pokemon rom hacks

Pokemon Rom Hacks

When I was a kid, I spent much of my time playing Pokémon instead of hanging out with my friends. Even though Pokémon helped me form long-lasting friendships in my teenage years, it sucked my childhood soul. I look back at those memories fondly; to relive my nostalgia, I tried playing the Pokémon games I played back then. However, the feeling is no longer the same.

I did not get as excited as when I played it for the first time. I remember seeing a Ralts and thinking it was the cutest thing ever. I remember admiring Wally’s determination and growth throughout the story in Pokémon Emerald.

Now, I do not experience the same thing, and I think I know why; I have played this game a million times back then, and it sucked the surprise out of me. It is still a fun game, though.

To feed my nostalgia-ridden addiction to old Pokémon games, I stumbled into something new and thrilling: Pokémon ROM hacks. They offered a twist to a familiar game, and there were a lot of them sprawled throughout the internet. It ran from the love and passion for Pokémon games from Pokémon fans; if you want to start your journey into Pokémon ROM hacks, this guide will help you.

Bottom Line Up Front: What are Pokémon ROM Hacks?

Pokémon ROM hacks are Pokémon games with their game files altered, creating a new experience. They are typically Gameboy Advance games because of how easy it is to alter them. These alterations range from small changes like shifts to encounter rates and dialogue to huge transformations like a new story, Pokémon, game mechanics, etc.

These alterations are possible due to some tech-savvy individuals who can tweak the contents of a Pokémon ROM file, hence the term “hack.” If you are unfamiliar with ROM files, they are data files that have read-only memory; only specific hardware devices can read these files.

ROM files are prevalent in emulation because they are what one would use to emulate a game through an emulator. In other words, they act as cartridges in your computer, and the emulator acts as the game console that will accept the cartridge.

However, Nintendo is against ROM hacking; the company has a history of taking down sites or owners that own these types of files. It is unlikely, however, that you will go to prison because you are playing a ROM hack. If you are a clean and ethical player, I would suggest that you own the game to clear away your conscience.

History of Pokémon ROM Hacks

History of Pokémon ROM Hacks

Pokémon ROM hacks date back to the late 1990s and early 2000s when the internet was in its unruly infancy. Those years were also the time period when people garnered a lot more info about Gameboy Advance emulation. Thanks to the ability to share information globally, many enthusiasts became more knowledgeable about the practice, inspiring many bright-minded folks.

The ROM hacking scene was quite different compared to today’s standards, though. Back then, people knew these hacks to be crude in nature because of the limited knowledge surrounding the topic. Many of them only replaced sprites or dialogue, as these changes were easy to pull off compared to changing game mechanics.

According to Bulbapedia, a massive turning point for these Pokémon hacks in history was the release of Pokémon Brown. According to them, it was the first game to change major aspects like a new plot and region. Then, many games followed suit by doing the same, plus a few extra steps like adding in Pokémon from previous generations. Since then, the hacking community exponentially grew.

How to play Pokémon ROM hacks

Visual Boy Advance M

Playing Pokémon ROM hacks sounds fun, right? You need to do it correctly; do not download from suspicious sites because you do not want viruses to meddle with your files. I will not provide specific links for these games, but I will provide parent links for you to follow. Below is a general step-by-step guide on how to play Pokémon ROM hacks.

  1. Download a Gameboy Advance Emulator: If you are on a PC, I recommend downloading Visual Boy Advance M. You can find results by searching it on Google. If you are on Android, I recommend My Boy.
  2. Download the GBA or UPS file of your ROM hack: When it comes to Pokémon ROM hacks, the two common methods of playing it are through either a GBA or UPS file. If the hack is a GBA file, the developer has already applied the alterations directly to the game. If the hack is a UPS file, you need to patch it to the original game.
  3. If the ROM hack is a GBA file, proceed directly to step 7: In other words, do not go through steps four to six.
  4. If the ROM hack is a UPS file, download a UPS patcher: I would recommend downloading the NUPS tool, which you can get through romhacking.net.
  5. Download the original game the hack is based on: For example, if you are trying to play Pokémon Snakewood, you need to download Pokémon Ruby since it is the game that the ROM hack is based on. There are plenty of sites that host these GBA files, like emuparadise.me.
  6. Open the UPS patcher and apply the UPS patch to the original game: If you are using NUPS, you can open NUPS.exe and click on “Apply a UPS patch to a file.” Then, choose the GBA file of the original game as the “File to patch” and choose the UPS file of the ROM hack as the “UPS patch.” Click “Patch,” and it will transform your GBA file to the ROM hack.
  7. Open the GBA file using your Gameboy Advance Emulator: If you are using Visual Boy Advance M on PC, simply go to “File” followed by “Open….” Choose the GBA file, and the emulator will start playing the game. If you are using My Boy on Android, open the app and navigate to your GBA file. Tapping on it will open the game.

