Hey, everyone. This post has been a long time coming. This is effectively a major update to that post I made over a year ago. When I first wrote a comparison post about the three main ‘engines’, I did so in about two hour’s time without a lot of thought. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, not something I researched or investigated heavily.
That changes with this post.
Today, I’m going to be talking about as many of the main engines people use to custom-create their own Fire Emblem or FE-like games as I possibly can. I’m probably not going to be able to hit every bullet point, but if you guys feel I missed something, let me know. I will be happy to add more points as time passes, and I intend to keep this topic relatively updated, especially as new features drop for Lex Talionis.
Throughout this topic, I will be mentioning the following engines.
- Romhacking. This is not an engine, but the usage of FEBuilder or Buildfiles or some other older methods to modify a ROM of FE6/7/8 to make a game.
- FEBuilder. This is @7743’s engine, which the majority of the fandom uses to make their hacks nowadays. It is simple and easy to use, though it can also be a bit unwieldy in specific circumstances.
- Buildfiles. This is an advanced form of Romhacking that is much cleaner to use, makes projects that do not tend to accumulate garbage data, is easy to bugfix, but requires a bit of advanced hacking knowledge to understand. Typically, new users should start with FEB and advance to Buildfiles if they crave more control over their projects.
- Lex Talionis AKA ‘LT.’ This is Rainlash’s engine that has been in development for only a few years, but has several coders updating it extremely frequently. This makes FE games not by modifying a ROM, but by creating a game from scratch. It’s versatile, easy to use, and easy to set up. It’s also fully compatible with the Graphics Repository. If you like coding in Python, this is a particularly powerful option.
- Tactile (Formerly ‘FEXNA’). This is BwdYeti’s custom engine that has been in development for almost a decade. It has lots of QOL functionality but is less open-sourced than LT and as such has a smaller community. It has a lot of unique features though, as we’ll later see. If you like coding in C#, this is a particularly powerful option.
- FEXP: The much, MUCH older version of FEXNA. Unless you have an obsession with coding with Ruby or insist on using RPG Maker XP, do not use this. It’s old, outdated, and bad. I don’t even know where you’d find a download, because it’s not on FEU.
- SRPG Studio. This engine is unique because while the others mostly seek to replicate FEGBA, SRPG Studio is more of an offshoot engine aimed to replicate the feeling of SNES FE, such as FE4 and FE5.
Please note: There are a lot of areas where Buildfiles and FEBuilder basically overlap or are interchangeable. These areas consist of basic Romhacking options and limitations. Where those appear, I will use Romhacking to refer to both options, otherwise I will split them into their own categories.
Finally: I will admit I am biased. I think Lex Talionis is the best general-purpose option out there and it’s only getting better over time. However I have extensive experience with all the engines (Except SRPG Studio; I had to ask other people for info about it to fill my knowledge gaps) and I will try to present all of them in the most accurate light possible.
Relevant Discord Links:
FEUniverse Discord (‘FEUcord’)
Graphics Repository Discord (‘Repocord’)
Lex Talionis Discord (‘LTcord’)
Anna’s Secret Shop (‘ASS’ yes that’s really the acronym don’t laugh I didn’t choose it)
r/FireEmblem Discord (‘FEcord’)
SRPG Studio Discord (‘SRPGcord’)
Now then. Let’s get started.
I have extensively used all of the engines in this topic, all except for SRPG Studio (Which is why I went to their Discord to seek clarification) which I do own and have opened up, poked around, and generally messed with a little. My qualifications there are not really worth mentioning, but that’s why other people can chime in with information I’ve missed.
As for the other engines…
Romhacking: I’ve been in the FE community since 2003 and have made a lot of minor and major hacks in that time. I’m most well-known for FE7 Chaos Mode, but that was made back in 2014 before modern hacking methods. In addition to those…
FEBuilder: I have not ‘made’ a hack in FEBuilder. That is to say, I have not produced a project with it. But I use FEBuilder all the time. I’ve even submitted improvements to its UI, such as in this topic. There are doubtless people out there who know way more about it than me, but I’m far from ignorant on its functionality.
Buildfiles: Surely I don’t have any Buildfile experience? Wrong! I have a project called FE Tower Defense which I’ve worked hard on, I just haven’t released it yet. (Big thanks to Pikmin for help coding a bunch of key ASM improvements.) My project is a heavy modification of Tequila’s original FETD, but I’ve messed around with enough stuff to generally understand a lot of Buildfile nuances.
Lex Talionis: I have not made any projects in LT, but I’ve been following its development closely for years now and have done all sorts of side stuff involving it. The only thing I’m not super familiar with is its eventing and conversation systems, but I have perused internal files a lot.
Tactile: I have a large amount of experience with Tactile. While I never released any projects, I did make a sequel to Sacred Contention (Which I never released due to at-that-time restrictions related to releasing Tactile projects among other things) and delved extensively into its nuances, even modifying the code. I actually have more experience with Tactile than any of the other engines here, and even went hard on eventing in Tactile.
FEXP: I have a lot of FEXP experience as well. I made several projects, including a Ragefest waaaaaay back in the day. That’s why I can gladly tell you not to use it, the modern tools are far superior to what we have now.
SRPG Studio: I have very little experience in this engine, though I do plan to start dabbling in it moving forward because it actually has some really well-thought-out systems I didn’t know about prior to this post. The SRPG community can feel free to yell at me if I miss anything or make any egregious errors.
