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I played the best Pokemon rom hack and it took me on an emotional journey I never expected | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


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When it comes to rom hacks, Pokemon has long been one of the most popular franchises to mod, with dozens of players creating their own versions of the game. Some of these have aimed to tell their own stories while others have added brand new Pokemon to the game. But, when it comes to the best of the best, Pokemon Yellow Legacy, and its predecessor Pokemon Crystal Legacy, may stand above the rest.

Rom hacks and mods are almost as old as video games themselves. For decades, gamers have been modifying their favorite games for a variety of reasons. From improving upon the developer’s original work to crafting their own stories in their favorite universes, or just adding a fresh spin on a game, which has even led to video game genres being created. For example, the Battle Royale genre stems from an Arma 3 mod in 2014 that eventually morphed into H1Z1. Other iconic titles have been birthed from mods too, including Counter-Strike which began life as a Half-Life mod, and Dota which was originally a Warcraft 3 mod.

Pokemon Yellow Legacy was created by YouTuber TheSmithPlays and acts as a ‘Definitive Edition’ of the game. Bringing many quality-of-life changes, adding new story elements, and just making this the best Generation 1 Pokemon experience that is available today for long-time fans of the series. I had coincidentally been watching a lot of Pokemon content on YouTube shortly before Pokemon Yellow Legacy was released, so when TheSmithPlays’ video about this mod appeared in my recommended feed, it seemed like perfect timing to try it out.

As a player who has spent the past 25 of my life as a Pokemon fan and have put multiple thousands of hours into the Generation 1 Pokemon games, and the series as a whole, being able to play my favorite Pokemon generation of games with a fresh coat of paint was incredibly appealing, especially to take a break from the dozens of hours a week I spend Helldiving to bring you all of our great Helldivers 2 coverage. With Pokemon Yellow Legacy changing up the game in many ways, I couldn’t just play it on autopilot as I do with the Gen 1 games these days. This ended up taking me on a journey I never expected to go on, as I reminisced about my beginnings as a Pokemon Trainer, my journey to becoming a Pokemon Master, and the future. So, here is a mini-review and breakdown of Pokemon Yellow Legacy, as well as my story as I go back in time and set out once again to become the very best like no one ever was.

My Journey To Becoming The Very Best Like No One Ever Was

Like tens of millions of gamers across the world, it is hard to remember a time when Pokemon wasn’t a part of my life. Since it first debuted in Japan in 1996, Pokemon has become the highest-grossing media franchise in the world, generating over $88 billion as of 2019, spanning video games, TV shows, movies, trading cards, and more merchandise than I could begin to document here. When it comes to video games, it has seen nine different generations, beginning with Generation 1 consisting of Red, Blue, Yellow, and the Japanese-exclusive Green, and the most recent being 2022’s Scarlet and Violet. The next entry in the series, Pokemon Legends Z-A, is set to release in 2025 on the Nintendo Switch, and possibly the upcoming Nintendo Switch 2 (working title) if the rumors are true.

If you were around during the initial release of Pokemon in the late 90s, it was just a different time that is difficult to describe. The whole world went into a Pokemon frenzy in a way rarely seen since The Beatles took the music world by storm in the early 1960s. Everywhere you turned there was Pokemon, from kids and adults across the world with their eyes glued to their Game Boys as they set out to become Pokemon Trainers, to the latest episode of the anime being shown on TV before school, kids in the playground battling and trading their favorite cards, and even a major movie release at cinemas. For a period of around three years, it is hard to describe just how huge Pokemon was, I think the only modern equivalent would be 2018-2019 Fortnite.

A video game screen displays a character selection menu with options: New Name, Green, Leaf, Amanda. Reminiscent of classic Pokémon titles, a character with red hair and a black outfit is shown on the right. Text reads: "First, what is your name?
Image captured by VideoGamer

I can still remember getting my first copy of Pokemon. After reading about this unusual game called Pokemon in a magazine that had become the hottest title in Japan and the US before making its way to the UK, I just had to play it myself. So, my Uncle Mark took me to my local Chips store and I was left facing a dilemma, Pokemon Red or Blue? Which one do I choose? In essence, both games are almost identical except for some minor changes in which Pokemon can be caught, as well as a different color palette if you own a Game Boy Color, which I didn’t at the time.