I would like to reiterate that this step-by-step guide is a general process; some ROM hacks may work differently than what I listed here. If you are looking for ROM hacks, I would suggest going to pokecommunity.com, as they are the forum boards that host the original files. The Pokémon ROM hack subreddit has a handy tool for searching ROM hacks along with its download links and Discord servers.

What Are the Best Pokémon ROM Hacks?

There are many Pokémon ROM hacks on the internet, thanks to the talented geniuses who spend their time making them with love and passion. However, some of these games clearly stand out from the rest, may it be due to the storytelling, innovative game mechanics, character development, and the like. Below is a short list of Pokémon ROM hacks that I consider to be iconic or the cream of the crop.

  • Pokémon Glazed
  • Pokémon Flora Sky
  • Pokémon Gaia
  • Pokémon Snakewood
  • Pokémon Ash Gray
  • Pokémon Light Platinum
  • Pokémon Liquid Crystal
  • Pokémon Unbound

Criteria for Picking the Best Pokémon ROM Hacks

  • Innovativeness (new game mechanics, region, etc.)
  • Creativity (compelling story, characters, etc.)
  • Stability (minimal or negligible bugs)
  • Relevance (being iconic or important in Pokémon ROM hack history)
  • Public opinion (how the majority reviews the game)

A sign of a good Pokémon ROM hack is its freshness and innovativeness; when I play the games listed here, I am not reminded of their original game. Pokémon Glazed is an entirely different experience compared to Pokémon Emerald.

Furthermore, what separates these games from the rest is their state; you can barely see any bugs or glitches in them. I remember playing a Pokémon ROM hack when I was a kid known as Pokémon Chaos Black. At the time, I did not know it was a ROM hack, so you could say I got ripped off because I bought it as a physical cartridge.

Nevertheless, I remember immediately abandoning it because I got stuck in a particular spot. I tried restarting the game but to no avail; it will not let me progress. The games in this list barely have any bugs, and if there are, they rarely affect your gameplay.

Some of the games in this list, specifically de-makes, may not be original, but they are innovative for what they try to accomplish. De-makes are old-school remakes of modern games. Popular examples include Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee and Pikachu for the Gameboy Advance; they are de-makes of the games with the same name for the Nintendo Switch.

Finally, I also consider the opinion of many, especially fans of Pokémon ROM hacks. The majority of them would agree that the games in this list have earned their spot in being the cream of the crop. If you want to try these Pokémon ROM hacks, you can visit the subreddit to get knowledge on how to play them.

Pokémon Glazed

  • Creator: Redriders180
  • Base game: Emerald
  • of Gyms: 20
  • Has a new region: Yes
  • Has a new story: Yes
  • Has post-game content: Yes
  • Pokémon Generation: Up to 6
  • Difficulty: Challenging

As someone else on the internet said, you will not see a list detailing the best Pokémon ROM hacks without this game in it. You have access to three regions: Tunod, Johto, and Raknor. You can catch Pokémon from the Sinnoh, Unova, and Kalos regions, which means you can have one of my favorites, Greninja! It even has Mega Evolutions, a gimmick introduced in Gen 6.

I loved the concept of Mega Evolutions when the Pokémon Company introduced them in Pokémon X and Y. Even now, I miss them a lot. The idea of making your Pokémon stronger and choosing which Pokémon gets to have that power mixes up the strategic planning in competitive battle.

