Pokemon Unbound is incredibly ambitious.
It’s a Pokemon ROM hack that uses the Complete FireRed Upgrade, containing a Gen 8 level custom battle Engine, all Pokemon from Gen 1 to Gen 7, most of the moves and abilities from those generations, and a lot of the gimmicks from every generation.
It has a completely unique story that you’ll find nowhere else, a new world that has been designed from the ground up to be nothing like you’ve ever seen in any other Pokemon game, multiple different difficulty modes, a MASSIVE post-game that contains basically every legendary Pokemon in the game up until Gen 8, and so much more.
Because of this, it’s quite a daunting prospect, and it’s something that you’ve got to dedicate hours to, so I answer that big question that is: is it worth your time?
Table of Contents
A Whole New World
Pokemon Unbound introduces you to the brand-new region of Borrius.
Borrius is a land still haunted by a war that happened thousands of years ago, and you’re a kid (fully customizable too, in a pretty great character customizer) in this world while a deadly plot to change everything is happening.
Plot-wise it’s extremely complex for a Pokemon game (which isn’t saying too much, but you get what I mean), and it’s also incredibly dark.
It’s not as dark as it was before the final release happened (older versions of the game featured a man getting set on fire, which is frankly something that just wouldn’t ever happen in a world filled with Pokemon), but it’s still got some really dark story beats and moments that feel like they come out of a Pokemon game designed for players who grew up with the series.
The two evil teams in the game, who are battling against each other and who you very occasionally get in the middle of, are the Shadows and the Light of Ruin, who feel like somebody looked at Team Rocket and thought ‘How can I make them even cooler?’.
There’s twists, there’s turns and there’s stuff here that hits new storytelling heights in the best Pokemon ROM hacks scene.
Once you’re done with the story though, there’s even more to do.
Pokemon Unbound looks at other games and takes from them the idea of a mission list, with various different things that you’re tasked to do across the entire region.
There’s a LOT of missions to do, and some of them will take longer than others, but they’ll add tens of hours to your playtime even after you’ve completed the main story and beat the evil organization that’s dodging your every move.
The game also has multiple different difficulty levels, so if you get bored with the normal difficulty you can ratchet it up a notch
In terms of Pokemon, you’ve got access to seven different generations of Pokemon.
There are a few missing here and there, but mostly you have access to almost any Pokemon that you could possibly want in your team.
There’s even (almost) every legendary from every different generation.
Your starters are completely different from the usual Grass, Fire, and Water-type Pokemon that you’re used to in your time playing your traditional best Pokemon games.
Instead, you’ve got Garchomp (Ground, Dragon), Beldum (Psychic, Steel), and Larvitar (Rock, Ground).
What this leads to is a much different dynamic to start with, with your Pokemon being useful in extremely different scenarios to the usual starters.
There’s not just the seven generations of Pokemon, either…
Through a meticulous level of coding and sprite work, the creators of Pokemon Unbound have managed to put both Mega Evolutions AND Dynamax Pokemon into a hack for Pokemon FireRed, a game from 2004.
Throughout your journey across Borrius, you’ll come across Mega Evolution stones and once you reach a certain point in the story you’ll be able to mega evolve the appropriate Pokemon in a beautiful sequence that has great sprite work.
Dynamaxing doesn’t come up as often as Mega Evolution, but it does come up in certain side-missions and story moments.
Usually, it’s prompted by your opponent dynamaxing, often using a legendary Pokemon in a moment that is absolutely terrifying.
You’re then able to Dynamax your own Pokemon, unlocking new moves that are super powerful. You need to bring their health down before you’re given the option to catch them, unlike other Pokemon which you can try and catch at any time during a battle.
With the sheer amount to do, the sheer amount of Pokemon to catch, and the maddeningly deep story, this could be argued as one of the best Pokemon GBA ROM hacks ever made.
In the hands of lesser creators, it could have become extremely cringe and have felt like it was trying too hard to be edgy for its own good (which indeed, it did at times in the earlier versions of the game), yet here it’s rather masterful.
Sure, there are still moments that would feel out of place in an actual Pokemon game now and again, but most of the time you could actually see this as an official Pokemon game developed by Game Freak.
In short, Pokemon Unbound is absolutely worth your time.
In a bigger sense, this might be one of the best Pokemon games ever made. Sure, it’s built on a ground of things that came before, using Fire Red itself as a base game, but it’s modified so much that they’re almost incomparable titles.
It’s better than not only almost every single other Pokemon fan game but even surpasses most of the mainline games, with only a few select titles managing to surpass it.
If you’re bored of modern Pokemon, you owe it to yourself to play this ROM hack, and even if you’re not, you still owe it to yourself if you have time.
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Ryan is a seasoned retro gaming features writer with bylines at Fanbyte, PCGamesN, Lost In Cult and more. When he’s not writing, you can find him playing retro video games.