I am personally a big supporter of physical media, so I was excited to discover that there was a booming scene of custom cart modding. I’m not talking about flash cartridges here (rom readers for the actual hardware) but actual single-game carts made to look like genuine games. If a sizable portion of it is used by unscrupulous people to sell counterfeit cartridges and make a quick buck, it can also be used to create more copies of rare and expensive games and make them more accessible especially when it was never sold in some markets. It can however be a pain for collectors wishing for authentic products, and the build quality is not always the best and can result in the game internally breaking before completion.
That’s also where in my opinion appears the best kind of cart modding: the games that don’t and sometimes shouldn’t exist. Homebrews, fan translations, and even complete romhacks have been ported into physical cartridges and made playable on the original hardware. Even if that’s more than likely the last of the bootlegers worries, I find this kind of unnintentional “fangame preservation” fascinating and a much confortable way to play them to boot.
So here is a quick overview of various physical cartridges of Fire Emblem games I found over the Internet and my occasional thoughts on them.
(In complience with the “no piracy” rule I will never provide any links or seller names, only pictures. Also I do not necesserally advice to obtain most of them as you’ll see in a bit.)
Part 1 - Mass-produced GBA bootlegs
Once you dig a little you discover that there is a HUGE black market of counterfeit cartridges coming from certain countries and websites, mostly for the GBA but also for other consoles. That’s where most of the infamous “500 in 1” cartridges comes from. Some of the most popular games on the console (Mario, Zelda, Castlevania, Metroid, Final Fantasy…) are mass-reproduced and sold for dirt-cheap, with numerous western resellers trying to sell them as genuine articles for up to 500% the price they paid them. A large portion of these bootlegs are Pokemon related: obviously the original games in all languages but also a lot of popular and less popular romhacks (“Brown”, “Orange”, “Clover”, “Rocket Edition”, “Adventures”, and literally dozens more including translations for the original “Green” version).
When it comes to Fire Emblem there are no less that 7 completely new cartridges floating around on these websites, although you’ll see 3 of them are basically the same:
- FE6 English translations
One of the most confusing cartridge is probably the English fan-translations of Fire Emblem: Fuin no Tsurugi. Yes, I said translationS as the modders, in an effort to appear as realistic as one can be, decided to produce cartridges for the “Sword of Seals” localization (made by Dark Twilkitri and their team in 2006) with both an American AND an European label. And if that wasn’t enough, then produced ANOTHER one for the revised “Binding Blade” translation from 2021!
I personally never tested any of these, worst case scenario even the “BB” one has the “SoS” translation in it. But from my personal experience, translation patches are usually the more stable physical bootlegs out there since it’s mostly just a text and sprite swap that isn’t too taxing on the cartridge and use the original games’ code.
- Corrupt Theocracy by Blademaster (2011)
Probably the most bizarre choice, as the game is nowadays pretty much universally disliked even by its own creator, it is still one of the main three “original” cartridges distributed. The label is pretty nice until you realize that this is just a barely edited Shadow Dragon ripoff.
Although I do possess it, I never actually tried it due to his poor reputation and can’t assess if it’s working well or not.
- The Last Promise by Blazer (2013)
The legendary hack is obviously one of the chosen few, and by far the best looking of the bunch, although I reckon the art was probably stolen from somewhere.
Having played most of it, the game works almost flawlessly. I said “almost” because unfortunately it runs at 30fps resulting in sometimes choppy animations. It might be an issue related to my hardware (an Analogue Pocket, an unlicensed console that sometimes struggle or is even unable to read modded cartridges unlike the original hardware) but considering that all the other FE hacks I possess don’t have this issue I doubt it (they have OTHER issues mind you). It’s a servicable but downgraded port, especially when one of the main lord is a myrmidon.
- Requiem by Sacred Blaze (2015)
Another excellent romhack, probably the best of the mass bootlegs. The label is however the worst by far, featuring a collage of various lords and heroes from the franchise that aren’t featured in this hack at all. First I thought it would be some kind of crossover but that’s actually an original story. Perplexing and lazy (the cart, not the story).
As for the gameplay experience, it’s overall better than TLP thanks to its 60fps but I got some rare crashes here and there (trying to enter one house with a canto in one chapter just didn’t want to work, curiously), plus a couple of glitchy transition when loading some cutscenes. Also don’t let the “class demo” roll or it will crash here too.