It also has the Physical and Special split, wherein the kind of damage a move does depend on the move itself rather than its type. As a kid, I did not care about this info one bit, but as an adult, it certainly made things different.

Another great thing about Pokémon Glazed is that you can choose between five starting Pokémon: Turtwig, Chimchar, Piplup, Shinx, and Riolu.

It is definitely worth playing because of the vast content and work put into it. Furthermore, there is a game out there that changes some stuff in Pokémon Glazed known as Pokémon Blazed Glazed. It is also a great game with tons of improvements, but I should warn you that it is not as updated as the original ROM hack. Thus, it is missing some contents from the original ROM hack’s modern status.

Pokémon Flora Sky

Pokémon Flora Sky

  • Creator: SkyHippowdon
  • Base game: Emerald
  • of Gyms: 9
  • Has a new region: Yes
  • Has a new story: Yes
  • Has post-game content: Yes
  • Pokémon Generation: Up to 5
  • Difficulty: N/A

Players in the Pokémon ROM hack community for a long time known about Pokémon Flora Sky; I would consider it to be one of the most iconic ROM hacks on the internet. As the name suggests, this game’s mascot is Shaymin, a Grass-type hedgehog-like mythical Pokémon that has a Sky Form. It is a ROM hack of Pokémon Emerald, and it was last updated in 2011.

I have to admit that the game is pretty old; some players claim that it does not hold well to modern standards. Nevertheless, it is iconic because it has inspired many enthusiasts to make Pokémon ROM hacks themselves. Despite its old age, it is pretty polished, and you can tell that the creator put lots of thought and attention into making it.

You start in Small Town, which is a severely different place compared to Hoenn’s Littleroot Town. At the start, you get to choose between the Gen 4 starters, namely Chimchar, Turtwig, and Piplup. However, as you go on your playthrough, you will encounter more Pokémon!

The game’s maker also inserted himself in the game, as you have a rival named Sky who owns a Hippopotas. Neat, huh?

Pokémon Gaia

Pokémon Gaia
Image from pokemon gaia hack fandom
  • Creator: Spherical Ice
  • Base game: Fire Red
  • of Gyms: 8
  • Has a new region: Yes
  • Has a new story: Yes
  • Has post-game content: No
  • Pokémon Generation: Up to 6
  • Difficulty: Normal

Welcome to the Orbtus Region, where Pokémon Gaia is set. Like the previous entry, you will choose a starter from Gen 4 and catch some more on your way. An old archeologist known as Professor Redwood has come to the cozy Celanto Town to seek out talent, and you and your rival are what he is looking for! A big mystery awaits you as you continue on your journey to becoming a Pokémon trainer.

I love this game because of its lore; long ago, a prosperous and mighty civilization roamed the Orbtus Region. They erected totem poles, idols, and temples, and they left behind relics of the past. Now, a bunch of seismic activities are disturbing the region. The creator really cared about his story because even the NPCs often dropped hints and clues about what happened to this gigantic civilization.

Like the previous entries, this game has a Physical and Special split (see the “Pokémon Glazed” section for more detail). It also has Mega Evolutions, and the Mega Stones are scattered throughout the place. It also implements the Fairy typing that Gen 6 introduced. If you are a sucker for music, it even has original scores like Windmist City’s theme.

Pokémon Snakewood

Pokémon Snakewood

  • Creator: Cutlerine
  • Base game: Ruby
  • of Gyms: N/A
  • Has a new region: No
  • Has a new story: Yes
  • Has post-game content: No
  • Pokémon Generation: Up to 3 (with Fakemon)
  • Difficulty: Hard

If you are a Pokémon ROM hack expert reading this guide, you must be so confused as to why this game is in here. However, I think it is too iconic not to put in here. For the unaware, Pokémon Snakewood is a hack of Pokémon Ruby, and many consider it to be “not great.” I remember someone’s comment saying this game is like “The Room” of Pokémon ROM hacks; it is so bad it becomes good.

