Considering making a GBA ROM hack and looking for advice/to have a few questions answered

Hi! I’m a new user here who will be graduating from high school soon. I’ll likely have about 3 months over the summer without a huge amount to do and I’m looking to start an FE8 ROM hack. I have no experience with this sort of thing besides watching Markyjoe’s video on FEbuilder, a few videos on Fire Emblem game/map design and some ideas about characters and a story. Any sort of tips or advice would be greatly apprieciated!

I have a few specific questions about designing a ROM hack that I haven’t been able to find answers to:

  1. How many playable units should I attempt to include in my ROM hack?

I find it easier to think of ideas for units that appear earlier in the game but a cast of 20-30 sounds pretty challenging to integrate well, both from a story and gameplay perspective.

  1. What are things to consider when introducing new units?

From what I understand, introducing units that are worse than their existing counterparts is done either for replay-ability or as replacements if the original unit gets severely stat screwed or dies. Should I aim to have new units be a mix of better than their existing counterparts (better bases?), similar (a mage with better speed vs better mag), or try to have them fulfil a different niche (can’t think of examples off the top of my head for this one)

  1. If they require balance changes, how should I consider changing armour knights?

I haven’t completed any of the GBA games that I’ve started, but armour knights seem pretty underwhelming. This trend also seems to exist in Awakening, Fates, and 3H. Should I try to implement changes like giving them 5 mov? More control over the weapon triangle or access to bows like in Order of the Crimson Arm? Or would it be fine just keeping them the same but with better bases for their join time or access to a pre-promoted one early.

  1. Should I come up with bases/growths for my units by adjusting existing units?

This seems like the easiest way for me to go about this without something going horribly wrong. Does anyone have tips regarding this or things to avoid? E.G I’m aware that Seth is very, very good and using him as a reference point may not be the best idea.

  1. How many chapters should a ROM hack aim to have? And how long would a chapter of average size and complexity take to develop (assuming the project would be done entirely by me)?

I’m aware that the answer to the first question here is dependent on how well I can integrate my story into each chapter, the length of a chapter, and how much time I’m willing to devote to this project. Is there a point where hacks begin to feel too long or short?

  1. Do cavaliers need rebalancing and are there effective ways to go about it?

So far in my GBA playthroughs their extra movement are extremely useful and they make for strong combat units as well. If they need to be weakened slightly, how do these solutions sound: more difficult terrain, more horse-slaying weapons, either making infantry stronger or cavalry weaker in terms of stats, less weapon ranks/control over the weapon triangle.

  1. Should I assume the average ROM hack player is better than most new/casual fans to the series?

This may impact whether or not implementing some kind of tutorial is important to me, or if I can try to immediately have more of a challenge than earlier chapters of some FE games.

  1. This one is more specific to my hack and its story, but is a mounted Oifey a viable archetype for a main character?

There is going to be a Lord type character in my hack, but the Oifey would also be a main character and maybe have marginally more story relevance. I was considering making him a Jagen at first but I don’t have an answer to the dilemma of either making him too strong in the early-game or making him fall off so much that he would be a burden in the mid-late game. What growth spreads/bases should I look at for reference?

  1. Best methods to prevent turtling?

The main piece of advice I found on map design was to prevent turtling. A lot of suggestions either revolve around using a carrot (towns to visit, chests, recruitable characters) or the stick (reinforcements, strict turn timers). Is there any advice you have on how to balance the use of these methods? In other words, how to ensure that the game won’t be too easy if I frequently use good weapons and stat boosters as rewards, or too stressful and unenjoyable if every map pushes the player to play fast and aggressive.

  1. Is this a viable concept for a prologue chapter?

The prologue is meant to simulate an endgame chapter (final stage promotions, grand looking battlefield) while not being too complex or having too many moving parts. I’m thinking of doing this by including minimal units and enemies (for story reasons), and a map that is small for an endgame chapter. More importantly, would players be frustrated if the prologue chapter doesn’t provide much (if any) rewards? The concept is similar to the prologue of the hack “Justice and Pride” where the main lord dies in the prologue and unless you give the Jagen unit that tiny bit of EXP there won’t be any rewards from the level.

  1. Should I try making a hack if I’m not entirely confident that it will ever be finished?

I’m aware that the 3 months of summer vacation I have provides me with a good amount of free time but I won’t be anywhere close to having something closed to a finished product. A gripe about fan-hacks that I keep hearing is the community will get frustrated if a hack either takes a very long time to complete (e.g Staff of Ages) or is dropped by the creator (Midnight Sun maybe?). If there’s a fairly good chance that I’ll drop work on this project once I enter university, should I try making a hack and maybe asking for playtesters on a V1.0 in a few months time?

