Recently, we have gone over how to mod your GBA with a backlit screen, discussed what is the best GBA Flash cart and what is the best way to play your GBA games but we neglected to actually talk about the most important thing: The games!
I thought I would outline some of the best Game Boy Advance games here, but with a twist. In this list, I will show you some of the best Rom Hacks available for your GBA and how to apply these patches.
What are GBA Rom Hacks?
For the uninitiated, Rom Hacks are patches you can apply to your Game Boy Advance games that offer a different experience from the original game. This can include simple things like fixing in-game text to more extreme endeavours like totally converting every aspect of a game or expanding it. Let’s have a look at some of the best GBA rom hacks: –
The Last Promise (Fire Emblem)
The Last Promise is a rom hack for Fire Emblem that is so well made you probably wouldn’t even know it’s an unofficial entry in the series if you played it blindly. The Last Promise is a total overhaul featuring new characters, a deep storyline and great music even featuring remixes from other titles.
The mod is pretty well balanced and provides a good challenge even for seasoned Fire Emblem fans. If you enjoy Fire Emblem, you owe it to yourself to try out this great ‘addition’ to the series.
PC Conversion Pack (DOOM II)
DOOM & DOOM II on the Game Boy Advance are great, for portable versions and run surprisingly well. The Game Boy Advance just about managed to pull this off, albeit with everything being a little pixelated. This is where the PC Conversion pack for DOOM II comes in, this mod cleans everything up replacing all sprites, palettes and textures with the original DOS versions. This has the added benefit of turning the blood and gore back from the censored green to red, as it should be.
The main reason I would say to check this mod out is the added nearest neighbour filtering. This makes your image appear a lot sharper and easier to see what’s going on. I highly recommend it!
Pokémon Radical Red (Pokémon Fire Red)
This wouldn’t be a GBA Rom Hack list without featuring at least one Pokémon mod. One of the main reasons I am actually writing this is because when I was searching for Rom hacks to try out myself, every single list was dominated with Pokémon games, in fact, it was quite difficult to find any information that was not a Pokémon game.
Of the 100s (Probably even 1000s) of Pokémon rom hacks, Radical Red offers the most features. It’s a complete overhaul of Pokémon Fire Red adding so much from later games in the series including extra Pokémon from the later generations, in fact, it includes Pokémon all the way up to the current-gen. This makes for some seriously diverse team setups allowing you to choose from well over 800+ Pokémon. The difficulty here is rebalanced and offers a substantial challenge as well as adding raids, Dynamax, Mega evolutions, breeding tweaks such as being able to pay for IVs and so much more. Be sure to check this out if you want a ‘complete’ Pokémon experience that is great for competitive play. It will easily keep you busy for 100s of hours.
War Room Challenge 2012 (Advance Wars 2)
The Advance Wars series provided me with hundreds of hours of challenging gameplay over the years and I really wish this series makes a comeback, particularly the style of the Game Boy Advance versions. Luckily, War Room Challenge 2012 mods Advance Wars 2 to add a ton of new content.
War Room Challenge 2012 was originally supposed to be a quick hack for the developer estimated to take around a month to finish, yet development ended up taking well over a year to complete. This Rom hack adds 30 additional War Room maps, some being remixed from other titles in the series, but most are brand new. Other refinements and gameplay additions include new COs from the Advance Wars series even including some from the DS games, Improved AI, Unlockables obtained via ‘S’ ranks, a new tutorial map explaining the game’s tweaks and additions and the ability to face off against veteran enemies, like Strum, Caulder and Von Bolt. This Rom hack is a must-have for anyone who wants more Advance Wars.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced Battle: (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance)
This patch is an overhaul of FFTA and adds the ability to tame monster units. This new mechanic allows you to use a ‘Capture Orb’ (Think Pokeball) to capture monsters and have them join your party as units.
The challenge with this mod comes from disabling humanoid party members, You’ll have to make do with your captured monsters and limited Humanoid characters to fight your way through the 300 missions on offer. You’ll also have access to move sets that are not even available to Blue Mages as they are too powerful. Tactics Advance battle adds a new level of challenge to this, somewhat, underrated GBA game and is relatively new, so could be updated to add even more features.
Sound Restoration and Framerate Fix (Final Fantasy V & VI)
The GameBoy Advance has some truly great ports of some of nearly all the numbered releases of Final Fantasy (Besides FFIII). IV, V & VI were essential straight ports with a few added features, and I & II were remakes. Although, great to have these massive sprawling RPGs in handheld form, the ports of V & VI, in particular, had a couple of issues.
This Sound Restoration and Framerate fix does exactly what it says. The music in the GBA ports was a little softer and I have seen it referred to as ‘Fuzzy’ which perfectly sums it up. It’s not a complete deal-breaker, but as someone who is overly familiar with the soundtrack from both games, It is noticeable. This mod also aims to fix the sometimes laggy framerate the GBA ports have when scrolling and does a pretty good job. I would highly suggest patching your Roms with this improvement pack.
Super Mario Advance Voice Removal (SMA)
Strangely, Nintendo chose to release a reworked version of Super Mario Bros. 2 as a launch title for the GBA. Being a launch title for their brand new GameBoy Advance, Nintendo wanted to demonstrate just how far they had come in terms of sound. All four characters in Super Mario Advance now have voice samples for a variety of actions, including picking up powerups, lifting and throwing objects and enemies and taking damage. Hearing these for the first time is pretty cool, especially if you have played the original Super Mario Bros 2 or the version included with Super Mario All-Stars. Now, after literally 5 minutes of play and your seventh time hearing “Just what I needed”, these voices become very abrasive. (I still have nightmares about the noises Toad makes!)
This Rom hack is a real godsend, it strips out all character voices and replaces them with the appropriate SFX from the SNES version. The bosses over the top, high pitched dialogue has also been replaced with generic SFX. Now you can actually play through the game with your volume turned up again!
How To Apply Your GBA Rom Hacks
Now, you may be wondering how to apply these hacks to your games in the first place? It’s quite straightforward actually, you will need a Rom of the game you intend to apply the patch to, the patch itself and a PC program to apply the patch.
The two main types of patches tend to be either in IPS or UPS format, but the procedure is practically Identical. Let me give you a demonstration, I will patch my Rom of Advance Wars 2 with the War Room Challenge 2012 rom hack.
With your .gba rom successfully dumped, we now need to find our Patch files. Head over to romhacking.net to search for the files you need. Once you have found the Rom hack you want to apply, head to the bottom of the page and click on download:
Move the downloaded patch file to the same directory as your dumped Rom. We will then need to download a patcher. As this hack is in the .IPS format we will want to download lunar IPS Patcher which you can get here.
Copy over Lunar IPS.exe to the same folder as your Rom and IPS patch.
Double click on Lunar IPS.exe and click ‘Apply IPS Patch’
Select the .ips file you have downloaded and click open and then select the .gba file and do the same.
You should get a message saying the file was successfully patched.