Chips may also be a name that doesn’t ring a bell for many gamers but one that is home to a lot of my earlier gaming memories. It was a chain of small gaming stores in the UK, primarily in the north of England with some franchises scattered across the country. Despite being a chain of stores, it still retained an independent feel that set it apart from its larger competitors, with a focus on imports from the US and Japan. It was a perfect balance between a major retailer and niche independent stores. Sadly, with the shift into a digital age, coupled with the likes of Amazon destroying the high street, Chips eventually shut down in 2013 and it is always a sad moment to walk by the door and not hear the old WWF Wrestlefest 1991 arcade cabinet blaring as the likes of Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, and The Legion of Doom duked it out.

I would also like to take this opportunity to shout out my Uncle Mark, after all, how many opportunities in my journalism career will I have to give thanks to the person who unintentionally played an instrumental part in my love of gaming and eventual career within the industry itself? One of my earliest memories in life is when I was 3-4 years old and I was obsessed with playing Super Mario World, and I was really good at it. My Uncle and his friends would bring me their cartridges on their lunch breaks at work so I could complete the harder levels for them or reach secret exits. Fast forward a couple of years and he bought himself a PlayStation 1 and a copy of Resident Evil which he let me play. I lasted up until the dog room about five minutes in before being killed. Today, Resident Evil is my favorite gaming franchise of all time, I complete various games in the series dozens of times per year and speedrun them too. He also played a large part in my love of wrestling and took me to attend the only two wrestling shows I have seen live. So, thank you for playing a large part in my early gaming journey that has led to my life being focused on video games as I get to share my passion with the world through creating content.

Screenshot from a Pokémon game shows Pikachu at level 23 in battle against Misty, who expresses, "I can't believe I lost!" Pikachu's HP is at 22 out of 65. This iconic moment captures the intense emotions and strategy typical in Pokémon battles.Screenshot from a Pokémon game shows Pikachu at level 23 in battle against Misty, who expresses, "I can't believe I lost!" Pikachu's HP is at 22 out of 65. This iconic moment captures the intense emotions and strategy typical in Pokémon battles.
Image captured by VideoGamer

Now, back to the matter at hand. I ended up choosing Pokemon Red, and except for Generation 2 which I will touch on shortly, choosing the ‘first’ game in the generation would lead to a trend that continues to this day. I took my copy home, put the cartridge into my Game Boy Pocket, and turned on the game that would change my life forever. One of the most memorable moments in a young gamer’s life is choosing your first starter Pokemon. I chose Bulbasaur and it is now my favorite Pokemon of all time. I can still remember that first day, sitting on my bed with my transparent Game Boy Pocket held underneath my lamp. I can vividly remember everything about the moment as I was traveling through Viridian Forest for the first time, that moment is ingrained in my memory forever. I was hooked and it was my goal to become a Pokemon Master, and I achieved that goal.

I used so many batteries in the first weeks of owning the game that I eventually had to get a power supply because my journey to becoming a Pokemon Master was becoming far too expensive. I eventually got a copy of Pokemon Blue so I could use my original Game Boy to trade with myself so I could acquire all 150 Pokemon on one cartridge, which led to my obsessive self having each of the 150 Pokemon in my boxes. My fascination with Pokemon only continued to grow as time went on, from amassing thousands of trading cards and battling anyone who had a deck, to purchasing a Japanese copy of Pokemon Silver so I could play the second generation before it hit stores in the west.

This is my only exception to purchasing the ‘first’ game in the generation naming as a friend of mine bought Gold so I went with Silver. And then we both proceeded to play our Japanese copies every day together, not understanding what we were doing as neither of us understood Japanese. But we figured it out and beat the games before the English versions were released, and when Pokemon Gold and Silver hit UK stores, we beat them again.

