All the best Pokemon GBA and DS ROM hacks and fan games

Charizard in Pokemon Fire Red

Nintendo is historically hostile toward modders and homebrew game designers, but that hasn’t stopped everyone. This is seen with the sheer number of high-quality ROM hacks for GBA and Nintendo DS-era Pokemon games and an assortment of fan games.

Pokemon is the highest-grossing media IP on earth. The tried-and-true formula of “gotta catch ‘em all” has given Nintendo one of its most lucrative series of video games, exceeding mascots like Mario and Zelda. While mainline Pokemon games continue to find success, one of the unsung heroes of Pokemon’s longevity is its dedicated fanbase.

Spurred on by enduring fan complaints of overly simple games, a community of modders gave fans Pokemon ROM hacks to tide them over. These ROMs change classic games into altogether different experiences.

The best GBA Pokemon ROM hacks

GBA is the platform that most of the biggest ROM hacks call home. These hacks run the gauntlet of simple enhancements to original storylines. Whether it’s a greater challenge or a desire to see something new, these ROM hacks will not disappoint. 

Pokemon Radical Red

pokemon radical red cover

Pokemon Radical Red is an enhancement hack of Pokemon Fire Red created by “Yuuiii.” With FireRed’s status as one of the most beloved Pokemon games, Radical Red takes the game from Gen 3 all the way up to Gen 9. 

Raid battles, expanded movesets, increased difficulty, brand-new storylines, and more additions are on tap in Pokemon Radical Red. It also includes every single Pokemon in series history, with this ROM hack including every ‘mon from the Nintendo DS, 3DS, and Switch.

As far as update-focused options go, Pokemon Radical Red is arguably the definitive ROM hack.

Pokemon Emerald Rogue

Pokemon emerald rogue cover

Where most hacks will typically unlock higher tiers of difficulty or add more Pokemon, Pokkabie’s Emerald Rogue adds a twist as innovative as it is complex. The Emerald Rogue ROM hack turns Pokemon Emerald into a roguelike, something that would’ve been inconceivable for the GBA. The game procedurally generates everything from routes to gym leaders,  ensuring every run stands out.

Each run, successful or not, brings the player back to a starting hub where they can buy permanent items to make the run easier. They can also catch new “starter” Pokemon to try a different playstyle. Most runs last less than four hours. For those wanting a quick burst of Pokemon adrenaline, Emerald Rogue is a great alternative to the series’ more traditional RPG experience.

Pokemon Unbound

Pokemon unbound cover

Pokemon Unbound by Skeli takes a more traditional approach to FireRed than Pokemon Radical Red’s competitive slant. Taking place in a brand new region with its own storyline, Pokemon Unbound takes what fans like about the series and spins it for a fresh yet familiar experience.

But be warned. Pokemon Unbound gets “Nintendo Hard” with each tier of difficulty. At times, it starts to border on unfairness.

Still, given how it’s practically a fangame in all but label, Pokemon Unbound is something every Pokemon player should check out. It’s also a noble effort by Skeli, who broke free of the confines of an existing game.

pokemon elite redux

Pokemon Elite Redux

Pokemon Elite Redux puts the ability to effortlessly build and customize front-and-center. That’s important because there’s also a steep increase in difficulty.

Pokemon Inclement Emerald was long one of the series’ most popular ROM hacks but it got a major overhaul with Elite Redux. This game fleshes out the team-building aspect by giving players comprehensive control over their lineup’s stats and moves. This is brought a step further with the addition of new abilities for Pokemon.

Not only that, but the game also features a large balance rework, that makes it so more Pokemon are viable during a playthrough. Those who lament the inability to bring that one bug or normal-type Pokemon from the start of the game to the end finally have the chance to do so here.

The best Nintendo DS Pokemon ROM hacks

While the Nintendo DS hacking scene may not be quite as expansive as its GBA counterpart, there are still some great hacks for fans. In particular, a modder known as Drayano has a plethora of hacks some fans consider the “premium” way to experience this era of Pokemon games.

Pokemon Storm Silver and Sacred Gold

pokemon storm silver header

Pokemon Storm Silver/Sacred Gold have the same enhancements across the board.

