As much as I enjoy the Pokemon franchise, the third party homebrew community is brilliant! There are hundreds of full games out there, several of which match or even surpass the tradational games. Here are some of my favourites.
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Pokemon has dominated the entertainment industry since its creation in the 1990s. The ninety’s really had the coolest stuff. With all the merchandise, fans, television series, movies, and over thirty video games, it’s staggering how dominant it is thirty years later.
A while ago, I began a series called: My Personal Journey Through Pokemon, an ambitious plan where I intended to write about every Pokemon Generation from my viewpoint on my first playthrough, It started well with my pilot of Generation 1, but things slowed to a crawl. It’s a series I do plan to revisit someday, but I’ve got other projects that take more priority. It got me thinking, however. While there are many first-party Pokemon games out there, there are hundreds of homebrew games for the franchise.
In the last few years, development tools have advanced in leaps and bounds for some incredible games. It’s amazing how some fan-made Pokemon games can be so good! The majority of these more advanced hacks are from the Game Boy Advance era of Pokemon, as that’s where most of the big tools are. However, we’ve seen some major improvements with Nintendo DS homebrewing recently. There’s even reverse engineering of the newer Diamond and Pearl remakes, as they were made with the adaptable Unity Engine. The sky is the limit with this community. So, I want to spend some time talking about my favorites. I won’t cover the direct fan games made using RPG Maker’s toolset, these are solely made with the handheld games in mind.
A couple of disclaimers before we start. First up, I’m not going to provide any links to where to get these roms. While emulation is perfectly legal, game roms themselves can be seen by some as a gray area. I believe that roms are essential for preservation, but I won’t provide any links to them. If you need to, look these up. They’re pretty easy to find. Second, while some of these fan-made games match, or even surpass the original Pokemon games, it’s important to remember that developing games is hard. It’s easy to use mods and homebrew as a stick to beat original titles down with, but usually, a creator doesn’t have limits in terms of time, finance or publisher demands to meet. Just something I wanted to mention.
So for today, I’ve got five of my favorite Pokemon romhacks to share. While I’ve played dozens, these are the ones I’m currently playing.
Starting off with one of the most popular romhacks out there, Unbound is an example of what recent engine improvements can accomplish. There are several types of romhacks: original total conversions with their own story and world, enhancements of the first-party games, and difficulty hacks. Pokemon Unbound contains its own, separate world and story, combining some of the best elements Pokemon as a franchise has into a fantastic package. Skeli789 is the creator of Unbound, and he has done a splendid job.
Now, Pokemon isn’t really known for having a great story, except for Generation Five and Seven. A lot of romhacks tend to veer towards the edgier side of story writing, but as these are made by fans, I wouldn’t use this as a criticism. I found Unbounds story, while nothing out of this world, to still be an enjoyable experience. It makes for a strong foundation for the rest of the game. This is a massive experience blending features from the past eight generations of Pokemon. There are Raid Dens from Sword and Shield, plenty of quality of life features, a large number of side missions to complete, character customization, several difficulty modes, and even mini-games. The game is hard, especially on the higher levels, but Unbound throws so many options at you that they become more of an open-ended puzzle. The gym leader matches provide unique additional challenges to conquer, making for some fun questions to ask of your team building. It’s easy to grind up new teams thanks to the frequent Trainer houses, so making new rosters is easy.
There is a massive postgame after becoming Champion, something I haven’t explored fully yet. Not only that, but Unbound offers a New Game Plus feature that allows the player to restart with a cultivated party and all the cooler in-game items unlocked, such as the portable PC. This is fantastic for providing additional replayability. On harder difficulties, there’s even a Sandbox mode to customize and easily prepare new teams. This allows for even more experimentation, and it’s a mode I wish more games had. This does come with the downside of the lucrative post-game being closed off if you use Sandbox mode, although a recent patch has improved things by allowing a Sandbox player access to the Battle Frontier and post-game boss fights.
In all, Pokemon Unbound is one of the strongest romhacks out there, and in many ways, it surpasses the base Pokemon games. It’s the perfect example of what can be accomplished. I’d go as far as to say it’s essential to try out.
Pokemon Radical Red
Difficulty romhacks are extremely popular, and there are so many different ones out there. I’ll talk about them in a future episode if there’s any interest, but I may as well start with the most notorious. Made by Yuuiii, Radical Red combines extreme difficulty with a massive amount of customization and options for the player, and while it makes many changes that can lead to some borderline unfair fights, it’s one hell of a rush to beat it.
I was torn between talking about this or Inflamed Red today. They are both excellent romhacks for Fire Red that achieve similar goals: a lot of difficulty in the Kanto remakes with every Pokemon imaginable, tons of options for teambuilding, and providing a competitive Pokemon experience. Inflamed Red offers a little more balance than Radical Red, and it’s certainly the easier of the two games. However, I’d say overall Radical Red is the stronger game, even though I highly recommend trying out both.
Radical Red feels like a free-form puzzle game. There are many boss battles with difficult roadblocks to conquer, but it gives you almost unlimited tools to deal with them. With every Pokemon available and provided with new typings, movesets, and abilities, it’s a refreshing experience. The intense difficulty might turn off some people, and it took me a while to fall in love with Radical Red. With its enormous amount of content and quality, I’d say it’s worth trying out at least once.