Now that you’ve read my incredibly long-winded way of telling you that I love Pokemon, you may be wondering what this has to do with Pokemon Yellow Legacy. Well, nothing really. But, since Pokemon Yellow Legacy has overhauled many aspects of the game, this experience took me back to a happier time in life and I was frequently reminded of moments in my early years as a fan of the series, as I went on an emotional nostalgic journey back to the 90s. So I wanted to share these stories with the world as I can’t imagine I will have another opportunity to do so.

But, since you’ve indulged me long enough in reminiscing about my childhood, let’s talk about Pokemon Yellow Legacy.

A Familiar Yet Different Experience

If you have played a Pokemon game before, you know what to expect. You face a selection of Gym Leaders before fighting the Elite Four, or its equivalent, to become the Pokemon Champion. Like the vanilla games, you work your way through the eight Gyms across Kanto, as well as completing side-objectives such as the Team Rocket Hideout, before facing the Elite Four and your Rival to become the Pokemon Champion. But, there are some changes, it wouldn’t be a rom hack otherwise.

Across the board, from Trainers, Gym Leaders, Team Rocket, and the Elite Four, their teams have been upgraded and for the most part made more difficult. This can be from higher levels, different teams, or improved move sets that better match the Pokemon. An example of this is Misty who has had her team of a level 18 Staryu and level 21 Starmie replaced with a team matching what we see in the anime, with her instead using a level 19 Psyduck, level 18 Goldeen, and level 21 Staryu.

Screenshot of a Pokémon battle showing Alakazam using the move "Psychic" against Arcanine. The tension rises as Arcanine, at level 54, faces off against a formidable enemy in Alakazam, who's at level 59. Classic Pokémon action unfolds before your eyes!Screenshot of a Pokémon battle showing Alakazam using the move "Psychic" against Arcanine. The tension rises as Arcanine, at level 54, faces off against a formidable enemy in Alakazam, who's at level 59. Classic Pokémon action unfolds before your eyes!
Image captured by VideoGamer

Like the original games, you have the ability to beat Gym Leaders 4-6, Erika, Koga, and Sabrina, in the order that you see fit. But, their teams will depend on the order that you beat them, with their team getting harder if you beat them later in the game. For example, if you choose to beat Erika as the 4th Gym Leader as she is intended to be, her team will range from level 31-35. But, if you beat her as the 6th Gym Leader, her team will have gotten strong and will range from level 48-50.

But, it is not just battles that have been overhauled, there have been many quality-of-life changes made to the game. When playing through the Generation 1 games again, it does feel incredibly primitive compared to more modern titles, so the developers have implemented many changes to make it feel more modern. These include Running Shoes being added to allow for faster movement. Nurse Joy will heal your Pokemon faster, HMs can be used without going into your team, and they can be forgotten from move sets. A level meter has been added to the battle UI so you can see how close you are to level up, as well as an icon to show whether you have caught the Pokemon before or not.

The back sprites have also been improved to look more recognizable, some of them in the original are incredibly bad such as Charmeleon. Many moves and Pokemon have also been overhauled and improved to either bring them in line with future releases, as well as make some more viable to be used. And finally, you can now play as a female character. You will notice all of the screenshots in this post are using the female character to be able to easily show they are from Pokemon Yellow Legacy and not the original game.

Screenshot of a Pokémon battle from a Game Boy game. Charizard (Level 51) is battling Tangela (Level 64). The text reads: "Enemy TANGELA's attack continues!" in classic Pokemon style. Charizard has 138/156 HP remaining.Screenshot of a Pokémon battle from a Game Boy game. Charizard (Level 51) is battling Tangela (Level 64). The text reads: "Enemy TANGELA's attack continues!" in classic Pokemon style. Charizard has 138/156 HP remaining.
Image captured by VideoGamer

All of these changes really improve the experience, especially as a long-time player of the Generation 1 games dating back to the original Gameboy releases in the 90s. Pokemon Yellow Legacy feels familiar, but different enough that it felt like a new experience and I wasn’t able to just play the game on autopilot like I can with the base game due to the thousands of hours I have put into them over the past quarter of a century.

