The clumsy bootleg becomes fully playable
It’s always impressive to see crafty modders making enhancements to fan-favorite games or allowing us to go zombie hunting in Russia, but I myself am more intrigued with the world of retro hacking. The endless imagination and technical achievements on such limited hardware never seizes to amaze me, and this one will certainly catch your eye. After four years of work, someone restored nearly all of Final Fantasy VII on the NES.
Hacker Lugia2009 spent countless days and nights tolling at his restoration of the RPG classic on the NES, fueled by his own love for the original. “That was the first game that made me cry. Everything was just so well done,” Lugia reminisces. Originally, his restoration was to be made with RPG Maker 2000, using 8-bit graphics to “demake” FFVII for PC, but when he discovered the fact that there was a Chinese bootleg version of the title on the Famicom by Nanjing, he was curious to see how well it played. Turns out not too well, sadly.
But that was all the more a reason for him to get on with the fixin’. Having never before either hacked or edited a game, he slowly learned his way around with a tile editor, enabling him to alter the in-game graphics.
“I really wasn’t sure, I started using tile layer pro to edit the map tiles,” Lugia said. “I was just looking to make a slight improvement by editing the character, enemy sprites, and character mugshots. With help from some of the other members of the hacking community, I was able to learn some more about this game.
“Now I’m able to fully edit the music for the game, adjust the game’s character, enemy, materia, weapon growth curves. I can edit the events in the game and I can completely overhaul maps for the game. I can make changes to pretty much every aspect of the game now.”
Altering the in-game graphics wasn’t a speedy process for him, however. The world map alone consisted of 256 individual screens, and within that map were hundreds upon hundreds of rooms, towns and events to be altered and restored to the original dialogue and scenario, as most graphics in the bootleg are just taken from Final Fantasy III.
In order to get the authentic feel, Lugia would juxtapose the original render from the PSX version with his bitmap tile until it had a close resemblance. Each sprite and character had to be edited or entirely remade as well, requiring some skillful sprite work to be done within the limitation of the ROM size, however as the original game was somewhat sluggishly coded, a lot of repeated sprites and tiles allowed for more space to be edited. Though for some events such as the motorcycle and snowboarding, there were no technical solution to enable those.
Maybe most impressive are the all-new additions put into the game. The original bootleg lacked proper cutscenes and endings, so with his wizardry the devoted hacker took it upon himself to draw pixel illustrations, allowing the story to comfortably wrap up.
“They didn’t utilize much of the space they had. The music for this game for example, I think this game only had seven songs. The unused space that was left in that bank could’ve been used to greatly increase the number of songs in the game. Learning how this game works has been a challenge. That, and the events for the game have been difficult at times to work on. Especially if I needed to make a complex event like Aerith’s death scene and creating the battle arena.”
But even after four years of hard hacking work, Lugia doesn’t seem to be slowing down. His next project is a full restoration of Pokemon Yellow, based on Nanjing’s port of the game.
“Shenzhen Nanjing made a NES port of Pokemon Yellow that is near perfect. It’s of much higher quality than any of their other games that I have seen. I began translating this game’s main story and I translated most of the battle dialogue. I also completely redid the music for this game to match Pokemon R/B/Y. After that, I’m going to start working on a translation of the NES version of Resident Evil.”
You can get Lugia’s fantastic Final Fantasy VII NES Restoration patch at Romhacking.net!