15 Hardest Pokémon ROM Hacks & Fan Games To Up The Difficulty

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One of the most popular ways to keep you coming back to old Pokémon games is simply by ramping up the difficulty.

More powerful wild encounters, devastating enemy trainer teams, and impossible gym gauntlets are only some ways we can turn up the heat.

Some people just can’t get enough of barely getting through a Gym or losing their favorite Pokémon in a particularly intense Nuzlocke run.

And if that’s you, well then you’ll love our ranking of the absolute hardest Pokémon ROM hacks ever created. Have a look.


15. Touhoumon World Link

Touhoumon World Link Game screenshot

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Let’s start the list with an unorthodox pick.

Replacing Pokémon with cute anime girls is simply the logical next step after learning about ROM hacking.

And Touhoumon World Link was one of the first complete products to achieve
Pokémon Emerald’s critters are replaced with girls from the Touhou franchise, known for its extensive cast of cute female characters and for having a dedicated fanbase – as you can tell from Touhoumon.it.

While not its main appeal, the game is tough. The level curve is wacky at times, and some of the game’s custom ‘mons are simply too OP.

Get ready to get OHKO’d often.


14. Pokémon Snakewood

Pokémon Snakewood Gameplay

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Long-time ROM hack enthusiasts will remember Pokémon Snakewood from back in 2007.

It’s one of the most cited games when people look around for the hardest Pokémon ROM hack others have played.

This hack of Pokémon Ruby for the Game Boy Advance portrays a zombie a-poké-lypse engulfing the Hoenn region.

Your journey toward survival will also be rife with occult villains like demons and witches.

In this game, the enemy AI is aggressive and won’t cut you any slack if they can help it. They have unique Fakemon with absurd stats that’re tough to overcome.

The puzzles are also among the most obtuse I’ve ever tried to solve. And I’ve played some real odd games.


13. Pokémon Insurgence

Pokémon Insurgence screenshot

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Pokémon Insurgence is one of the most enjoyable Pokémon fan-games around. And it’ll offer a tough challenge for trainers willing to try its Hard difficulty.

The game deals with the problem of over-leveling by placing a Pokémon level cap on all the main fights throughout your exploration of the Torren region.

You’ll be forced to strategize and make full use of the tools the game gives you, just to make your Pokémon stronger beyond leveling.

The game does away with HMs altogether, too. So your party can focus 100% on combat strategy.

Other than its steep difficulty, the game also shines for its customizable main character, new “Delta” form Pokémon, and new Mega Evolutions.


12. Pokémon Blue Kaizo

Pokémon Blue Kaizo Game

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If you’re fond of the gen 1 classics, Pokémon Blue Kaizo will offer a more challenging take on this seminal title.

This hack goes beyond making some trainers stronger along your adventure.

All routes and dungeons now have some of the most brutal map layouts I’ve ever faced.

All Gym Leaders have full teams, and their AI is surprisingly good at predicting your moves.

Getting through the Victory Road in this game is just a titanic ordeal. Anyone who manages to Nuzlocke this hack deserves their spot in the Hall of Fame.


11. Pokémon FireRed Omega

Pokémon FireRed Omega Game screenshot

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Pokémon FireRed Omega is the first in a long list of fantastic, hard-as-nails hacks by creator Drayano.

This hack was an inspiration for many fans to create their own ROM hacks, and it’s become a bit of a standard by which to measure Pokémon ROM hacks and fan-games.

This hack of FireRed retains the same story and visuals as the original. But it supercharges enemy trainers to pose a real challenge to even the best Pokémon trainers.

Every trainer has better Pokémon, competent movesets, and some unique critters here and there that’ll unexpectedly wipe the floor with you.


10. Pokémon Crystal Kaizo

Pokémon Crystal Kaizo Gameplay

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I only know a couple of people who can claim to have beat Pokémon Crystal Kaizo, let alone any funny business like doing a Nuzlocke run.

This game is brutal from start to finish.

Routes have been altered to be merciless, enemy bosses have incredible movesets and razor-sharp AI, and some even have shiny Pokémon – because demoralizing the opponent is half the battle.

But it’s not all bad.

The game lets you catch and evolve all Pokémon from the first two generations, allowing you to construct whatever competitive team you wish – if you’re willing to put in the effort.


9. Pokémon Sacred Gold / Storm Silver

Pokémon Sacred Gold / Storm Silver screenshot

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Another challenging ROM hack taking place in Johto:

Pokémon Sacred Gold & Storm Silver by Drayano.

Like most Drayano hacks, SG/SS increases the difficulty by tweaking map layouts, making some puzzles harder, and generally elevating enemy trainers from casual-level to competitive pros.

Many Pokémon in SG/SS have been altered to make them more viable in combat as well. Rival trainers will take full advantage of this by employing unique strategies you won’t see coming. Better come up with some of your own.


8. Pokémon Blaze Black / Volt White 1 & 2

Pokémon Blaze Black / Volt White 1 & 2 Game

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Also from Drayano comes a Pokémon Black & White hack with much of what makes his other hacks so good.