The Post-Game Is Where Pokemon Yellow Legacy Comes Alive

In the vanilla Generation 1 games, once you defeat the Elite Four and your rival, you are pretty much done with the game. All that is left is catching Mewtwo and completing your Pokedex if that matters to you, then all you can do is fight the Elite Four again and again until you eventually get bored and start a new save file. This is different in every mainline Pokemon game that has followed it, with them each having an extensive post-game section that sometimes feels like the Elite Four, or its equivalent, is just the halfway point in the game. Pokemon Yellow Legacy features a post-game that adds many more battles to take part in, as well as a never-before-seen story that wraps up the game perfectly.

NOTE: From this point until the next heading, this post will feature spoilers for the complete post-game section of Pokemon Yellow Legacy. If this matters to you, consider this your SPOILER ALERT.

Two characters next to each other on a grassy path in a pixelated game. One character proposes a sparring match in the dialogue box, reminiscent of Pokemon battles, and a third character stands nearby.Two characters next to each other on a grassy path in a pixelated game. One character proposes a sparring match in the dialogue box, reminiscent of Pokemon battles, and a third character stands nearby.
Image captured by VideoGamer

Upon defeating the Elite Four and your rival, you return to Pallet Town just like in the original game. But, Professor Oak is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he can be found taking his lunch break in the grass where you first encountered Pikachu at the start of the game. He will explain how you have inspired him to become a trainer once again after spending years focusing on research instead, and then he will challenge you to a battle. This does use unused code in the game, meaning that a battle with Professor Oak was supposed to take place in the original games at one point. Professor Oak also comes prepared with an incredibly strong team, consisting of a Tauros, which was confirmed to be in the unused battle so the developers kept it in. Charizard, Blasoise, Venusaur, and a Snorlax, with these four being a nod to some of the most commonly used Pokemon in the game. And finally, the team is rounded out by Nidoking, who is often said to be the best Pokemon in the Generation 1 games. Once you defeat him, he will go back to his lab and continue to improve as a trainer in the hope that you can battle again.

Now that Professor Oak has been defeated, you can challenge seven of the Gym Leaders to a rematch, with Giovanni not being included. The Gym Leaders each feature a full team of six Pokemon that will keep players on their toes as they are much stronger than the first time you battled them. An example of this is Brock who now uses a level 64 Omastar, level 65 Onix, level 64 Kabutops, level 64 Golem, level 64 Ninetails, and level 65 Aerodactyl. Each of the Gym Leaders features a team of level 64 and 65 Pokemon, meaning you will need to level up your team to be able to defeat them all. But, its not just the Gym Leaders you can battle again, the Elite Four have also stepped things up with even more powerful teams ranging from level 70 to 77.

Like Professor Oak, there are also some other brand-new battles against key characters in the Pokemon anime. The first is Officer Jenny in Vermillion City, she will challenge you to a battle using a team of level 65 Pokemon. Nurse Joy can also be found in the Pokemon Center in Fuchsia City, once she heals your team she will challenge you to a battle, also utilizing a team of level 65 Pokemon. There are also some special battles that pit you against some of the developers of this rom hack that can be found in the locations of the three legendary birds, which is a fun addition and something that can catch players off guard as you’re not expecting a trainer battle to happen at the time.

Now that you have beaten all of the new battles, Gym Leader, and Elite Four rematches, you are tasked with completing the Pokemon by catching all 150 Pokemon. Unlike the vanilla versions of the game, all 150 Pokemon can be caught or evolved in Pokemon Yellow Legacy. The trade evolutions, Golem, Gengar, Alakazam, and Machamp now evolve from their second evolutions at level 42. Raichu can be found in a couple of areas such as the Power Plant. Eevee can be found in the grass before Victory Road, allowing for the other two Eeveelutions to be acquired. The second Fossil Pokemon is given to you in Fuchsia City. Finally, Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan can both be found at Victory Road so you can gain the second one that you didn’t choose at the Saffron City Dojo.

