Under normal circumstances, there is only a one in 4096 chance you'll find a shiny Pokémon out in the wild. Some people have played Pokémon all their lives and have never actually encountered a shiny, one of those fabled Pokémon that comes in a special, rare colour.
[This post was originally published on July 2014.]
Joe O'Connell knows this woe intimately. He spent five years trying trying to find a shiny Mewtwo -- a legendary that, in its shiny variety, appears as a green Pokémon. During his search, O'Connell did only one thing within Pokémon Leaf Green and Heart Gold: repeatedly going into battle against the same Mewtwo located at Cerulean Cave, over and over again, until it appeared as a shiny Pokémon. This process is known as soft-resetting, and it's a painstakingly dull task.
"What soft resetting entails is reaching the static Pokémon (usually people use this method for stater Pokémon and Legendaries) and keep encountering it until it appears shiny," O'Connell explained to me over email. "If it was vanilla Mewtwo, I'd simply hit Start+Select+A+B to reset back to the title and hammer A until I was battling Mewtwo again. Over the years I timed this process, and it averages to one encounter every eighteen seconds. Three a minute."
O'Connell went through this process whenever he could, be it while he was watching TV or surfing the internet. He estimates that he reset the game more than 100,000 times, with over five hundred hours dedicated to this single all-consuming task. For reference, a typical Pokémon playthrough is about 15-30 hours.
Those of you reading that are familiar with shinies in Pokémon might be scratching your head right now -- aren't there techniques that people can exploit to assure that you encounter a shiny without fail? Yes, there are. We've detailed them before. But O'Connell stubbornly didn't want to take that route.
"For a long time it hadn't even been about grabbing that green Mewtwo, I was just trying to validate the dedication I'd sunk into it," O'Connell explained. "For years I'd loathed people across the internet who were complaining that their own hunt had taken all of four hours (!), and hated the wretched souls who had it pop up within their first few tries.
"There were moments when I was so tired I thought the regular purple Mewtwo was the one I was after all along, or genuinely forgot what the colour green looked like. I was sure I was cursed, or that my cartridge was hacked."
...but it's not like the thought of using a special method to encounter a shiny didn't cross his mind. How could it not?
"In my most downtrodden moments I did look into RNG manipulation -- a way to essentially increase your odds to the point where you can 'predict' at what exact moment you should encounter a Pokémon to get a shiny variant," O'Connell explained.
"It felt like cheating, and if I was going to cheat I might as well just hack myself a perfect shiny with an Action Replay.
"I wanted to get [the Mewtwo] 'legit', and any kind of manipulation seemed uncool. Also, [RNG manipulation] seemed like a lot of work, and I was sure that it would just be quicker to do it the real way rather than learn the method just for one Poke. Turns out I was wrong."
O'Connell even linked me a story he wrote in 2011, where he pretended he finally found his white whale, along with status updates that expressed his frustration with his impossible task. This shit was serious to him.
And in July 2014, he finally found it. The shiny Mewtwo. After thousands of tries, there it was: the green Mewtwo he'd been seeking for five entire years. It was like a modern-day retelling of the now infamous shiny Ponyta video:
You hear how this guy is screaming with all his might when he finds the shiny Ponyta? The guy in the video only had to try twenty five thousand times for his shiny. That's a quarter of what O'Connell had to go through.
"I always thought that if it ever happened -- which I was sure was impossible -- I'd simply breathe a sigh of relief, catch him in my prepared Masterball and put the game away forever," O'Connell said. "Instead, I blinked a couple of times, and then just... kind of started screaming and whooping for a good five minutes like all those embarrassing kids on YouTube."
He could barely contain his excitement.
"After I caught him and managed to stop my hands from shaking enough to dial her number, I phoned my girlfriend -- who was on holiday at the time -- to let her know. Whilst she was disappointed she hadn't been there to see me pee my pants, I think she was hugely relieved it was all over," O'Connell said.
He shared some pictures of the shiny Mewtwo with me, which O'Connell transferred into Pokémon X&Y so that he could use Pokemon Amie -- a feature that lets users pet and feed their Pokemon.
"I've already EV trained it...[the Mewtwo] has a 30 in special attack and decent stats all round, except for its attack stat. I'll just use it as a special sweeper, it's pretty nuts that it turned out great.
"I know I earned that sucker, and that means a lot when you've been working at it as long as I have," O'Connell said.
"I've seen four pairs of Pokémon games release, changed careers numerous times and had relationships come and go," O'Connell said, when reflecting on how much has happened during his search for shiny Mewtwo.
So, was it worth it?
"Somehow, hell yes," O'Connell said. "I plan to be using this Mewtwo 'til the day I die!"