Pokémon Snakewood does not have a new region, nor does it have post-game content, but it has a new story, and it is insane. In the world of Pokémon Snakewood, a bizarre event happened wherein zombies invaded everything. Everyone, even the Pokémon, has turned into zombies. The game’s maker even put in new Pokémon of his own to match the world’s story. Everything in this game is built upon it.

Unfortunately, the story is not great; it is a confusing mess, and the creator knows it. He acknowledges the madness that went through his creation, and I respect him for it. Pokémon Snakewood has garnered a reputation in the Pokémon ROM hack community, and I will honor that tradition by putting it on this list. If you want a taste of this insanity, I suggest you play the game (it is Halloween season, after all!).

Pokémon Ash Gray

Pokemon Ash Gray

  • Creator: Metapod23
  • Base game: Fire Red
  • of Gyms: N/A
  • Has a new region: Yes
  • Has a new story: Yes
  • Has post-game content: Yes
  • Pokémon Generation: N/A
  • Difficulty: Normal

If you are a big fan of the Pokémon anime series, you will love Pokémon Ash Gray. It is a hack of Pokémon Fire Red, and its creator structured it to be like Ash’s journey in the anime series. For example, you wake up late, like in the first episode, and you receive a Pikachu instead of the starters because of your tardiness. You get chased by a gang of Spearows, like in the anime, and you see a Ho-oh fly by.

Since Pokémon Ash Gray follows the anime series, it can feel a little bit more restrictive in many areas compared to regular Pokémon games. There are plenty of cutscenes and pre-determined Pokémon battles, but on the upside, you get to meet Team Rocket! That’s right. You can meet Jesse, James, and Meowth, and they will blast off every time you beat them up.

While the Pokémon anime series has a bit more creativity when it comes to Pokémon battles, Pokémon Ash Gray still follows the combat mechanics of the Pokémon games. For scenes that need to happen but cannot feasibly happen in a battle, like Pikachu defeating the gang of Spearows, they are represented by cutscenes. I think it is a great ROM hack, and if you play this game, you will feel nostalgic again.

Pokémon Light Platinum

Pokémon Light Platinum

  • Creator: Wesley FG
  • Base game: Ruby
  • of Gyms: 8
  • Has a new region: Yes
  • Has a new story: Yes
  • Has post-game content: Yes
  • Pokémon Generation: Up to 5
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Another great Pokémon ROM hack that a lot of people praise is Pokémon Light Platinum. It is a hack of Pokémon Ruby, yet it does not feel like it. I noticed that the art and sprites have changed; it looks closer to a DS game than a Gameboy Advance game! I think Pokémon Light Platinum is super clean, but it does have a major flaw: its oldness. While it received applause, there was also constructive criticism.

In general, Pokémon Light Platinum is regarded as one of the best ROM hacks out there at its peak because of being one of the first games to be completed. However, you can see some valid complaints from time to time. For example, the dialogue is too bland. It is not as bad as Pokémon Snakewood, but it is not great either. It may be due to the fact that the creator’s first language is not English.

As it turns out, the creator is Portuguese, who made this game when they were young. Still, the game is a phenomenal work of art; I think it belongs to a museum of Pokémon ROM hacks for being a pioneer for completed games. The art alone is something worthy of being gawked at. It has its glaring flaws, but many players can get past them. After all, this game was built by only one person!

Pokémon Liquid Crystal

Pokémon Liquid Crystal

  • Creator: linkandzelda
  • Base game: Fire Red
  • of Gyms: 16
  • Has a new region: N/A
  • Has a new story: Yes
  • Has post-game content: Yes
  • Pokémon Generation: Up to 3
  • Difficulty: Challenging

I admit; I am not a big fan of Gameboy Color games. It sounds illegal, but it is my opinion, and it is not illegal to have an opinion (unless you live under an authoritarian government). I prefer my games to have a lot of colors, like Gameboy Advance games.

I would love to play games on the Gameboy Color, but my preferences stop me from doing so. Thus, I am thankful for Pokémon Liquid Crystal.

Pokémon Liquid Crystal is a ROM hack of Pokémon Fire Red, and it aims to recreate the original Pokémon Crystal game on the Gameboy Color. It has the same story as the original, plus a ton of extra events and a brand-new region to explore. If you have watched the Pokémon anime series, you are familiar with the Orange Islands; you can go to this archipelago in Pokémon Liquid Crystal.

