No matter where one stands on the idea of emulators, no one can ignore just how cool they are. I discovered this wonder about eight years ago and I’ve been an advocate since. While scouring the web in my youth, I discovered something even better than being able to play Pokémon on my laptop.
Budding game designers have often turned to altering existing games to create their own spin on classic games. Pokémon has probably been hacked the most, due to the general ease of doing so and the simplicity of the game itself, but beyond that there is so much more. I’ve collected a bit of a list of the coolest rom hacks that I’ve found so far. Note that I haven’t played every hack out there and I’m always open for suggestions.
In no particular order are my favorite Gameboy Advance hacks.
Pokemon: Liquid Crystal Version – This hack of Pokémon: Fire Red was probably my first experience in rom hacking that involved huge alterations. I’d played a few translations before, but never had I seen such an expansion. Liquid Crystal is a faithful remake of the Gameboy Color title of similar name with extra content. Players will be able to explore both Kanto and Johto regions in the excellent graphics of the GBA.
What made this hack great was the fact that it added the Orange Islands. After Ash’s journey in Kanto, there was still some time before Gold and Silver released. This led to a smaller arc involving a chain of islands. This season of the anime quickly became my favorite and I’ve always wanted to play in that region. Liquid Crystal allows trainers to do just that, even though it wasn’t finished the last time I played five years ago.
This isn’t the only Pokemon hack out there either, not by a long shot. However, this one always seemed so well-done that I chose to include it instead of detailing about twenty other amazing hacks. If you can’t get enough Pokemon, dive into the world of rom hacking.
Metroid: Disturbance – Disturbance takes all the mechanics of Metroid: Zero Mission and forces the player to use them to the absolute best of their abilities. I found myself having to use the wall jump tactic early, just to get through the first 20 minutes. Enemies are tough and upgrades are scarce. In fact, many of the upgrades are acquired in a new order, creating new puzzles and challenges. It’s all really cool considering how short the Metroid games were on the console, so any expansion is welcome. Players who seek a challenge will love this hack!
Disturbance proves that there is still some fun to be had in the realm of 2D Metroid games. Now if only Nintendo felt the same and cut out Samus’ vocal chords. . .
The Last Promise – Fire Emblem was probably one of the best games to come out on the GBA period. The animations are amazing to this day with excellent sprite art. Tactical matches are played in a grid and players will have to battle their way through overwhelming odds. However, the main twist to Fire Emblem was the permanent death mechanic and its challenging gameplay. Players can advance to the next chapter after losing a character, but there’s no way to get them back. Is the sacrifice worth victory?
The Last Promise takes the Fire Emblem engine and creates its own epic saga. Players will play as Siegfried, a knight at the precipice of rebellion. The challenge remains and while the story isn’t really anything new (at least as far as I’ve played so far) it is rather engaging, especially for fans of politics heavy fantasy.
I’m always hungry for more GBA Fire Emblem, so The Last Promise was the perfect fix. Excellent gameplay, awesome animations, and an abundance of characters make this one of the coolest hacks on the console.
Fortunately, for those that lack the Japanese skills needed to play every game, some die-hard fans have taken the time to translate some otherwise lost classics. These hacks merely change the language and otherwise leave the game alone.
Mother Series: English Translation – While I’ve never had the chance to sit down and play Earthbound, I’ve always respected it. Basically it’s an RPG series with a huge following that puts a simple American boy against aliens, twisted cars, and other nightmares. The writing of these games are constantly praised as it is extremely witty and funny. Unfortunately, Earthbound is actually called Mother 2 in Japan, making it the only journey Ness got to go on for many gamers. Weird how RPGs on the SNES never were numbered right. . .
Thanks to hacking, the Mother series lives on! Not only has the third title been translated, but there’s also a translation of Mother 1+2 floating around the web. For some reason Nintendo holds on to Mother like Disney does its vaulted movies, as if they were too great to have available all the time. Occasionally, there will be rumors of Mother 3 coming to Virtual Console, but until that happens, this fan hack is a great way to experience something lost in time.
Super Robot Wars J – Japan loves crossovers. Recently on the 3DS, players got to command all sorts of characters from Sega, Namco, and Capcom. Project X Zone was co-developed by Banpresto who were also behind the Super Robot Wars franchise. It’s common knowledge that giant robots are popular in media, especially anime. Therefore its strange that this vast series of fan service doesn’t get as much attention outside of Japan.
Basically, Super Robot Wars is a tactical RPG similar to Fire Emblem or Advance Wars. Players command robots, fighter jets, carrier units, and more all from any anime or comic they can cram in. There have actually been a few games of the series released in English, but they mysteriously lack any of the other brands like Gundam or Mazinger. This hack represents that lost opportunity.
While Super Robot Wars J is a bit wordy, the game itself is awesome. It’s pure eye candy on the Gameboy Advance.
Fire Emblem: Sword of Seals – Roy always did confuse me as a character in Super Smash Bros Melee. The game claimed he hailed from Fire Emblem, but I only knew Lyn, Hector, and Eliwood. Little did I know that little Roy here was the son of Eliwood and he had his own game.
There’s really not much to say about this game other than its confusing numbering (Sword of Seals is actually Fire Emblem 6, but takes place after Fire Emblem 7, which was the first game in English on the GBA). The animations are awesome, the story is there when you want it and gone at the touch of the button, and the characters are usually interesting, if fairly static. I wished that I would’ve got to play this after Fire Emblem, but this hack has given me something I hadn’t even known about.
Conclusion – So that’s the world of GBA hacking in a nutshell. Will these hacked games ever be completely accepted by the gaming industry? Probably not, but companies like Valve and Chucklefish who embrace the hacking community to expand the lives of their creations are creating superb experiences. I don’t know if I’d have enjoyed Skyrim on PC at all if it wasn’t for the mods.
Some of the best gaming experiences of the past few years have come from hacks or mods. Goes to show that a game may not be available for purchase any more, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop playing.