Not to brag about, but I’m a veteran Pokémon fan. I was there when Game Freak released Pokémon Diamond & Pearl, and since then, I’ve been there, seeing how the saga transitioned into what it is now, a multimedia giant, and I’ll be there until the end.
The only reason I’m telling you this is because I vividly remember that people have been dreaming of an open-world Pokémon game since I have enough capabilities to remember things. Most of the community (me included) wanted to try new experiences without leaving aside the Pokémon world.
And while Game Freak trait to do it with Legends: Arceus and, therefore, Scarlet & Violet, I’m pretty sure these fans with insatiable eagerness to play a game without being driven by long hallways aren’t pleased yet. Those games aren’t what people imagined when asking for an open-world-like game. This is the reason why projects like Pokémon ROWE exist.
Pokémon ROWE is an Open-World Pokémon HackROM based in Pokémon Emerald, and it’s the best example of how to please a whole community.
Here, you can decide where to go, which Pokémon to catch, who to face next, and what to explore. There’s no limit. You can start your adventure and end it wherever you want. It’s all up to you, and that’s what fans wanted, me included. Let’s check it out.
The Gameplay – Wandering through Hoenn
Pokémon ROWE only promises a single thing: You can go anywhere you want, whenever you want. There are no Pokémon or level limits. You decide your path. And it’s entirely true, though.
At the start of the game, you’ll be in a house alongside a man who also works as the rule setter for your adventure. You can choose where to start, the difficulty you want to play, and which Pokémon to use as your starter. If you want, you can also pepper in some extra modes, which I’ll discuss later.
Then, you’ll drop on Hoenn. And now it all depends on you. The objective is to get the eight Gym Badges and then challenge the Pokémon League, but that’s all. You must choose where to go next from the starting point you set at the start.
To break the usual barriers Game Freak add to the game so people don’t skip out the railroad they set, all the HMs are removed, and you can swim, climb, break or move rocks as you wish.
The battles don’t differ much from what we already know; the stats are up to Gen 8, and there’s a plethora of Pokémon you can find, catch, and train to use in your adventure.
A cool thing about this is that you can build a whole team predesigned to counter all of your next Gym Leader’s team, as you have access to all the Pokémon (except for Legendaries) up to Gen 8. You are free to do what you want.
A HackROM Made with Love
Here’s when things get interesting, as Pokémon ROWE boasts of having the most extended features list I’ve ever seen in a hackROM. There are some new features I want to point out, so let’s check them out:
New Settings and Personalization
The first significant change you can notice since the start of the game is the new set of settings.
You’ll access it by pressing R, and you’ll see that you can change the color scheme of your character, how fast the HP and Experience bar fill and see how much damage you dealt to a Pokémon after hitting them with a move.
You can also change which Pokémon can appear in the title screen; there are three options: The classic Rayquaza, Groudon, and Kyogre.
This means much more than you can think at first sight; Personalization and Pokémon games never usually go hand in hand, and having these features in such a meaningful hackROM as Pokémon ROWE is excellent.
Game Modes, Difficulty, and Starters
Now, let’s get down to business. As I said, when you start the game, you’ll find yourself in a room with an NPC who works as the guy who will introduce you to Open-World Hoenn.
But here’s when things get interesting, as ROWE isn’t just about dropping in Hoenn and roaming free through the whole region; you can choose what you will find during your adventure.
There are three difficulties: Easy, Normal, and Hard, as usual. The Easy Mode is pretty simple; the AI lacks a bit of intelligence, there are no caps for moves’ power or Pokémon levels, and that’s pretty much it.
Then, the Normal Mode boasts of having a smarter AI, higher Levels for trained and wild Pokémon, trainers with wider teams, and powerful moves that shouldn’t be there in the early game get capped so they don’t tear the early game apart.
Lastly, the Hard Mode is incredibly torturous. Among all the challenging features you can find in this mode, The Battle Mode is always “Set” (so you can’t switch after defeating an opponent’s Pokémon), the AI is way smarter, the levels are even higher than in Normal Mode, and there’s a Level Cap for your Pokémon, which depends on the level of the next Gym Leader’s Ace Pokémon.
After choosing your fate and how hard you will scream out of anger, you can pepper in some extra game modes, making things even more enjoyable.
We have the Double Battle Mode (which is self-explanatory), the Perfect IVs and No EVs mode, the Gym Shuffle Mode, which moves the Gym Leaders to different locations so you can live a completely random experience, a Randomized Mode, where you’ll find random Pokémon on both AI teams and the wild, and much more.
Then, you pick up your starter. There are eight starter options; you have interesting Pokémon like Cubchoo, Cufant, and Sandygast, alongside others as Kriketot or Slugma, and then, you have a “surprise me” mode, which will give you a random stage 1 Pokémon (not including Legendaries).
Lastly, you can choose where to land. All the cities are available except for Ever Grande City; you must make it there. There’s a “Surprise Me” button here as well.
As I said, there are a lot of Pokémon from Gen 1 to Gen 8, and all of those Pokémon with regional variants are also here. But it’s fair to say that not all the Pokémon are in this game. They’ll eventually make it through here; Rioluwott (the creator of this hackROM) has promised it several times.
Nonetheless, you can have a big Pokécollection and use the Pokédex as your checklist, which underwent a significant redesign. Now, besides giving you info about every Pokémon species, it also shows their exact stats, all the moves they can learn, their catch rate, their growth rate, their friendship, and more.