Pokemon Renegade Platinum
Drayano is one of the most famous creators out there, known for his excellent enhancement romhacks. He’s been around for years and is still working on new ideas and collaborations to this day. I’ve been playing his romhacks for a long time, and I might do an article focusing solely on his creations. For the Nintendo DS era, he makes some of the best.
Out of all his creations, I’d say that Renegade Platinum is his strongest. A hack of the already great Pokemon Platinum, it fixes almost all the problems the Generation four games possess, including slow animations, and the overabundance of hidden machine requirements. It also improves the diversity of Pokemon available. It is a difficulty romhack, and Drayano does a great job in balancing it out. Sometimes games can be made too hard or tedious, but while Renegade Platinum boasts some tricky fights, it provides enough tools to the player to make these entertaining rather than frustrating. Nearly every Pokemon has been tweaked in some way to make them viable, and options mid-game make for easy grinding. Remember: diverse teambuilding without the need for tedious grinding makes challenges much better!
There are several new events and quests added to the game, as well as an expanded postgame even for something as solid as the original Pokemon Platinum. There’s something for everyone in this excellent romhack. Drayano made some incredible contributions to this scene. Sacred Gold and Storm Silver are great recreations of the beloved Gold and Silver remakes of the DS era, and his Blaze Black/Volt White redesigns of Generation Five are up there with the best, but Renegade Platinum might just be my favorite hack he’s made.
Pokemon Crystal Clear
Moving back a few generations to the Game Boy Color, there are some brilliant romhacks made for these games as well. One thing many people have clamored for is an open-world Pokemon game, with the ability to go anywhere. Time will tell whether Scarlet and Violet will pull that off, but there are a few open-world romhacks out there.
Crystal Clear is an open-world version of Pokemon Crystal made by ShockSlayer. In it, you can complete any of the sixteen gyms in Johto and Kanto in any order, and explore anywhere from the start with many different starters and costumes to choose from, including the option to start from any town in the game. What’s interesting is that Crystal Clear doesn’t add any different changes for Pokemon in terms of typings. Everything Crystal Clear gives the player is compatible with the old games, as well as Pokemon Stadium 2 which is pretty cool. Combined with its extensive quality of life improvements, it’s a great way to replay the Gameboy Color games.
There’s something about going anywhere in a Pokemon game, and with the full roster of Gen 1 and 2 at their disposal as well as diverse move tutors, there are many ways to make a team. Crystal Clear has oodles of content, with a brand new Elite Four to take on, replayable and scalable gym leader battles, being able to capture all Pokemon in the game, a new Arena, and many custom boss battles. One disappointment I have with the original Gold/Silver/Crystal games was that to fit on the cart, Kanto, in particular, was gutted as a region, and made for a poor postgame. Crystal Clear adds many new locations and returns many of the butchered locations to their old glory, such as the Safari Zone, Mount Moon, and Viridian Forest.
While I deeply enjoy Crystal Clear, it’s not without some small issues. Crystal Clear sacrifices story and pacing for the vast open design, which can lead to some strange experiences. Without that base narrative to lead the player, playing Crystal Clear can feel a bit off-putting at first. There’s also a lot of self-insertion by the creator, including himself in the game as an ultimate boss fight. Not so much an issue in itself, but I can understand if people find that irritating. Regardless, for anyone who likes the old Pokemon games and wants to try some homebrew, Crystal Clear is high up the list of the best.
Pokemon Emerald Rogue
This one only came out a couple of weeks ago. Roguelikes are one of the most popular genres in gaming, so it’s about time someone made one out of Pokemon! Made by Pokabbie, Emerald Rogue transforms Emerald into a brilliant roguelike mode, and I’ve been addicted to this romhack ever since I started it. The idea is so simple but brilliant. I’d like to see more like it.
Starting off with a selection of random starters, Emerald Rogue presents the player with a challenge: beat the eight gym leaders, the Pokemon League, and the Champion while battling through randomized routes. Enemies, encounters, and items are all created as you play, which increases in rarity as you advance. Fainted Pokemon are permanently lost from the party, so this is quite the challenge!
Win or lose, the player returns to the main hub region, and is given money and items depending on how far they went. From here, you can buy items and tools which can help start permanent runs unlocks just like a standard roguelike. Any Pokemon you encounter can also be caught and added to the starter pool, though you can only start with one Pokemon. There’s so much incentive and things to kick off with, and I’ve been having a blast with this romhack. There are difficulty modes to tweak, and the ability later to unlock every generation of Pokemon: Rogue originally starts with only the first 386 Pokemon. However, there is a way to get that choice early…
Emerald Rogue is such a refreshing romhack. With all the different ways to unlock, every successive run feels fresh. Sometimes it’ll just be an impossible mess, sometimes you’ll feel like a god. Sometimes, you’ll grab a Mewtwo and proceed to think this is the run! Just as I did in my last run… I ran into the seventh gym leader and got destroyed by them. I can’t wait to return to it.
This ended up being longer than I expected! Hopefully, this provides a good list of romhacks for anyone interested in the homebrew scene. Pokemon is a massive, sometimes controversial gaming series, and there are so many of these creations out there that there is something for everyone. I’ll return with more of my favorite romhacks at some point.
In the meantime, I think it’s time for another run in Emerald Rogue…