Overall, I’d say my experience base is something in the realm of:
Tactile > Romhacking > LT > Buildfiles > FEBuilder > FEXP >>>>>> SRPG. But this is still somewhat incorrect as ‘experience’ can mean a lot of things.
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone else who has my overall breadth of experience in all of these engines at once.
Lex Talionis: Free
FEXP: Technically free but RPG Maker XP costs money which is why we don’t use it.
SRPG Studio: $60 (Sometimes on sale at a big discount)
Let’s get one thing out of the way. SRPG Studio is the only viable engine on my comparison list that costs money. And it costs a lot of money if you don’t get it on sale. It does come with a free demo if you want to try it out, but even if you get it 80% off like its current price, that’s still $12 more than the other engines.
Unless you pursue alternative avenues of acquirement, expect to shell out at least as much as a full-price copy of Terraria for SRPG Studio. (Don’t DM me to ask for those alternate avenues, I genuinely don’t know where to find them and I own my copy legit)
And yes RPG Maker XP costs money, so that’s another reason not to use FEXP.
FEBuilder: 7743’s editor is very easy to use and get into for new users. However, it does have some rather daunting windows to get past when you first jump in, and these can be a bit surprising to the uninitiated. It’s still one of the easiest options to use on this list.
Buildfiles: I will not say Buildfiles are the hardest to use out of all the options. But they lack a lot of documentation, and if you want to learn Buildfiles, expect that you will need to go onto the FEUniverse Discord to chat with people in the Buildfile channels if you want to learn. You’ll also be doing a lot of searching to figure out how to do basic things.
Lex Talionis: In my old post, I said LT was a little obtuse to get into. That was a year ago. We live in the future now. LT is probably the easiest engine for newbies to get into and features a really well-organized tutorial that surprises me with how smoothly it entered my brain. Not only that, but its editors are clean and easy to understand.
Tactile: This engine is also really easy to use. BUT. It has one big hurdle, and that is the initial setup. Frankly, it’s a huge chore, with a lot of redundant programs you need to install and other such things. If you can get past that hurdle, the engine is really well-designed and has editors on par with and even superior to LT in some categories. (I particularly like the Event Editor.)
SRPG Studio: This engine is as easy to use and setup as any other RPG Maker. If you’ve ever used RPG Maker XP, or any of the newer ones, you will feel right at home!
Of these engines, if you’re looking for something simple, I recommend LT, then FEBuilder, then Tactile, SRPG Studio, then waaaaay at the bottom, Buildfiles.
FEBuilder: Everyone knows how to use FEBuilder. You can stumble drunkenly into FEUcord or the Graphics Repository Discord or Anna’s Secret Shop or basically anywhere that has a hacking channel and you’ll get support. However, 7743 is the creator of FEBuilder and he mostly frequents FEUcord, so that’s the place for the best support.
Buildfiles: Not a lot of people use Buildfiles, but like vegans, they are VERY eager to tell you about how awesome Buildfiles are. Pop into FEUcord and express interest in Buildfiles, you’ll get lots of assistance.
Lex Talionis: LT is not presently posted on FEU, but that’s because the engine itself has not reached a 1.0 state. Rainlash does have a dedicated Discord for LT and it’s very active! Go there to get lots of help with your game.
Tactile: So… there is no community for this engine. Even SRPG Studio has its ardent supporters, but unfortunately for a variety of reasons, the documentation and community for Tactile never quite coalesced. If you want to talk to other devs, your best bet is to go into FEUcord or to bug @Ryn since he’s one of the more active users of Tactile. This is a really big demerit out of Tactile’s favor.
SRPG Studio: While it is not a popular engine on FEU specifically, there is a substantially-sized Discord for it, plenty of documentation, and a few noteworthy users even here on the FEU forums, including @Ephraim225 and @VonIthipathachai among others.
If you’re someone who values community support for an engine, Romhacking and LT are your best options, though SRPG Studio does have many hundreds of users in their dedicated Discord.
As for Tactile? It’s a great engine and has a lot of useful features. But the community support is essentially nonexistent. If you’re more of a solo-coder-guy, that will probably be just fine with you.
Romhacking: If you want to code more advanced systems for a romhack, you must use Assembly (‘ASM’). The wizards on FEUcord will be happy to teach you if you’re interested.
Lex Talionis: This engine uses Python for its code base.
Tactile: This engine uses C# for its code base.
FEXP: This engine uses Ruby for its code base. You should only factor this in if you are already a Ruby developer and prefer that language. Otherwise, don’t use FEXP.
One really nice thing is that all of these engine options use a different base for their code. You do not need to learn coding to use any of them but if you DO have a coding preference, you may choose to use one over the other.
Romhacking: ROMs cannot go any higher than 32MB’s. You can do a multi-patch system, like what Sacred War did, but it’s a huge pain in the ass. Conversely, this makes ROMs quite lightweight.
Lex Talionis: LT games are usually about 100MBs, depending on music mostly. Games with a lot of custom music will be quite large.
Tactile: Tactile games are usually a lot more unwieldy than LT games and can easily cross 200+ MB’s if you’re careless with your directories. @Ryn reported in the comments below that his FE8 in Tactile remake was 1.77GB’s in total which is bonkers.
SRPG Studio: Roughly 100MB’s.
Romhacks are limited to a maximum of 32MBs. If you put a lot of music inside of them and a lot of animations, they can fill up quite fast. When using FEBuilder, you will also end up having a lot of garbage data due to things being moved and shuffled around.
The custom engines will almost always have bigger file sizes, especially if you use big uncompressed music files like .wavs in your projects.
