Its Pokémon fever in the Retro Handhelds Discord right now, thanks to Pokémon Conquest winning the April Game of the Month club nomination, and Pokémon Black and White becoming the new RPG of the Quarter.  Plenty of talk about everyone’s favorite Pokémon, generations, and music are all over the place, and it’s clear that a lot of people are looking to catch ‘em all for the first time since they were a kid.

Mainline Pokémon games are a ton of fun, but a lot of us have played every entry and would appreciate a fresh take on the series. Enter the deep and varied world of Pokémon ROM hacks! Whether you are looking for a completely new game built in the engine of one of the classics, or a way to experience your old favorite with increased difficulty and better balance, there are no shortage of options available.

So, with that said, I’d like to recommend some ROM hacks that I think are worth the attention of any Pokémon fan, new or old.  The purpose of this list isn’t necessarily to list the best ROM hacks, but also to try and recommend some diverse choices that range several generations and systems.  Without further ado, let’s go!

● 5 – GS Chronicles

Base game – Pokémon Fire Red (Gameboy Advance)

Who says you can’t go home again? If you’re like me, the Johto games were mind-blowing at the time for their scale and awesome day/night cycle. As a result, generation 2 is probably the one I am most nostalgic for. Sometimes it’s nice to get a fresh take on an old classic though.

GS Chronicles is a remake and reimagining of the classic Johto generation 2 games, built within the incredible CFRU Fire Red engine package. The game generally follows the plot of the originals, but introduces some additional twists, new characters, and a big subplot about Johto building its own Pokémon League.

GS Chronicles isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a great way to explore an amazing region again, and a great entry into the world of ROM hacks if you want something familiar yet fresh to dip your toes in.

● 4 – Grand Colosseum

Base game – Pokémon Colosseum (GameCube)

Let’s get a fact out of the way; Wes is the coolest protagonist the Pokémon series has ever seen.  He rides a sick Mad Max-esque chopper motorcycle and wears a trench coat. Plus, you get to steal Pokémon from the bad guys.

It’s a shame then that the Orre region hasn’t received much love from Nintendo themselves (likely because they don’t want people to realize the 3D Pokémon RPG, they made 20 years ago still looks and plays better than their modern ones). Thankfully, that is where the ROM hack community comes into play.

Colosseum already has a reputation of being one of the harder official Pokémon games, and here in its Grand form it doubles down on that.  To combat the additional difficulty, the game gives access to 65 additional moves from newer Pokémon games, the physical/special split that occurred in Gen 4, the Fairy type, more shadow Pokémon to encounter and capture, and the usual slew of balance tweaks to Pokémon.

Handhelds capable of playing GameCube are becoming more and more prevalent, with a lot of people dipping their toes into the catalog for the first time. Every Pokémon fan owes it to themselves to play the two GameCube RPGs, and what better way than this?

● 3 – Supernova Sun & Penumbra Moon

Base game – Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon (3DS)

Alola!  Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are easily the hardest games in the mainline Pokémon series. Even in the base game, the Kahunas have EV trained and high IV Pokémon with good abilities and move sets, the Totem battles are nothing to scoff at if you aren’t prepared for each one, and Ultra Necrozma is the single hardest fight in all of Pokémon (if you don’t cheese it with a level 1 Rattata that is).

Supernova Sun & Penumbra Moon look to push it even further. Not quite Emerald Kaizo difficulty, but not far off. The game features level scaling that takes you all the way to level 100 by the end of the game without ever needing to go out of your way to grind.  The encounter tables in this game are a big highlight, with the ability to capture nearly every single Pokémon evolutionary family before the end of the first island. The balancing on the fights is expertly done, constantly a real challenge but never feeling unfair. Training your team to compete is easy too, with easy access to wild Blissey to get a ton of XP, and EV training items available very early on.

Gen 7 gets a very mixed reception thanks to the extreme ease of the normal Sun & Moon games, the agonizingly long tutorials at the beginning of the game, and the fact that the Ultra versions were effectively remakes of the same game within the same generation.  But good remakes they were, and these hacks are for the Alola traveler looking to add some serious challenge to their tropical adventure.

● 2 – Fire Red: Rocket Edition

Base game – Pokémon Fire Red (Gameboy Advance)

Prepare for trouble and make it double! Have you ever grown tired of being the bright-eyed teenager out to save the world? Rocket Edition is a reimagining of the classic Kanto adventure of Gen 1 and the Fire Red/Leaf Green remakes that puts you in the role of a Team Rocket grunt.

Throughout the game you’ll see the story of those games from the other side of the coin while you uncover conspiracies and climb the ranks of Team Rocket.  The story is a big highlight to this hack, and it has twists and turns that go places unexpected, drawing a lot of inspiration from the fan conspiracies that have been passed around about Kanto.  As you’d expect, the premier mechanic of this hack is that you can steal Pokémon from enemy trainers.  After each battle you may choose a Pokémon from their team to make your own.  How you interact with other trainers, as well as the side quests in the game, will impact the way people in the world see and act towards you.

Rocket Edition is commonly considered one of the “must-play” ROM hacks, as it is such a great mixture of nostalgia and the familiar, while also being able to make Pokémon’s oldest story feel fresh again.

● 1 – Unbound

Base game – Pokémon Fire Red (Gameboy Advance)

No points for guessing the number one pick here, as anyone even remotely aware of Pokémon ROM hacks has heard about Unbound.  For good reason too, it is simply on a different level from other hacks, even those outside of just the Pokémon sphere.  At its core, Unbound is based on Fire Red, however the creator Skeli has completely rebuilt the engine with massive upgrades to allow Unbound to do things the generation 3 games could only dream of.  The engine has since gone on to power other great hacks, but none utilize it as well as this game did.

A brand-new massive world with awesome route design? Check. Updated graphics that use the style from generations 4 and 5? Gorgeous. Pokémon from the first 8 generations including Mega Evolution and Dynamax raids? All here.  The most creative and puzzling Gym fights ever put in a Pokémon game? You better believe it.

Unbound has levels of polish that feel like something you’d expect from an official Pokémon game (well, from back when official games were polished), while also being freed from the constraints of needing to appeal to the masses.  This allows them to have harder fights, more complex battle mechanics, and a bigger and darker story.  Plus, once you’ve finished your journey through Borrius, the game has an expansive post-game similar to the beloved Battle Frontier from Pokémon Emerald.

The list of features is vast, and we’d be here all day if I were to list them all. The point is that Unbound is an incredible hack and a ton of fun. If you only play one ROM hack, it should be Unbound.

The world of ROM hacks is huge and ever-expanding, and I’ve only just scratched the surface with these picks.  There are a ton of amazing hacks I didn’t list, and upcoming hacks in development like Pokémon Crown are absolutely crazy with what they manage to do with these base games.  If you’re an old fan of Pokémon looking for something new, or someone new to the franchise who wants to see what these games can be when fans get ahold of them, I think you’ll find something out there that appeals to you. Now go out and become the greatest, like no one ever was!

Hey, while you’re at it, why not come to the Retro Handhelds Discord server and discuss these, and other hacks of all games, in the ROM hacks channel?  Or you can participate in our Game of the Month club which currently has two Pokémon games in rotation!  Hope to see you there!

This article written and provided kindly by Rensho