Thanks a lot for answering as many of these questions as you can! Or reading this huge wall of text…I don’t have any experience with game design or ROM hacking but I’ve really grown to appreciate Fire Emblem these past two years and I’m eager to try my hand at making something like this. If you have any other sorts of advice or things you may want to see in a hack (keeping in mind that I’m a guy with no experience) please don’t hesitate to tell me!


I’m certainly no expert in this field, but I feel like a lot of these questions warrant a variety of responses so I’ll throw out my two cents and you can make of it what you will :slight_smile:

  1. This really depends a lot on the scope of your project. Some projects really strive to have up to three characters that might all fill the niche, making it ironman-friendly. It’s up to you whether you want it to be ironman-friendly or not. If you don’t think that’s necessary, you only need as many characters to give the player a variety of options and keep them relevant to the story. A cast of 20-30 is perfectly acceptable, realistically. Most Fire Emblem games have that many or more, and I’d hardly say they’re all integrated in the story well. It’s mostly a matter of how you want to balance gameplay and story, to be honest.

  2. Honestly, all of those ideas you’ve thrown out there for introducing new units are fairly valid. I don’t think I would make a unit that joins later in the same niche distinctly better than a unit that joins earlier, however. It makes me feel like I’ve pointlessly invested time into a unit just to get an instant replacement. Obviously, units shouldn’t join and have entirely unviable base stats though. Personally what Snakey1 and I do in Legends of Avenir is we try to distinguish where certain characters shine, most notably through a Spd-based wyvern and a Def-based wyvern (though this is also iffy because the Spd-based is almost always stronger even though he joins two chapters later)

  3. Personally, I’m a huge advocate of buffing their movement to 5 (6 as a general, 7 as a great knight). Having a tank that can’t even efficiently stay at the front lines is too much of a pain in the ass. They also need to have enough defense so that being doubled doesn’t result in them actually taking more damage than other units, or enough speed to avoid being doubled. Personally, I’ve always believed armor knights should also have higher skill than FE tends to give them. I definitely recommend giving Pandan’s video on armor knights a look on this.

  4. This heavily depends. The stats of your units should be related, in some way, to the stats of your enemies. Part of the reason Seth is so overpowered is because he has above average stats in a game where enemies have below average stats. If you’re planning on making your enemies roughly as strong as FE8 enemies, you should can likely use FE8 characters’ stats as references with a few nerfs here and there (since FE8 is fairly easy even on hard mode). Really, stats are a huge numbers game and it all depends on how your game is balanced. Some hacks go for stat inflation, some for deflation, some make battle stats higher with lower HP values, it all just depends on how you want to balance and play.

  5. This really just depends on your vision. Making a hack for the sake of making a hack is alright, I guess, but I’d always advise having at the very least a rough story outline in mind. Even if its a pretty straightforward story, it’ll get you thinking in how long your hack needs to be which will help you understand the work you have to put in as well as the stat curve through the progression of the hack. I’d generally say a 20 chapter hack with a couple of gaidens is very appropriate, so rounding out to 25ish.

  6. The short answer is, probably? It really depends on who you ask. Personally, I’ve never found cavs even remotely as strong combat wise as other units due to average stats all around preventing efficient enemy removal, but personal experience is never the way to go (outside of making sure you enjoy the product you make, more on that later). Giving T1 cavs access to only one weapon is definitely one way to limit their utility in a potentially balanced way, but I don’t know if there’s really one easy answer here.

  7. Yes, you should. Most people who play ROM hacks play more tactically/quickly than “casual” fans. Designing well-thought out chapters that require thought on the player’s part is generally more appreciated than a simple rock-paper-scissors of stats that most vanilla FE games tend to bring. Generally there’s no need to include a tutorial in your hack, we’re all very familiar with base FE8 mechanics, though you should explain any new mechanics either through villages or conversations (something that we fail to do in Avenir a lot…)

  8. I absolutely recommend watching Pandan’s video on Jeigans/Oifeys, it gives a lot of good ideas on how to balance them well. Obviously plugged him earlier for the armorknights too, but hey, he’s super informative. Personally, I might handle this issue through giving your Oifey high weapon-ranks and powerful weapons, relatively meager bases, but good growths. That way, he shines in the early game with strong weapons (but limited uses), but is still viable late game due to his good growths. I’m no game designer though, and that’s probably not the best way to go about it.