FEBuilder: By default, most people will start off with lots of items, characters, and so on already placed into specific slots. A lot of hardcoded effects are also built into a ROM. If you want to add an item and organize it into a new slot, it will be a huge pain in the ass, so most people don’t bother.
Buildfiles: Buildfiles are comparatively easy to organize. You can move characters around, arrange weapons so that all the swords are first, then axes, lances, etc. You can organize classes. It’s a lot easier to change things later on down the line.
Lex Talionis: By far the best in the organization category. LT uses Name IDs (NIDs) for everything, not Slot IDs (SIDs) so instead of calling for an Iron Sword by referencing Item 001, You call for
IronSword. That allows you to do stuff like this.
Tactile: Tactile is a bit easier to organize than FEBuilder but not as easy as with Buildfiles and it’s not even in the same ballpark as LT.
SRPG Studio: This engine uses NIDs, like LT, so that makes reorganizing internal assets much easier than some of the other options, like Tactile and FEBuilder.
Internal asset management may not seem like a big idea. However, when you have a lot of items and weapons to add, or lots of new classes, you may want to organize your internal editors so that things of a ‘similar type’ are grouped together.
All of the engines are about the same except for LT and SRPG, which are far and away the best ones for asset management. If you intend to add the full Anima Triangle into your project without your item lists looking like a fustercluck, you might vastly prefer LT/SRPG here.
FEBuilder: Not applicable. FEB manages the internals for you, though you should be warned it will get VERY messy over time.
Buildfiles: You will need to do a lot of legwork but nothing beats being able to completely customize your own file structures. You can add tons of folders, or just a few. Look at examples of popular Buildfiles to see how vastly different the creators made theirs.
Lex Talionis: Lex Talionis Games have tiny and minimalist structures. They are VERY easy to browse.
Tactile: These are horrific abominations that should not exist. Navigating the Tactile folders is an exercise in insanity. Just TRY guessing the filepath to find your animations, music, and other core project files. Hint: It’s actually the final folder I browsed, not the other ones. If you edit those files, it doesn’t actually affect the game you’re building.
SRPG Studio: I’m not super familiar with this engine, but based on my discussions with SRPG users, it’s about as good as LT in this department!
In this section, the most important lesson is: Tactile’s folder management is horrific and just agony to browse. It’s filled with tons of redundant folders, you need to have the library folders for various reasons, etc. It’s a real pain in the ass.
FEBuilder is not nearly as bad, but its internal workings are basically opaque to the end user so you won’t notice when it starts mashing data into random places. FEBuilder does have a ‘rom defragment’ option but in my experience if you are getting close to 32MB’s you have done something terribly wrong and this should be your absolute last resort.
Buildfiles can have good or bad folder management. It’s entirely up to you to manage all of that, and for some people that’s part of the fun!
Lex Talionis is the clear-cut winner in my book, though. Its actual ‘project’ files are entirely separate from the engine and do not need to be bundled together while you’re working on them. Updating the editor happens independently of the internal files, which is not especially the case with Tactile. The project files in LT are also compact and easy to browse.
Romhacking: Romhacking is quite limited in this regard. For music files, you really only want to use .s files, like those found in the Music Repo. .mp3s and .wavs and .oggs will explosively bloat the rom and raaaace you to the 32MB mark.
Lex Talionis: LT greatly prefers .ogg music files. It can use .mp3 and .wav, but you get more functionality and smaller filesize, plug Loop Points, with .ogg.
Tactile: Tactile also prefers .ogg, and it can hesitantly work with .mp3 and .wav.
FEXP: It’s about as good as Tactile in the music support department, though RMXP can actually work with Midi files, if that matters to you.
SRPG Studio: Also prefers .ogg files for looping, though mp3 files can work in a pinch.
Romhacking: Romhacking has many hard limits. Items, characters, classes, and many other things cannot go above 255. Portraits and battle animations cannot have more than 16 colors. Portraits must be formatted in this box, though there are a few workarounds for bigger portraits and even halfbodies. They ARE workarounds though, and are not natively supported.
Lex Talionis: No hardcoded limits. 9999 portraits, classes, items, etc. No color limits on portraits or battle animations.
Tactile: No hardcoded limits. 9999 portraits, classes, items, etc. No color limits on portraits or battle animations.
SRPG Studio: No hardcoded limits. 9999 portraits, classes, items, etc. No color limits on portraits or battle animations.
If you choose to go with Romhacking, you must keep in mind that while you can break some of its limits, others are simply hardcoded due to the limitations of the ROM. Custom engines by design do not have this flaw.
Romhacking: ROMs are playable on literally anything. Phones, tablets, computers, a friggin modded Roku, a Steam Deck, some shitty cheap chinese bootleg Nintendo DS knockoff, you name it. If hitting the widest audience is your goal, romhacking is king.
Lex Talionis: Lex Talionis is currently playable on PC, Mac, and Linux. It is more than possible to code browser-based ports, Apple phones, and Android, but none of those are currently in the works. Ask on the Discord for more info if this is a big selling point.
Tactile: Tactile is currently PC-locked but BwdYeti is working on Android ports for games, and maybe also Apple phones as well. There were also whispering of a Linux port, but that hasn’t happened that I’ve heard.
SRPG Studio: Locked to Windows only.
Note: Any of the above may in the future or at present function well with the Steam Deck. Since the SD is a Linux-based portable device but Valve is focused on making Windows functions run well, it may be a great option for portable play on the go under all circumstances. Your miles may vary.
