What exactly is a ROM Hack?

Do you know what a ROM Hack is? If not, you should definitely read this article.

Most of you may know what a ROM Hack is, but there still quite a few people who don’t. First of all I want to state that ROM hacking isn’t actually hacking but it’s editing. There are many questions to answer, and that’s what I’m going to do in this article.

First question: “What actually is a ROM?”

Pokemon Vega, is a well-known ROM Hacks with fake Pokemon (Fakemon)
Pokemon Vega, is a well-known ROM Hack with fake Pokemon (Fakemon).

ROM stands for Read-Only Memory. We usually use this term when we refer to “emulation” and can be explained like this: it’s when older games (in our case GBA) are copied to ROM files on better computers so we can access to it by a software called an “emulator“.

There are many emulators available for a range of different platforms. The most common Game Boy Advance emulator is VisualBoyAdvance.

Second question: “What is a ROM Hack?”

Like I stated before, ROM hacking is not actually hacking; it’s editing. It’s the editing of a ROM in order to change some basic features of the ROM; features like dialogue, graphics, maps and storyline, among other things. So, it’s actually an edited version of the original ROM.

Pokemon Gaia is the winner of the "ROM Hack of the year" contest. 2015
Pokemon Gaia is the winner of the “ROM Hack of the year” contest in 2015

Third question: “Is it neccessary to have knowledge about programming to make a ROM hack?”

Definitely not! There are quite a few tools on PokéCommunity that are quite easy to use. However, programming knowledge sure can make things much easier but it’s not neccessary. Check out the PokéCommunity’s ROM Hacking Tools section!

Fourth question: “What differentiates a ROM hack from a fan game?”

Like I stated before, a ROM Hack is the edited version of an already existing ROM like FireRed or Emerald. Fan games are developed with custom engines that try to closely match the actual Pokémon games. Because they aren’t held to the same limits as a Game Boy Advance, they can be expanded in different ways.

Some common techniques

Pokemon Eclipse was placed second in the "Hack of the year" competition, 2015.
Pokemon Eclipse was placed second in the “Hack of the year” competition, 2015.

Before you start hacking, you must have an idea of the story in your mind. You would then be able to think of a design for your region. After deciding on these, you’ll be good to go and ready to start hacking.

As you hack, you should always back-up some files, for example scripts or maps. Backing-up is very important because if something goes wrong you can get instant access to the back-up and start again.


You should now know the basics of what a ROM hack is with minor details here and there. If you’re interested in ROM hacking be sure to check out the ROM Hacking forum on PokéCommunity!

Cover image by Kotone
Edited by 5qwerty, bobandbill and Jake.