But overall it’s more than playable, in fact I’m at the last boss. Even when it crashed a couple of times FE’s auto-save feature worked perfectly. But there is however another glaring issue: the game doesn’t use the last updated patch. It’s especially noticable because the game had sometimes wonky portraits (Hawke’s derpy eyes haunt me) that were fixed in a very nice graphical overhall. A shame really, but I don’t really recommend this cartridge either because of that.
- Vision Quest by Pandan (2020)
This one is by far the rarest and most elusive one. In fact, until a few days ago, I only found 1 picture of it and thought that is was a unique custom card. And they I found it, hidden away deep into these websites, mislabeled, badly advertised, and somehow not sold by most of the shops. How strange.
The label itself was directly taken from this fanmade boxart and is at least competent(ly stolen). I just ordered it, I will update the thread with my findings when it arrives.
To conclude on that branch of bootlegs, note that there also exists a few color variations of these cartridges, mostly ones using Pokemon Fire Red and Ruby shells for a more fiery/bloody window dressing.
Part 2 - Custom-made (and other bootlegs)
Outside of these widely distributed cartridges, there are a few more I found here and there. They range from specialized cart modders to bootleg resellers trying to have a few exclusive products. As an aside, there also are several games that are just the original with custom labels but they often use stolen art and aren’t what we are talking about here.
- Latro the Grim / The Second Scouring / Vision Quest (again)
Let’s start with the most shameful one. This specific seller has on their shop most romhacking.net GBA translations and completed hacks, down to copy-pasting the hacks’ descriptions from the website in their product’s page (font and background color included). When it comes to Fire Emblem they sell the Binding Blade translation as well as Latro the Grim by RKG (2023), The Second Scouring by THE 1 (2023), and again Vision Quest.
The most baffling thing out of the gate is that they are trying to sell them 50 bucks each(!) on the same website where the dirt-cheap bootlegs are. And don’t mind the hilariously irrelevent and misleading labels. No seriously don’t mind them, the actual cartridge looks like this:
- The Sun God’s Wrath / The Four Kings / Justice and Pride / Vision Quest (AGAIN again)
These four ones are made by the same person and were originally made by Blademaster (2020), KrashBoomBang (2020), and MrGreen3339 (2019) for the first three.
The art for The Four Kings’ label in particular is based on this artwork by artist Racecar which was commissioned by the hack’s author themselves. (Thanks knabepicer for the heads-up)
- Path of a Hero / The Royal Army / The Fallen Princess
These three ones are sold by a single shop who specialize in reselling bootlegs but have a few “exclusive content”. All three were originally made by the same person Ema Colito in 2022 and 2023 which makes me believe that hopefully for once they had the modder’s permission for doing this.
- SNES translations
I haven’t really looked into them but there is a plethora of custom SNES cartridges (for both the US and PAL versions) of Mystery of the Emblem, Genealogy of the Holy War and Thracia 776. Some are cheap bootlegs and some are sold with a full boxset including manuals. A wide variety of quality and I’ll not be sure which are which until I take a deep dive into it.
- NES bootlegs
Welp, I didn’t even know it was a thing until I accidentally stumbled onto them while looking for images. Like for the SNES ones I have no clue who made what. The rabbit hole goes deeper and deeper.
“What about the DS?” you may be asking. Unfortunately the meteoric success of the R4 pretty much killed all interest for “single game” DS carts when you can easily find “1024 in 1” bootlegs next door. There is a blooming scene that could grow larger as nostalgia goes on, but for now there is virtually nothing substential outside of Pokemon.
- Storge by knabepicer (2021)
A unique cartridge made (or rather commissioned) by myself. It is purely for personal use and I don’t intend to make more of it and sell them. I’ll more than likely commission different cartmods though, and I’ll update this thread when I do so. If you want the label for yourself, there it is. (there is an easter egg in there, find it and win nothing.)
Although I loved it a lot I’m not sure I would recommend other people to do a cartmod for this particular game unless they are very patient and willing to deal with a few annoying glitches that force to change settings back and forth. Looks like elephants, dark magic and a literal living glitch were a bit too much for a cartridge. I played it on the Analogue Pocket too so maybe it would work better on a true GBA.
So that’s it for now. I would be very curious to hear about your opinion on the matter especially when most of the featured hacks’ creators are here. If I made any inaccurate statement feel free to correct me, and if you know about FE cartmods that I didn’t cover here I would love to hear about them and update this thread.