In general, if you want a LOT of development or playable diversity, nothing beats romhacking.
NOTE: This category is highly subjective. I am basing it entirely on my own experiences. Other people may disagree and are probably going to just because everyone values different things in their UX.
FEBuilder: FEBuilder is a mixed bag. It has a lot of really janky UI, though I did actually help to improve the Item/Character/Class Editors myself. Outside of those editors though, things often look blocky or ugly. Windows are rarely uniform, and you often need to dive into 15 submenus to find things. FEBuilder has a feeling of ‘User Interfaces are NOT my passion’. The worst submenu though is the Patches submenu, for installing around 8 bazillion cool but awfully organized romhacking features. I’m glad they exist, but the sorting is abysmal.
Buildfiles: Buildfiles by default have zero UI at all. However, through the usage of text files, spreadsheets, and self-organization, you may end up having a fairly pleasant time once the initial setup and acclimation period is complete!
Lex Talionis: I think LT and Tactile are tied for editor usability. They are both great to use, their menus are simple and clean, and it’s easy to find that you want to edit. As in the ‘Organizing Internal Assets’ section though, I do give a slight edge to LT here.
Tactile: Tactile has one really killer UI feature that LT doesn’t, which is its versatile and functional Event Editor. It really is a thing of beauty.
SRPG Studio: I find that SRPG Studio is about as easy to use with as functional a UI as any other RPG Maker engine. However, it does sort of have a Windows '98 feel to its buttons and fonts.
Overall I think LT has the slight win here, tied with Tactile. However, it’s worth mentioning that some years back, there was another romhacking editor called Emblem Magic that was being developed right around the same time as FEBuilder. I think if FEBuilder had Emblem Magic’s UI, it would easily be able to compete with LT and Tactile.
I do miss Emblem Magic. Give it a try and see what could have been in the world of Romhacking User Interfaces!
Romhacking: Use the Fire Emblem Graphics Repository.
Lex Talionis: Use the Fire Emblem Graphics Repository.
Tactile: Use the Fire Emblem Graphics Repository.
FEXP: Use the Fire Emblem Graphics Repository.
SRPG Studio: Visit SRPG World for useable assets. Note that there is a language switch option at the top right to change to English.
SRPG Studio cannot use things from the Repository, which is a huge demerit in my opinion. However, SRPG World does have quite a lot of assets, so it’s not exactly WAY behind, just… a bit behind.
Note: Spell Animations are mostly unusable at the moment in anything besides Romhacking. Neither Tactile nor LT can properly import them. That’s because spell animations are very special snowflakes with a lot of annoying hardcoding neither BwdYeti or Rainlash want to try and untangle. Heck, the year is 2022 and even FEBuilder doesn’t have an ‘export spell animations’ option because it really is just that painful.
So if spell animations matter a lot to you, you only have Romhacking as an option.
FEBuilder: All assets in the Repository are, by default, designed to work with FEBuilder. No issues here.
Buildfiles: Many types of assets need to be ‘converted’ to work in a Buildfile. There are various tools to do this, and you can pick up on the details by asking people in FEUcord for help.
Lex Talionis: Lex Talionis makes importing things from the Repository as painless as possible. Even though it uses a different Map Sprite format identical to Tactile, LT actually allows you to convert map sprites from the Repo to its own format. (Results may vary)
Tactile: Importing some types of assets into Tactile is a royal pain in the butt. Unless it’s been fixed recently, importing a single map animation and ‘attaching’ it to a class is a multi-minute chore, and having to do so several times for many animations is far from a painless experience. Tactile also has its own format for mugs, which you will need to convert to in order for them to work ingame. (Note: I actually think Tactile’s portrait format is great, and very versatile.)
SRPG Studio: SRPG has its own asset formats and will not work with the Repository.
Overall if you want ease of importing, Romhacking takes the lead here, with LT not too far behind, then Buildfiles, then Tactile.
And remember, neither LT nor Tactile can import spell animations from the Repo. Only romhacks can.
Romhacking: Romhacks run at 60 FPS. You will never experience a slowdown. Everything feels good. This is the Fire Emblem you know, the FE you’re used to.
Lex Talionis: LT games usually feel good, but there are a lot of minor hiccups, moments where you think “Oh this doesn’t perfectly replicate GBAFE, huh weird” and other slightly offputting things. These will bother some people but others won’t even care. It varies based on person.
Tactile: Buttery smooth 60 FPS, feels even smoother than playing a romhack. Sometimes a Tactile game can even feel too smooth, like going from a 24FPS movie to a 60FPS one. Tactile also perfectly emulates and even greatly improves GBA, to the point where you really feel like you’re playing GBA Enhanced Edition.
SRPG Studio: SRPG Studio does not seek to emulate GBAFE, but more like SNES FE. Even so, the default animations and map movements can feel janky and low-FPS. They aren’t as well-animated as most GBAFE animations, etc.
I give the win to Tactile here, which still has the best ‘feeling’ games of all the offerings. GBA comes next, then LT, then the rest. This category is subjective, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue differently.
Romhacking: It’s GBA. Perfect accuracy of emulation, duh.
Lex Talionis: Not quite up to par. Some minor missteps here and there. Mostly feels good, but sometimes things just feel a little ‘off.’ You’ll know if you play.
Tactile: Perfect emulation, to the point it feels better than the original.
SRPG Studio: Not applicable.
FEBuilder: Simple setup. Download FEB, download a rom, run FEB, load ROM, done.