A fair but steep difficulty curve, relentless AI, and enemy team compositions worthy of real competitive play.

A total of 649 Pokémon are available to battle and catch somewhere in the game, and you’ll have access to most of them before the Elite IV.

You’re expected to go all-out and put together the very best team you can.

If you’re looking for some extra action, Challenge Mode is also fantastic.


7. Pokémon Reborn

Pokémon Reborn Game screenshot

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Some people like games they can lose themselves in for weeks at a time.

If you’re like that, you might like Pokémon Reborn.

There are 807 critters to catch, 18 different typed gyms, and a massive world to explore – but you’ll find some resistance on your way.

The game has a level cap on many key fights to prevent just grinding past the game’s challenges.

It will force you to plan and to think outside of the box. You’ll get a lot of use from usually overlooked Pokémon by trying different strategies.

The story may get a little too edgy for comfort, but that’s part of the challenge.


6. Pokémon Rejuvenation

Pokémon Rejuvenation Gameplay

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If you liked Reborn but felt the challenge was still lacking, consider its spiritual successor – Pokémon Rejuvenation.

The game is modeled after Pokémon Emerald, but it’s a fan-game running on a different engine.

You can choose between three difficulty settings, including Intense – the one that earned it a place on the ranking.

You’ll fight fully-evolved Pokémon much more often, and they’ll make their appearance when you least expect it. On top of that, they’ll have much better coverage, which keeps trainers on their toes.


5. Pokémon Dark Rising

Pokémon Dark Rising screenshot

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Pokémon Dark Rising has given people nightmares ever since it was released.

The game is brutally hard and often unfair toward the player.

The only way to get through it is to grind diligently. And even then, you’re never 100% safe.

This ROM hack of Pokémon FireRed includes Pokémon from Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, and Unova.

You’ll get a lot of chances to try out new Pokémon, as even Nurse Joy will challenge you to a Pokémon battle. Seriously.

Despite being poorly made in some regards, the game is very well-known and has a pretty large fanbase.


4. Pokémon Emerald Kaizo

Pokémon Emerald Kaizo Game

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One of the classic “hard ROM hacks” is Pokémon Emerald Kaizo, which leaves the base game’s storyline and progression intact while considerably increasing the difficulty.

Not only will you have to battle more often, but it’ll be considerably more demanding.

Trainer teams were overhauled, and their locations were made more problematic.

You’ll also run into robust and thought-out pairings in doubles when you least expect it.

Battles are not the only thing that’s different in this hack. Ice-sliding puzzles are even harder, and the Seafloor Cavern can be demoralizing.

Keep trying, and you’ll earn some serious bragging rights.


3. Pokémon Radical Red

Pokémon Radical Red Items Menu Screenshot

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One of the most recent releases to catch my eye when putting this ranking together is Pokémon Radical Red, a hack of Pokémon FireRed including Pokémon up to Gen VIII – and even some moves from the Isle of Armor DLC for Pokémon Sword & Shield.

It also includes some much-needed QoL improvements, new Raid Battles, and an expanded TM list.

That said, Pokémon Radical Red remains a difficulty hack at its core.

Enemy team compositions make great use of every Pokémon included in the hack, making them somewhat unpredictable and hard to counter reliably.

Of course, it doesn’t help that you can’t even use items while fighting Gym Leaders and other boss-level enemies. So yeah, this one’s tough.


2. Pokémon Renegade Platinum

Pokémon Renegade Platinum Game screenshot

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A more recent hack by prolific creator Drayano is also one of the greatest – and it’s just as challenging as his other versions.

This is a ROM hack of Pokémon Platinum retaining the same story but revamping all trainers, making “boss” fights tougher, and making all 493 Pokémon obtainable in a single playthrough – most of them before you get to the Elite IV.

While Drayano usually tweaks map design to make routes more treacherous, here it’s also been changed so that only combat-viable HMs like Surf and Rock Smash are necessary to traverse the world.

It’s got a good mix of difficulty, but also genuinely fun/casual gameplay. But still, it’s definitely harder than the original Platinum.


1. Pokémon Vega

Pokémon Vega Gameplay

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The most fair-yet-challenging Pokémon ROM hack has to be Pokémon Vega – an ambitious hack of Pokémon FireRed made by a Japanese team, and translated to English by a group of fans.

This hack empowers enemy trainers by sharpening their AIs, letting their Pokémon use powerful hold items, and letting them use items to fully heal their Pokémon pretty often.

They also have superior team compositions, and Gym Leaders will have a couple of off-type wildcard Pokémon to take you by surprise.

If you value an excellent OST for a hack, and if exploring the region of Tohoak sounds entertaining, you can’t miss out on Pokémon Vega.

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Nelson Chitty

Nelson Chitty is a Venezuelan expat living in Argentina. He’s a writer and translator passionate about history and foreign cultures. His ideal weekend is spent between leisurely playing games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.