Pokémon ROM hacks are Pokémon games that have been altered by fans. There are dozens of Pokémon ROM hacks on the internet, but there is only one that’s been understood as the most challenging hack: Pokémon Radical Red. This is a hack known for its difficult mechanics that include changes to gameplay, stats and Pokémon abilities. It has taken Pokémon FireRed from being a vanilla game to a beast or at least more challenging than the original game.
Pokémon Radical Red’s appeal
This popular hack has taken off in popularity far beyond what the creator, Eric “Soupacell” Huang, imagined when he released the hack last year.
“Like, if COVID hadn't happened, I guarantee you that Radical Red definitely wouldn't have been made” Soupacell said.
This hack all started from his love of the game, but also his love of RPGs.
This is an experience that YouTube content creator Nicholas “SacredAlmighty” Barnes also finds relevant. He is known for playing Pokémon games on YouTube, including hacks on his channel. Radical Red is so good that SacredAlmighty said, “if your Pokémon ROM hack isn't on the same scale as either Radical Red or Pokémon Unbound -- delete it.”
So why do gamers find Radical Red better? SacredAlmighty says that the game offers a challenging new experience. He strongly believes that other ROM hacks should do more to get people’s attention.
“If you're just giving me the same Gen 3 stuff that people would have been playing for, like 15-20 years now, why should I play your game?” he said.
Although everything is different, by design, Radical Red’s story is still the same as FireRed’s. There is no change to the story because the point is to focus on the Pokémon.
“It's just not something that I personally care about when I play Pokémon either,” Soupacell said about the appeal of the game. “It's mainly that there are a lot of cool Pokémon, there's a lot of cool designs and using Pokémon that I think are cool.”
What makes this ROM hack different
Pokémon has never been a difficult game. Once players understand type advantages and movesets, any Pokémon game is easy. Even with the inclusion of new Pokémon types and abilities in later gens, the replay value isn’t there if harder parameters aren’t set by gamers, like solo runs using one Pokémon for the entire game. For experienced Pokémon players looking for something different, self-imposed challenges aren’t enough to keep their interest. This is why gamers turn to Radical Red.
“For people who actually watch and play Pokémon, I've seen so many opinions. ‘Yeah, regular Pokémon is boring. And it's easy. I like [Radical Red] because it's challenging and it's new,’” SacredAlmighty said.
It’s an opinion that Soupacell understands all too well. In fact, when creating Radical Red, Soupacell said people complained about the simplicity of newer games.
“[It’s] a very common complaint that every new iteration of Pokémon just kind of gets easier and easier, because they're trying to cater to kids and stuff,” he said.
This simplicity led Soupacell to play Pokémon titles and ROM hacks sparingly, but then he came across Pokémon Clover, and that changed his mind on Pokémon altogether.
“That game was really, really difficult, and not only difficult, but I felt like the difficulty was super, super fair,” he said. “It had the implementation of this mechanic called the level cap, which is, which I've implemented in Radical Red. And it's a feature that many, many people enjoy or despise.”
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Radical Red uses the FireRed engine instead of older Pokémon engines. And the reason why is that FireRed’s engine has a huge ROM hacking community behind it. According to Soupacell, there is little support past Generation 4.
As one of the first Pokémon ROM hacks to use a new custom engine, as SacredAlmighty tells it, everything in Radical Red was modernized.
“[Radical Red] has all the updated stuff, like it has the raid dens, everything modernized, like eighth gen stuff, z moves, battle terrains, Totem Pokémon. It's literally bringing the last like three or four generations of Pokémon into a GBA [Gameboy Advance] game,” SacredAlmighty said.
The response from the Pokémon community
It’s a feat in itself to pack so much into a ROM hack and make a game have replay value, and the response from the Pokémon community has been overwhelming to say the least.
“I remember the last couple weeks of working on the game, I was worried that this game wouldn't get a lot of attention because I thought that this was like a really crazy game,” he said.
But it did get attention and has kept the community buzzing with excitement.
“Seeing [Radical Red] for the first time was like, ‘wow, this is insane.’ I kinda was just attracted to that. And then when I actually got into the game, it was like, ‘oh, there's more to this game than I thought,’” SacredAlmighty said.
Initially, Soupacell didn’t anticipate that people would play Radical Red multiple times, but in hindsight it makes sense to him.
“The replayability isn't super surprising, mainly because of the amount of Pokémon available,” Soupacell said. “Since there's so many different Pokémon to use … [there’s] always something new.”
So how did other people in the community respond?
“I think we were only at 1,000 members of the Discord. And then within a week, we had 10,000,” Soupacell said. “So I'd say a lot of people really enjoy it. And I think a lot of people don't like it because it's like a little bit of a weird conundrum where this hack looks like it's super accessible because of all the features it has. But at the same time, it's super difficult.”
Lead image credit: Chizzy / YouTube