And then FEB wants to update so there goes 15 minutes of your day because you misclicked and now the update is running oh goddammit.
Buildfiles: Extremely complicated setup. You’ll be at this for a WHILE on your first time. Days, even.
Lex Talionis: Very simple setup. There are even .exe builds you can get. Check out this page for the details.
Tactile: Paaaaainful setup, lots of things to run, to install, and so on. There’s no AIO installer or anything like that. It’s a really big issue, getting past this initial hurdle.
SRPG Studio: Buy off steam, press launch, done.
Romhacking: People release new patches and ASM constantly. It’s a bit patchwork how everything works together, but mostly the system functions well.
Lex Talionis: Rainlash and the rest of the team update constantly. Expect to see hundreds of updates a year, ranging from minor to major. I recently updated on Github and had 500+ additions to my engine. Crazy stuff.
Tactile: Very, very slow release rate. You might get 1-2 updates a year, optimistically. Unfortunately, BwdYeti works alone.
SRPG Studio: It gets updated fairly frequently. Check the Steam page for more info.
FEBuilder: I rate it 8/10.
Lex Talionis: Simple and clean, 9/10.
Tactile: While this is clean in design, it doesn’t feature character portraits, affinity icons, etc. 7/10
(Note: My build may be out of date and a newer version might look better but I cannot be assed to go through the FEXNA update process.)
SRPG Studio: It’s basic, but perfectly functional. 8/10.
My barometer for a 10/10 is Emblem Magic, by the way. I don’t know if EM was ‘perfect’ UI design but it really worked amazingly.
FEBuilder: 7743 insisted on not displaying the map sprites at 100% zoom, but instead stretching them out. As a result I’m deducting a full point down to 7/10.
Lex Talionis: Really, really solid overall. The map sprites are a bit too spaced out though, in my opinion, preventing a slightly higher score. 8/10.
Tactile: Gotta give Tactile the edge here. The map sprites don’t look awful even when compressed and there’s less wasted space than in LT. Though, a lack of class cards is VERY disappointing. 8/10.
SRPG Studio: Basic but functional. 7/10.
FEBuilder: Once again, 7743’s insistence on zooming in icons makes them look really ugly. This is a really functional menu, though. 7/10.
Lex Talionis: Here’s the thing. LT’s Item Editor is not like any of the others. It is its own Killer Feature. As such, it gets a 10/10. You’ll understand why later in this post.
Tactile: I really like Tactile’s Item Editor a lot more than FEBuilder. That being said, it simply cannot compete with LT, nor can any of the others. They’re not in the same ballpark. 9/10.
SRPG Studio: The ‘custom parameters’ option is pretty cool. 7/10.
FEBuilder: Oh boy. Modifying skills in FEB is understandably an agonizing and painful process. There are multiple windows to browse, and they all interlink. You cannot actually modify these skills either, not without knowing ASM.
Buildfiles: I didn’t include these before, but Buildfiles are actually far superior and much more customizable if you want skills in your romhack. While there is no UI editor, it’s really easy to add skills and move them around. If you want to romhack but want very specific skills added, you should strongly consider using Buildfiles. (Otherwise just use LT, it’s still better than the other options.)
Lex Talionis: Skills, like Items, are another Killer Feature in LT. You’ll hear more about those at the end of the post.
Tactile: As far as I know, Tactile’s skills are currently pretty hardcoded and the Skill Editor does not exist yet. Pretty big demerit in that case. If I’m wrong, I’ll edit this.
SRPG Studio: A surprising number of options, but they all appear to be preset skills, not super customizable ones.
FEBuilder: Adding skills is simple. You merely patch it through the Patch function, then you have skills available. Modifying those skills requires ASM, though. Generally, if you just want some of the more popular skills from the mainline FE games, FEBuilder is an adequate option.
Buildfiles: The superior option, adding and modifying skills and their parameters is MUCH easier with a Buildfile. If you’re hardcore and laser-focused on making a romhack with differentiated skills, Buildfiles are the superior option.
Lex Talionis: You craft skills (and Items!) using a Components system, allowing you a massive amount of skill customization without ever touching the code. I detail this more in the Killer Features section below, but basically no other engine even comes close to what LT Skills can do.
Tactile: Tactile’s skills are (currently) pretty hardcoded and difficult to edit. Even compared to FEBuilder or Buildfiles, it comes up short here.
SRPG Studio: SRPG skills are pretty easy to add, but editing them seems difficult as they also appear hardcoded. I’m not familiar with this engine so I may be wrong.
Romhacking: Romhacking in general has several map editors available. You can even use Tactile’s external editor, FEMapCreator, if you want. Some people use Mappy, and others use Tiled. In terms of options, there are a surprising number! Most of the other engines can also import maps made by these programs too!
FEBuilder: On top of importing maps made externally through the previously mentioned programs, FEBuilder has its own map creator built-in. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you’re too lazy to grab the others, it’s… usable.
Tactile: Tactile has an internal version of FEMapCreator, but the external one seems a lot better from what I remember. It has superior random map generation and is easier to use.
SRPG Studio: I don’t know anything about SRPG’s map editor, but it looks fine?
Romhacking: Learning to event in Romhacking takes time and patience. FEBuilder’s editors seem a bit clunky, but they work well and you can definitely use them if you practice. Buildfile eventing is a whole other thing entirely. I’m really not familiar with it.
Lex Talionis: LT eventing is a bit similar to GBA, but it uses more of a ‘Python-y’ language.
Tactile: Tactile’s Event Editor is the clear winner here. It’s my personal favorite to use and very well-thought-out.