That’s not all; you don’t need to keep looking for evolution methods on Google; the Pokédex has all the info you need about evolving methods!
I’m still in shock because of the DexNav. Rioluwott and Ghoulslash (another great programmer who helped Rioluwott) created a really accurate and sound DexNav system.
This DexNav lets you look for a certain Pokémon in the wild. If a specific Pokémon appears in a zone, you can use the DexNav to make it appear constantly. Defeating or catching that Pokémon will start a chain; while the chain continues, you’ll get better and better versions of that Pokémon.
Thanks to this feature, you’ll no longer use the breeding system, as it’ll let you find Pokémon with perfect IVs and hidden Abilities.
Day & Night
Something that surprised me since the beginning is that this hackROM has a day and night system. I’m not a technician, so I don’t know how Rioluwott made it work, but it’s impressive.
It works like in the newest games; the game time is exactly the same as the real-time, and you can access certain Pokémon depending on the time.
Rioluwott was aware that people could change their PC’s time to be able to catch Pokémon, so he made it easier for all of us by giving a usage to the beds. If you sleep on a bed, the game will advance for 12 hours, giving you enough chances to catch all Pokémon without waiting that long.
Adding an Achievement System to your hack ROMs has become a trend, as it’s a great way to reward players willing to grind them. ROWE implemented it perfectly with its Feats.
The Feats are challenges; each has its completion method, and you’ll get rewards if you complete them. The Feats rank from Easy to Hard, and the Hard ones give you top-tier prizes like Mega Stones.
Not all the challenges are available at the start of the game, but you’ll unlock them while you progress.
The Battle System also got revamped. This game uses Gen 4’s Special and Physical split, and it has the vast majority of moves from Gen 1 to 8, including some signature ones. Not all of them are here, but they’ll eventually reach the game.
When in battle, the HUD displays a lot of info, such as the type of the move, an indicator showing if the move is Special, Status, or Physical, and most importantly, a counter that shows how strong the attack will be depending on the type effectiveness.
You can also quickly check other stats, such as how much PP a move has, its power, and accuracy.
There are many more features; you and I can sit down here discussing all this game has to offer, but I want to encourage you to try it yourself.
Story? I Don’t Need That!
The open world concept itself clashes with the concept of Pokémon. Pokémon needs to be linear; it’s what happens when you create an RPG.
Then, if you want to give the players complete freedom over their decisions, you must sacrifice the story and the narrative, and that’s exactly what Rioluwott did with this game.
Pokémon ROWE has no lore. There’s no mention of Archie or Maxie, and Team Aqua & Magma are limited to some minor appearances. There are no big events, and it’s all about you beating the game. You progress through it at your own pace.
Of course, Legendaries will only appear in the post-game, which is a fair trade, but other than that, the game has no narrative or story.
The Impact of ROWE in the Community
Overall, Pokémon ROWE received a lot of love from the Pokécommunity. Everyone loved the concept and its execution.
Rioluwott and their hard work updating and polishing the game helped ROWE to become viral in 2022; many Pokémon YouTubers and Streamers played it, getting hundreds of thousands of views.
It’s still a young game; we must wait longer and see if people still remember this game to see if it’ll leave a legacy or if it was just another viral project that had a momentary impact. It’s hard to leave a big mark in this community; time will tell.
Pokémon Crystal Clear
ROWE isn’t the only Open World Pokémon game. The most famous is Pokémon Crystal Clear, mainly because it was the first one. It’s the same as ROWE, but this one takes place in Johto and Kanto, based on Pokémon Crystal.
This one is incredible. It’s like if you mix Minecraft with Pokémon. You’ll play in an open world where you must look for resources, catch your Pokémon, and work alongside them to survive. There are battles, so this experience isn’t a far cry from what you love to play in a Pokémon game.
Pokémon Emerald Rogue
This one is also a great game. I can define it as a combination between Roguelite games like The Binding of Issac and Pokémon. You have a big map to explore and a hub that links you to other map sections. The objective is to explore a zone and get resources to help you explore harsher zones.
Question: Does Pokémon ROWE have all the Pokémon?
Answer: It doesn’t have all the Pokémon mostly because some Legendary Pokémon are yet to be added to the game. They’ll eventually be on ROWE; we just have to wait. On the other hand, Rioluwott already stated that there will not be any Pokémon from Gen 9 onwards.
Question: Which is the best emulator for Pokémon ROWE?
Answer: I’ll say mGBA; it’s the only one that isn’t having issues with the game.
Question: Is Pokémon ROWE a challenging game?
Answer: It’s a complicated game. You must know what you are doing to progress. If you feel you’ll get stuck because of a lack of skill, I recommend you play the game for the first time in Easy Mode.
Then, you can try with the Normal Mode, which is, in my opinion, the most balanced experience you can have in this game.
Pokemon ROWE Guide: Conclusion:
I love Pokémon ROWE, mostly because it is a game made with love and passion. Everyone can notice it when starting to play: the DexNav, the extensive list of Pokémon up for grabs, the open-world concept, the QoL features; it’s all done by a real fan and for everyone to play and enjoy.
I love Pokémon with all of my heart; it’s my favorite game saga, and playing fangames like this one only reignites my passion. I want to thank Rioluwott for creating such a great game, and thank you all for reading this overview!