the Light Screen. Metagross should be dealt every blow you can possibly throw at it. Hit him once with a Blaze Kick before Psychic takes Blaziken down. Then hammer away with everything else. If one of your Pokemon knows Earthquake, spam that without shame. Beware of Hyper Beam and Meteor Mash. If you’ve made it this far, Steven’s not really that big a deal. Championship awaits you.