SRPG Studio: SRPG’s event editor is very similar to RPG Maker eventing. If you’ve used those, you’ll understand this one.
Romhacking: Animations use a custom scripted language identical to the files inside the Graphics Repo. Have a look at those if you’re curious. There’s also an animation editor inside FEBuilder
Lex Talionis: LT can import from the Repo, but it has its own animation editor built in.
Tactile: I quite like Tactile’s built-in animation editor. While importing animations from the Repo is a major pain in the ass, once inside the editor is versatile and easy to understand. It even plays the animations in real time with SFX.
SRPG Studio: Honestly I REALLY like the animation editor for SRPG Studio. Most surprising thing about it.
Romhacking: Uses the default portrait format, but there are several other options. Including this.
Buildfiles: You’re gonna want to use something like this.
Lex Talionis: LT uses the default GBA portrait box, but without the upside-down ‘T’ size limits.
Tactile: Tactile has its own unique format for portraits. I actually think it’s superior to what GBA uses.
SRPG Studio: Uses very basic ‘face squares’ and that’s about it. No eye or mouth frames.
Romhacking: Romhacks have Halfbody support. However, the implementation is limited. It’s also a little awkward because the textbox now hangs over the characters’ bodies and there’s a big gap on top of the screen.
Lex Talionis: LT does not currently have halfbody support at all, though it does have better base portrait support than romhacking. That being said, any good Python coder could add the support; there’s nothing stopping you. It just wasn’t a priority.
Tactile: If you MUST have halfbodies, Tactile is king. Tactile has the most robust halfbody support of all engines as it was built for it from the ground up. Bigger screen, lots of room for them to breathe, etc.
SRPG Studio: Not applicable. Uses a different conversation system style.
Romhacking: The baseline for what we expect out of Fire Emblem text. You’ve got your [A] prompts, your [LoadFace] commands, all of that. I am quite familiar with the GBAFE style, but it’s not perfect and could be better.
FEBuilder: I don’t like how FEB absolutely masticates text you import into it. As an example, text looks like this:
But it should look like this:
Lex Talionis: It has a custom text engine based on GBAFE but with different commands. I have not used it extensively, but it seems fine. Notably, it includes an auto-textwrap feature to try and make dialogue look better. Useful for lazy people. You know who you are!
Tactile: I personally love Tactile’s text commands, and it has the best text editor and previewer of all the engines. In the future LT might close that gap, but for the moment, Tactile is king. The way it minimizes the length of text commands, the way it uses names, etc. The only downside is every new line needs to end with a \n command. That’s a bit annoying.
Note: My version of FEXNA fucked up Uther, so that’s why he’s peeping.
SRPG Studio: SRPG Studio uses a VERY basic visual novel-style text engine. Characters cannot ‘hop’ during dialogue, cannot emote except through a portrait swap, lack mouth frames, and lack eye frames. If you want to write dialogues that feel dynamic and fun to read, I would not recommend SRPG for this.
Some important notes:
- Tactile’s text engine is really good, but it is locked to three lines of text. That means even if someone only says a few words on the top line, there will be a two-line gap of emptiness below it.
- @Tequila released an updated text engine revamp which added 1 and 3 line dialogue support. I think 3 lines looks really cramped and it should be used sparingly, but 1 and 2 lines look good.
- Lex Talionis will probably be getting a text previewer and other similar functionality in the future. It’s hard to say if/when these things will be coming, but it is updated VERY frequently so this post could be outdated by year’s end.
Let’s go over some of the key reasons you might opt to pick one of these engines over the other. These are basically ‘Killer Features’ that the others don’t have, or would have trouble replicating.
This section can use a lot of expanding. I’m sure Romhackers have systems I don’t know about, same for SRPG or other engines. Hit me with anything you’ve got!
- Playable on literally anything, maybe even your fuckin’ toaster
- System requirements are a pc built after 1992
- Huge community support
- Shedloads of tutorials
- It’s the GBA you know and love, what’s not to like?
- The ‘Patches’ system has a massive number of patches you can apply to your rom to change it however you please.
- Don’t like how someone else made their game? Mod it your way!
- One of the easiest ways to get into making your own Fire Emblem game.
- Debug Menu when running a rom allows you to skip through chapters, trigger specific events, etc.
- Pretty easy to pick up and tinker around, comes with three fully complete built-in moddable games (FE6-8) to say nothing of other fanmade games you might want to tinker around with.
- Organize YOUR way.
- Bugs? Those are so easy to fix you won’t believe it.
- Back off, FEBuilder. I’m putting my data where I want it, not you!
- Killer Feature: The Item Editor. You can create items using a vast library of ‘components’ allowing you to do insane things like AOE fireballs that explode on 5 tiles and then summon 5 skeletons which also explode on death.
- Killer Feature: The Skill Editor. No need to code skills! You can ‘craft’ skills with components, just like in the item editor! Your imagination really is the limit, and as an added bonus, skills and items can combine! So you can have items with attached skills or skills that give you items, you name it!
- Killer Feature: Dynamic Map Creator: As mentioned above, you can make a map using a special (but WIP and incomplete) map creator that generates fitting tiles as you place them down! This is more of a beta feature though.
- Killer Feature: Pair Up. Much like in FE13+, you can toggle the option to enable Pair-Up in your game so units can join together and perform combo attacks. It has lots of toggle-settings.