  9. Chests/Villages/Recruitables/etc all work well to prevent turtling. With the stat boosters and strong weapons, this will get fixed over time through playtesting and rebalancing. On the subject of making the game too stressful, I generally like a mix of maps where you have to play fast due to turn limits/etc, but I also like maps that are open-ended. Not really a hard turn limit on anything, but you can’t turtle due to a lack of chokepoints and having enemies coming from numerous different angles. Avoiding chokepoints in general does a lot to diminish turtling.

  10. I don’t see how this would be a problem. It makes the prologue more of an actual prologue than just a Chapter 1 named “Prologue.” If you keep the chapter short, it’ll lower the chances of someone feeling like they invested time just for characters to die. If you’re worried it won’t be obvious that the main lord isn’t going to be with you the rest of the game, you can always just cap their level so it doesn’t look like they have reason to grow or anything.

  11. Absolutely! A lot of hacks go unfinished, and while that’s sad, it’s not like we’re professional game developers. Snakey1 and I were worried about work continuing on Avenir when we went to University, and there’s been no issues so far whatsoever. Heck, for a number of YEARS Last Promise was the only hack that could remotely be called “complete,” it wasn’t really until FEB came out that we actually started having completed projects. Once you get playtesters on board you become more motivated, and if its truly a good idea and one you’re passionate about, you’ll stick through it and other people will be relatively patient.

Biggest piece of advice I have is as follows: Make sure YOU enjoy playing your game. Don’t sacrifice your vision because the hack doesn’t exactly fit everybody’s standards. The only true design pitfall is trying to please everyone.

That’s probably a lot more than you bargained for and, frankly, half of it is probably BS, but I hope it helps and I look forward to seeing what you put out!


Thank you so much for replying! I made an account for FEU mainly because I heard this community has much more resources and is much more supportive to newer members and rom hackers than Serenes. Even then I never expected to get such a detailed response so quickly (and from someone who I’ve seen around FEU before when I was lurking, LOA is on my “to play” list of FE rom hacks.) I never managed to finish any creative project that I’ve started in my spare time so general disappointment or frustration that my hack won’t be updated was the main reason why I was hesitant starting my hack. Your last piece of advice really resonated with me on that front.

  1. Pandan’s “DAGDAR” map design framework was one of the main resources that I consulted when trying to learn more about game design in FE. I’ll watch his videos on class balance so thanks for suggesting those :slight_smile: Your advice for balancing my Oifey sounds really good so I’ll give that a shot and playtest a little.

  2. I don’t have a huge amount of FE experience under my belt, is there a particular way you would advise trying to design bosses? From the portions of FE7/8 that I’ve played, surrounding the boss and pelting him with ranged attacks before killing with the Lord works the vast majority of the time. In Lyn mode this may not work when the boss either has 1-2 range weapons that can really hurt the archer/mage or is positioned in a way where only the unit that is directly below the boss and hit them hard. At that point it eventually turns into a 1v1 between the Lord and the boss while my units either stand around watching or try and eliminate other enemies on the map.

  3. IIRC you’re the main writer for LOA. I tried to learn a bit about storytelling and character development but do you have any advice for writing side characters and stories in FE? So far the main line games that I’ve played approached storytelling by providing a really solid foundation of a story and unintentionally or not keeping the details light, maybe to have the players create their own head-canons or imagine the details themselves (FE4 being the best example I can think of right now). The story and support conversations (if I manage to programme these in) are the parts that I’m most excited about so I really want to get them right.

  4. I’ll 100% have my project be playtested at some point because I don’t think me redoing chapters over and over will be an effective way of balancing and tweaking individual levels. How important was it for you to have a partner/second opinion throughout the development of LOA? My inexperience with this process makes me tempted to find people willing to stick with me throughout the entire development of the game (assuming I can find them), but at the same time I feel apprehensive compromising on certain parts of the game, particularly the story and characters.

  5. How much of a hassle was incorporating skills into LOA? Personal skills are one of my favourite parts of Fates so I’d love to incorporate them at some point, but balancing around them as well as class/unlockable skills sounds difficult. Especially when I want them to be potent enough to be considered by the player.

Thank you once again for replying. I really appreciate it.

A few of these questions are definitely more up @Snakey1’s alley so I’ll let him hop on those if he wants.