Like in the original game, you get to have an adventure in both the Johto and Kanto regions. The game also implements mechanics from the current generation to this remake, like diving underwater. Of course, it has the Physical and Special split like the other entries. It even has a day-and-night cycle like the original game! It can be a little difficult, so be ready for a good challenge.

Pokémon Unbound

Pokémon Unbound

  • Creator: Skeli
  • Base game: Fire Red
  • of Gyms: 8
  • Has a new region: Yes
  • Has a new story: Yes
  • Has post-game content: Yes
  • Pokémon Generation: Up to 7
  • Difficulty: Customizable

Pokémon Unbound is another ROM hack that I consider to be a masterpiece. I am a sucker for customization, and this game has loads of it. Right off the bat, you can customize the color of your character’s hair and jacket. Then, you can customize the game’s difficulty and features like randomizers. I think it is a great addition because sometimes, you want to have an easy game when your brain is off.

The story is also a refreshing one; long ago, the Borrius region got engulfed in a huge war. To stop it, the king summoned Hoopa, a mythical Pokémon introduced in Gen 6, in its Unbound form. However, his plan failed. The people tried to start a coup and manipulate the great weapon the king used, but he sealed away his powers by throwing Hoopa’s Poké Ball into the river.

Now, enemy forces rediscover Hoopa, and it is up to you to stand in their way. Aside from this cool story, I also love its modern art style and interface. You would not even recognize that it is a Gameboy Advance ROM hack at first glance!

There is full of content in this game, like exciting mini-games, challenging puzzles, side missions, and much more. I definitely recommend playing Pokémon Unbound.

Pokémon ROM hacks honorable mentions

Pokémon Dark Violet

There are more Pokémon ROM hacks out there that might be worth your time, and if the games in this list are not enough to satisfy your craving for more Pokémon, then the list below may help you.

  • Pokémon Radical Red: A hack of Fire Red with beautiful art and an improvised engine. It has a similar quality to Pokémon Unbound, except it can get hard. It sports Pokémon of up to Gen 8 and Mega Evolutions.
  • Pokémon Clover: A hack of Fire Red with extremely offensive humor that might not be for everyone. It is a fan game made by the lovely users of 4Chan’s /vp/ board, and it is purely a game with Pokémon made by them. If you want to know how offensive this game can get, know that the starter Pokémons are Grasshole, Arabomb, and Ejacasm.
  • Pokémon Moemon: It is a category of Pokémon ROM hacks that change the sprites of the Pokémon into cute anime girls. There are multiple games composed of Moemon; there is a Moemon Fire Red, Moemon Emerald, and so on. If you are a fan of cute girls or you like anime, you can try to play these games to mix up the aesthetic.
  • Pokémon Dark Violet: A hack of Fire Red that aims to remake the first Pokémon games: Pokémon Red and Green. However, it has a lot of changes to the story, so calling it a remake is not technically accurate.

FAQs

Question: What is the easiest Pokémon ROM hack?

Answer: If you want a high-quality Pokémon ROM hack that can be easy, I would suggest Pokémon Unbound because you can adjust the difficulty. You can change it to “Easy” if you want to enjoy the game without breaking a sweat.

Question: Which Pokémon ROM hack has the most regions?

Answer: High-quality Pokémon ROM hacks like the games in this list have an average of two to three regions. I would suggest picking up Pokémon Glazed, as it has three regions you can get into. Pokémon Liquid Crystal also has three regions since it is a remake of Pokémon Crystal using the Pokémon Fire Red engine. The three regions of Pokémon Liquid Crystal are Johto, Kanto, and the Orange Islands.

Question: Are Pokémon ROM hacks legal?

Answer: If you own the ROM, it is legal to do whatever you want with it. However, Pokémon ROM hacks are in a gray area wherein they can get taken down due to the original game being a property of the Pokémon Company. For example, DMCA takedowns were issued against Pokémon Glazed and Flora Sky, among others. The makers can contest its legality, but they prefer to err on the safe side.

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