A Pokémon battle scene from a video game showcases a character facing off against a level 70 Mew with a nearly full HP bar.A Pokémon battle scene from a video game showcases a character facing off against a level 70 Mew with a nearly full HP bar.
Image captured by VideoGamer

Once you have added all 150 Pokemon to your Pokedex, that is everything the game completed, right? Well…not quite, there is one more task to complete. When you show off your completed Pokedex to Professor Oak, the sight of Mewtwo’s inclusion has him shaken, and he will leave to do some research. Follow him to the Mansion at Cinnabar Island where you will need to fight him again, this time he has the three legendary birds in his team. Once you defeat him, you will find the 151st Pokemon, Mew, in the Mansion where you can catch it and officially complete your Pokedex to finish the game.

I Became The Very Best Like No One Ever Was

With 151 Pokemon registered in my Pokedex, that was it, I was once again a Pokemon Master and had become the very best like no one ever was. I visited Professor Oak to show him my accomplishments and returned home to say hi to Mom. Then I went back to my bedroom where the journey all began and let the familiar Pallet Town music play for the next few minutes as I reflected on the journey I had undertaken both in the game and over the past 25 years of my life as the post-game depression rushed over me.

A pixelated video game scene featuring a character and a Pikachu in a room with a bed, computer, TV, and plant. The room has a striped floor pattern and is colored in shades of purple and blue, capturing the essence of the Pokemon world.A pixelated video game scene featuring a character and a Pikachu in a room with a bed, computer, TV, and plant. The room has a striped floor pattern and is colored in shades of purple and blue, capturing the essence of the Pokemon world.
Image captured by VideoGamer

As the music played through my headphones with a sense of calm and peace in my heart, I thought back to when my time as a Pokemon trainer first began. Spending hundreds of hours completing Pokemon Red, filling my PC with all 150 unique Pokemon, and leveling up as many as I could to level 100 to show I was the greatest trainer. Playing Pokemon Silver in Japanese so I could beat the game before any of my friends. Watching the Pokemon anime every day before school, trading and battling cards with my friends. Those were happier times when life had a sense of childhood innocence. I had no intention of writing this feature and was only playing for my own enjoyment as a fan. But, after playing the game and experiencing this unexpected journey, I had to share it with the world, and thankfully I have been given a platform to do that.

I then thought about my young son and how since he was born I’ve been looking forward to the day when he is old enough for me to show him Pokemon for the first time. The excitement and anticipation as I let him choose his first starter, and send him on his own journey to become a Pokemon Master just like I had embarked on as a child as I look on with pride and vicariously relive my childhood again through his eyes. Maybe it is because of when I think back to my childhood, to a time when my world still had an innocence about it before it was scarred by the grief and darkness that comes with time passing us by, Pokemon brought a lot of happiness to my life. And who knows, if Pokemon is still popular in a couple of decades, maybe my son will share Pokemon with his children and send them on their journeys to become Pokemon Masters too, and I hope I’m around to be their Professor Oak and impart decades and knowledge and wisdom on them like he did to us all of those years ago in Pallet Town.

I bet you didn’t expect to read a dissertation-length essay on Pokemon when you clicked on this article. An article that had me smiling many times as I wrote it, as well as wiping away a tear or two as I thought about those who are no longer here and I wish I could have shared more of this journey with them. So thank you for making it to the end and indulging my opportunity to talk about a time in my life that I hold so dear.

Thank you TheSmithPlays and your team for creating Pokemon Yellow Legacy. Thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey as both a Pokemon Trainer and a gamer for the past 30+ years of my life. And thank you VideoGamer for allowing me the platform to relive and share these memories with the world.

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