- Killer Feature: Turnwheel. Much like in Fire Emblem Echoes, LT has the Turnwheel built in and everyone takes care to ensure their engine additions work with it. You can rewind turns and undo bad mistakes, limit it to X uses per map, etc. This is not something other engines will be able to replicate for a LONG time due to just how integrated it is into everything. (It is disable-able though)
- Killer Feature: You can event your own ingame user interface. This is useful for stuff like this or this or even this. Did you think I was done? I’m not. Here’s a custom Avatar Creator Menu. Pick a Feat?
- Killer Feature: Mana System! This engine features an EXTENSIVE mana system, allowing you to easily replicate Blood Mana from various titles, give your units actual Mana Points or Stamina Points for casting spells, a learnable spell system like in Fire Emblem Echoes, and so much more!
- Killer Feature: Cooldowns! You can make items or abilities cooldown by turn, by map, by chapter, by uses… you can make them refresh through shrines or through other sorts of mechanics. This system is very fleshed out and well-integrated and is truly a unique and killer feature.
- Killer Feature: Multi-items. You can put items inside of items! This allows you to make scrolls with multiple spells inside of them, swords that transform into other swords, backpacks with different sorts of healing items, etc! The possibilities are endless!
- Ingame Debug Menu: Text based, a little barebones, but it works well!
- Bases: Popularized in FE9 and 10, you can have bases where you can talk to your units and do other things. Note that Tactile also has this feature but both engines execute the system a little differently.
- BEXP: LT has a replica of FE9 and 10’s BEXP, and you can customize its settings to best fit your needs. NOTE: Tactile also has a BEXP system, but it’s more BwdYeti’s form of BEXP and it’s very different.
- Built-In Randomization: There are more and more randomizer features being built-in to LT that developers can enable for roguelite modes or for added replay value. Rainlash is also working on a map and enemy randomizer too which is pretty cool, though VERY WIP.
- Free Roam: Want to walk around and talk to units in a single turn like this is a 1990’s NES RPG? This system is in LT. It is also in Romhacking and SRPG, but not Tactile.
- Initiative Order: Tired of you and the enemy moving all your units at once each turn? Use a Shining Force system to make units move according to their SPD or some other factor.
- Codex: Like this!
- FE5 Systems: Thracia Fatigue, Heal Staves missing, PCC/FCC, Mount/Dismount, Escape Points, Leadership Stars, Movement Growth, and Movement Stars are in LT either as default toggle-able systems, or you can easily event them with Skills. Other FE5-specific and FE4-specific systems are either already in the engine or easily made.
- …And a LOT more. I was actually getting bombarded with too many crazy features so I decided to stop. The biggest reason I push hard for LT is its vast library of killer features, in addition to all its other big benefits.
I know it seems like I’m shilling hard for LT here. But really, LT has a lot of features. The thing is, Tactile used to have a lot of Killer Features, but Romhacking and LT eventually replicated many of them. I’m going to list Tactile’s historical special features, but keep in mind they might continue to be replicated by the other engines moving forward.
Killer Feature: The Unit Placer. Originally I forgot to mention this, but along with the Event Editor, it’s a one-two punch of awesomeness that Tactile not only has, but other engines are unlikely to replicate any time soon.
I’m unable to do the Unit Placer justice with a rinky-dink little 30 second clip, but basically you can put down units, modify their equipment, move them around, change their types, adjust their stats, set reinforcements, and a lot more, all inside a game-like interface. It also supports M+K control, which is even better!
Killer Feature: The Event Editor. As previously stated, Tactile’s Event Editor is far better than the competition, being both beautiful and easy to use, requiring few clicks, and being easy to understand. There’s a learning curve, for sure, but nothing else approaches its beginner friendliness. At the same time it’s just as powerful as the other eventing systems with zero compromises.
A quick little video of it in action. Again, a one-minute browse doesn’t really tell you much, but it really is powerful and easy to use.
Killer Feature: Tactile is the only engine with a default window size much bigger than GBAFE. This allows it to fit halfbody mugs and lots of text with ease. It has its own custom UI, and tons of general improvements over GBA’s playing systems. In terms of polish, Tactile is way above the contenders.
Not-public Feature: ‘Training’ in FE7x. This is not available for the public, but it showcases what Tactile could do in theory.
FE7x: Training - YouTube
Useful feature: Repairing systems for weapons. (LT also has this, and I think Romhacking does, so it’s not much of a unique pull anymore, but STILL!)
FE7x Features & Mechanics - Repair - YouTube
FE7x: Worldmap Events - YouTube
Talk events and bubbles. These were killer features back in the day but now all the engines have them.
FE7x Features & Mechanics - Talk - YouTube
Support stuff. Same as above, used to be killer features, now more of a standard all engines try to attain.
FE7x Features & Mechanics - Support - YouTube
SRPG Studio has a ton of features, and after asking around I got directed to several noteworthy things about it.
Killer Feature: The Plugin System. SRPG Studio has a drag and drop, plug and play Plugin System which performs at an extremely high level. Not only is it versatile enough to modify huge game components, but it’s so easy to use even a dumb idiot like me can figure it out! You’ll want to visit the Discord to find all the relevant links to Plugin sits and repositories, but after doing a bit of searching I was shocked at how much content is available for SRPG.
Also worth mentioning: The only other engine with a ‘plugin’ system is FEBuilder. Adding new stuff to LT, and especially Tactile, is quite a bit more time consuming than simply dragging and dropping files into a folder or a UI. FEBuilder has a Patches system, and while Patches can be browsed freely in their entirety, the window is ugly, cluttered, and disorganized. It needs a lot of work to get up to SRPG’s standards.
