The hacking of roms has recently become a thing of controversy, what with Nintendo shutting down every fan project under the sun. This is a shame, as most of the games cut down this year have been more genuinely “Nintendo” than most games the company released themselves. Of course, Nintendo does have a right to defend their intellectual property, as they well should. Yet, I can’t help but feel that other companies treat fan creations at least a bit better. Pokemon Prism, a rom hack of Pokemon Crystal, is a project that was also axed at the end of last year. However, I’m here to raise it up as its one of the best Pokemon experiences I’ve ever played.
Pokemon Prism uses the whole graphical style of Crystal Version, even retaining the large areas to explore with multiple regions. Players will visit the Rijon, Naljo, and even parts of the Kanto and Johto regions. Twenty badges to collect will spur the player forward on a crazy long adventure that has themes of environmentalism spread throughout. Custom trainers can even be designed at the offset, with tons of color and sprite options, to make for a really personal journey.
The Pokemon gameplay is also shaken up a bit, with two new types Gas and Sound. Older Pokemon will now have new types with these ones tossed in, making for a lot of genuine surprises and strategies. It’s so cool to see some of the newer Pokemon in this older style; it feels like a legit sequel to Crystal Version.
Of course, this is actually the sequel to the well-loved Pokemon Brown rom hack, which also took place in the Rijon region. Story lines intersect a bit for old fans, but new players will feel right at home with the new area and lore. There is so much to explore in Pokemon Prism. The maps themselves are massive, often creating interesting environmental puzzles that can cause some head scratching to say the least. The rom hack also plays with the presentation style of the Game Boy Zelda games, with 2D sections that look awful similar and getting an item that lets the trainer jump over holes.
Musically, there are a mix of classic tracks, remixes, and brand new songs. Each one fits the theme of the area perfectly and I found myself humming the tunes soon after discovering them. Traveling through the Naljo region felt mysterious with its sprawling cave systems, coupled with clever sounds. Not only that, but there is just a ton of stuff to do like Mining, which can even be leveled up. I always found myself out of money though, with only enough to buy a pickaxe or two.
Actually playing Pokemon Prism kind of depends on what the player has picked to play with the emulator. I found that a Wii U Pokken controller worked perfectly at my desk, especially since mine is a Pikachu Edition. Other than playing through my PC, I actually loaded up the rom onto a DS Flash Cart to play it on a original model DS. That was incredible to try out and I would love to have a modded Game Boy Color with a Flash Cart and backlit screen, just to play more like I did when I was a kid. There’s just so much nostalgia at hand!
Now, Pokemon Prism is really a game for fans who are pretty well-versed in how the Pokemon games play out. It’s definitely one of the harder rom hacks I’ve played (without it being unfair like some are), for I had to actually make a balanced team and train them well. Some gym leaders definitely threw me for a loop. Also, since this game is so massive, its easy to get lost, even though the way the Hidden Moves used to get across water and such kind of railway the player in the right direction. Once the map opens up with all the moves, it gets pretty confusing. Some of the puzzles can be frustrating too, but they are doable and can be figured out logically. Anyone who’s already played this hack can think of at least one. Let’s just say becoming a Magikarp is no fun.
There is a ton of content here for Pokemon fans and its a shame that the project had to be shut down in the way that it did. Luckily the source code was shared by an unknown person alongside the patch file with the hopes that someone will finish the rom hack one day. Even the original team is unsure who leaked the files. What was eventually leaked online was a version that’s almost complete, but still lacking some of the final touches the team was hoping to add.
What’s really troublesome is what this means for the rom hacking community, which has flourished up until Pokemon Prism was hit. Never before had Nintendo shut down rom patching files, which is what all of these rom hacks are packaged as. Usually they take down fan games that are complete games with their own engines, but now really anything can be targeted, including mods as was the case for the Ark: Survival Evolved Pokemon mod, which didn’t get a full DMCA, but was still stopped.
Without rom hacking, there are many amazing experiences we’d be missing out on. Translation patches bring Japanese only games to a wider audience (sometimes with multiple languages) or dig up unreleased games or early versions. Mother 3 is the obvious game that benefited form this, but also things like Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade were super cool, just to name a couple I’ve played. There’s a lot of beneficial history in these obscure experiences and with rom hacks there are new lessons to be learned in game design. I’ve always seen emulation and modding as a positive, and some companies like iD and Capcom have shown a lot of interest in the people behind these projects, but from a business perspective I can understand why larger franchises worry. A game like Pokemon Prism could (and probably has) cut into the sales of new and upcoming Pokemon games, even if the rom hack is completely non-profit.
Unfortunately, Pokemon Prism may never get the praise it deserves. The developers actually worked with a fan-extracted Pokemon Crystal source code, injecting all of their unique ideas into it. I actually learned from some members of the fan groups that the original Pokemon Crystal didn’t take full advantage of the Game Boy Color cartridge and capabilities; Crystal only uses about 30% of the storage as its really just a fancy port. Pokemon Prism meets the limits of the Game Boy Color, sometimes achieved through crafty code design by a hacker that was basically their Iwata as he was always restructuring things to make it fit and be more optimized. From a programming standpoint, Pokemon Prism is one of the most impressive endeavors in a while.
Now, we will obviously see less press information on these projects, as more and more them seek to develop in secretive groups. There’s no real stopping people making rom hacks, its just a matter of how open they are about them.
All in all, I’m not even close to being done with Pokemon Prism after many hours of being lost in a nostalgic storm of wonder. Some of my earliest triumphs in gaming was with Pokemon Silver, which I played for probably five years or so. Those experiences are worth sharing with current generations and Pokemon Prism is a way to do that on a huge scale. I’ll always consider Pokemon Prism as one of the best rom hacks around, even if its release was full of controversy.
Be careful hunting down this file though, malware is never fun.