All 493 Pokemon from the fourth generation are obtainable within the game, giving players total freedom in party composition. Players also get the National Dex immediately to make tracking Pokemon much easier. 

Enemy trainers now have a greater variety of Pokemon and a buff to their teams. Changes to abilities and experience rates have also been made, but those who want a purer experience can pick the classic version of the ROM. 

Pokemon Blaze Black and Volt White

pokemon blaze black cover

Much like Storm Silver and Sacred Gold, Blaze Black/Volt White brings many of the same enhancements. All 649 Pokemon that were released through the fifth generation are available to the player from the jump, on top of the usual changes to difficulty, movesets, and Pokemon attributes.  

Notably, Blaze Black/Volt White sticks relatively close to the pure Pokemon experience, with little to no changes to the fundamental mechanics and story of the game. Pokemon Blaze Black 2 and Volt White 2 Redux are also available for fans of the sequels. 

Pokemon Renegade Platinum

pokemon renegade platinum logo

One of the most ambitious and most popular Pokemon ROM hacks comes from Drayano.

Pokemon Renegade Platinum regularly makes the rounds for NDS hack recommendations. Pokemon Platinum has a reputation among fans for being exponentially harder, making it a go-to for masochistic Nuzlocke players. 

On top of the steep difficulty increase, Pokemon Renegade Platinum adds a host of QoL improvements to the base game. These changes make it far less of a headache to play from moment to moment. Overall, Pokemon Renegade Platinum stands as one of the definitive Pokemon ROM hacks, as well as a solid option for those who still want something that feels like classic Pokemon.

The best Pokemon fan games

GBA and Nintendo DS-era ROM hacks aren’t the only creative unofficial use of the Pokemon IP. Loads of fan-made Pokemon games were created in their own game engine, or in stock ones like RPG Maker. These games offer some of the most creative and unique Pokemon experiences that can vary wildly from the official releases.

Pokemon Xenoverse

Pokemon Xenoverse

Pokemon Xenoverse by Team WEEDle was made with RPG Maker XP and takes the player on a whole new Pokemon adventure.  They play as a young Pokemon Trainer in the Eldiw region in search of their missing father. 

The story takes on a more cosmic approach, with the main criminal organization, Team Dimension, weakening the rift between worlds. 

The game launched its final update in April 2023, so there’s no better time to jump in than now. Despite running on RPG Maker, the gameplay remains beautifully consistent with the rest of the Pokemon franchise. For fans who want a “new” Pokemon game, Xenoverse adds a new dimension to the experience.

Pokemon Infinite Fusion

pokemon infinite fusion header

Those who spent any length of time on the browser-based Pokemon Fusion Generator can stop right here. Pokemon Infinite Fusion is a fan-made game that lets players combine any two Pokemon from the first five generations.

It’s also not just a fusion generator. Pokemon Infinite Fusion boasts a complete storyline, with original dialogue and events that follow the classic Pokemon formula. The fusions add a novel and exciting approach to the Pokemon experience that’s unlike any other fangame or ROM hack. 

Pokemon Insurgence

Pokemon Insurgence

For fans that want to try the edgier side of Pokemon fan games, Insurgence panders to the dark voice inside every Pokemon player.

Despite the franchise’s kid-friendly vibes, some Pokemon media reaches surprisingly dark depths. Even the official Pokemon Adventures manga featured disturbing deaths and violent Pokemon battles, including an infamous instance of zombification and dismemberment.

Insurgence takes things a few steps further. Set in the Torren region, a place rife with evil cults, the player takes on the role of one of the cult’s hapless victims. They do not remember anything about their life and must fight through waves of cultists and their dangerous Pokemon to find the truth about their existence.

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Written by Gab Hernandez

Gab Hernandez has a particular love for video games that give players control over the narrative direction, such as Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Disco Elysium. Gab spends just as much time playing games as they do gushing about them online to anyone who will listen. Their work has also been seen on TheGamer, Gfinity, and Wargamer, and you can follow them on Twitter / X at @HardlyWorkinGab.

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