For bosses, I don’t really know the best way. Generally, if they’re stationary, they should always have a 1-2 range option, otherwise they’re just too easy to cheese. This is something I think most of us struggle with. I don’t really specialize in design so this would be a better question for someone who does. Finding a balance where the boss is tough but not RNG dependent but also can’t be cheesed is a real challenge and, frankly, just not worth it for every boss unless you find a formula that consistently works. Reserve real focused boss balance for the memorable bosses (ends of story arcs or in Avenir’s case, endgame bosses)

I am indeed the main writer for LoA :slight_smile: Supports are definitely the best way to handle a lot of these things in FE. You want to keep main game dialogue to basically advancing the story or main characters, and be careful of info-dumping. The more “showing” you can do rather than “telling” (such as what sounds like your prologue actually being a prologue) will advance your storytelling immensely. Its important that details only really come up if they’re relevant, something I struggled with in a lot of earlier chapters of Avenir (and with the Avenir prologue in its current state). The vanilla FE “here’s all the countries” is generally pretty frowned upon. Spreading out the text also helps keep every chapter interesting and moving the story forward. Honestly story writing and development is aa really broad thing, if you ever want to talk about it more you can reach out to me on Discord and I’d be happy to discuss specifics and stuff, even about my process with Avenir itself.

Having second opinions on Avenir was huge. Part of it was just having a co-lead developer in Snek. We both kept the other one motivated to continue doing work, but part of the reason it works so well is because we’re both such good friends and both very passionate about the characters/stories/world we’ve created. Once we had a release out and a discord server, we started getting some playtesters who have consistently played every new route as its released, sometimes even multiple times, which helps us get constant feedback and also helps with the motivation. Some people like to hold off on releases because they want to balance it to their tastes first, and if I’m entirely honest, these projects tend to be the ones that don’t last too long. It’s hard to stay motivated on something when you’re not getting paid and not getting feedback or participation in your project.

As for incorporating skills, that’s a distinctly Snek question. If he doesn’t respond on here, you can probably ask him either in the FEU Discord server or join LoA’s and talk to him on there.

Hope this helps!


Hey there. Welcome!

Don’t listen to Noguchi! He just lazes around and bullies me as I do all the work! No seriously I think we do work really well together, and it’s immensely helpful to have someone close to you to bounce ideas off of. Especially for me when Noguchi puts the brakes on my less than exemplary ideas… Having a partner or a small group is very useful, but in terms of playtesting, keep in mind that having a good feedback loop is nonoptional for a decent hack. I see plenty of releases with X number of chapters done already yet clearly didn’t have enough or any playtesting, and it really shows. I’d make a couple or a few chapters at first then ask for advice among friends around the community. It’s okay to have placeholders as long as you try your best to make your presentation good. I know you’re new, but Noguchi, maybe others, and I would be willing to help out there.

For bosses… they’re tricky to balance. Oftentimes, a lazy boss that sits on the throne is not much fun, but it’s hard to have a creative boss each chapter. Skills can help a little with this, and carefully given effective weapons can make it interesting as well. idk much about modern FE, but like chapter 5 FE8 armorslayer and FE6 chapter 2 hammer come to mind. If your chapter doesn’t have a very interesting boss, it’s probably okay as long as something else in your chapter is interesting. Side objectives, creative objectives, etc…

For skills, well… for LoA, we don’t use FEBuilder. We use buildfiles which make it very easy to edit skills to our whims. I’m also pretty handy with ASM now which helps a lot, but even if you aren’t amazing at ASM or know nothing about it, it’s pretty easy to edit skill numbers in a buildfile. I know FEB has made advancements in compatibility for skill numbers, but from what I know, it’s not entirely ideal. No matter which method you pick, definitely change the skill numbers! The Skill System numbers are designed to be changed, and don’t limit yourself by trying to balance around them.

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Thanks for responding. So long as the offer still stands, I may message you and Noguchi in the foreseeable future for playtesting and advice. Naturally, no pressure if you’re unwilling to do it when the time comes but having someone experienced in hacking and design to provide some feedback will be amazing.

I dropped coding in middle school so looking at ASM and skills are enough to give me a headache. I took a glance at your Buildfile tutorial after Noguchi tagged you and I think I’ll stick with FEB for now. If I manage to finish this hack and want to do something more ambitious I’ll considering learning it.

Once again, I’m very grateful to you and Noguchi for taking the time of day to respond. If you’re looking for more playtesters for LoA I’d be more than happy to help out (especially since I’m planning to play it regardless).

Feel free to reach out! Discord is most preferable but if you don’t have discord, you can shoot me a message on here and I’ll get back whenever I can.

Whenever you do play LoA, feel free to shoot us your feedback! We always enjoy hearing what people think.

Take care, and welcome to FEU!