Killer Feature: Steam Workshop. In addition to downloads from the SRPG Studio Discord and graphics from SRPG World, you also have access to the SRPG Studio Steam Workshop. All together, I don’t know if these three major resource hubs beat the Fire Emblem Graphics Repository in scope, but they can’t come up too short. Having access to the steam workshop allows for easy additions of graphics and features to your game.
FEBuilder: Fully customizable UI colors.
Lex Talionis: Dark and Light and Green and other preset color modes.
Tactile: Light mode only.
SRPG Studio: Light and Dark modes!
If you have an affinity for Dark Mode in your applications and games, Tactile might be a hard sell as the other engines all have Dark Modes but Tactile does not. If customizability is big, FEBuilder has the most customizable UI in terms of color preferences.
SRPG Studio recently added Dark Mode!
FEBuilder: FEBuilder has easily-editable language files you can use to make editor translations for other lanuages, and was primarily made by 7743, a native Japanese speaker.
Buildfiles: It seems to mostly use English for its systems, but in theory it’s all text-file and macro-based so any language can make a Buildfile.
Lex Talionis: LT currently has no real multi-lingual support and is limited to English. This might change in the future.
Tactile: Tactile currently has no real multi-lingual support and is limited to English. This might change in the future.
SRPG Studio: This engine was made by Japanese developers and then machine-translated to English. A lot of complaints center around how it can have a very ‘engrishy’ feel to it. The English TLs are apparently quite rough but have been getting improved over time. The engine is hardcoded and does not support any language but English and Japanese, currently.
Note: I am not really familiar with the nuances in any Support systems. I actually hate Supports as a story mechanic and as such don’t pay much attention to them. However, a lot of people do like them and want to use/improve them. I ended up consulting with other developers for this section.
By default, the basic Supports in GBAFE are, frankly, absolute ass. They’re slow to build, tedious to use, only affect units a few tiles in range of each other, and have to be activated/upgraded on the map. Luckily, there are a LOT of different Support systems out there, and the usability across engines can vary wildly. Between future game updates to supports, like via Bases in FE9/10 or adding Unlimited Supports after FE13, many hackers and developers have added variants of the generic GBAFE systems.
GBAFE Default: Supported in all engines except Tactile, which uses an enhanced version.
Buildfiles only: Snakey’s Support Rework. Also features Base supports like in FE9/10. (Citation needed?)
Events as Supports by Blyvern.
There are also various FEBuilder patches that can cumulatively tweak the values for vanilla Supports to make then function better. I won’t go into those here.
Lex Talionis: This engine has a very customizable support system, and you can further modify them through skills and code, including that UI Eventer that lets you make custom UI windows.
Tactile features a vastly improved Support system over vanilla Fire Emblem, as evidenced by this video. @Ryn informed me that Tactile allows units to combine their different support bonuses together. UPDATE: A comment from BwdYeti. Overall, it’s a superior system to GBAFE, but Tactile doesn’t allow you to easily overhaul the system to work like FE9/10 or later titles in the same way LT, Romhacking, or even SRPG Studio does.
Speaking of SRPG Studio, it has a Plugin system with lots of different options for adding Support systems to your games, including generic GBA/FE9/FE10+ supports in addition to some custom ones as well. A lot of options here!
Note: This section refers to FE8-style ‘traversable world maps’ as well as the world map used in cutscenes and events at the start of most GBAFE chapters. I have not ever touched the Overworld with any engine. I defer to other users.
Romhacking: Note that Romhacking has some glaring limitations the other engines do not. Specifically, color limits on the maps you can import, and size restrictions. I’m not sure of the exact details, but these limitations can be VERY annoying from the chatter I’ve heard on various discords.
FEBuilder: Modifying the traversable and cutscene-based world maps is not exactly easy, but it is doable. The traversable map has gotten a lot easier to modify over the years, but it can still have a lot of quirks and pain in the ass points.
Buildfiles: From what I understand, it’s actually ‘easier’ to modify the world map with Buildfiles than with FEBuilder. Take this information with a huge grain of salt. Correct me in the replies if needed.
Lex Talionis: According to Mag on LTcord, modifying the traversable world map is very easy in LT, and according to Beccarte who is eventing the whole of FE7 in LT (His project here) editing cutscene world maps is also quite easy.
Tactile: AFAIK, Tactile does not have a traversable world map. It is pretty easy to create world-map cutscenes, though. See this video from earlier.
SRPG Studio: Not sure about this one.
Romhacking: Romhacks have a linear save system. Three save slots per game at max. You can also duplicate the actual save files on your pc, but that’s more of a workaround.
Lex Talionis: LT has a linear save system. You can have tons of save slots. Notably, LT also has the Turnwheel feature, allowing you to roll back to previous turns, as mentioned earlier. It also has Checkpoints, allowing the developer to prompt the player to save at story-critical moments.
Tactile: Tactile has a really unique non-linear save system. You can replay past chapters even on different difficulties if you’ve gotten later in the game but don’t want to restart from the VERY beginning, or if you want to replay a particular favorite chapter. It also has tons of save slots and a Checkpoint system.
SRPG Studio: Simple linear save system with tons of slots. There are also a bunch of Plugins that add new and improved save system functionality too. Suspend saves, autosaves, ironman savescum prevention, and other things to boot.
Romhacking: Romhacks have the basic vanilla GBA AI. If you want to modify it, you’ll need to learn ASM. There are a few improvement patches but it’s not as good as the other alternatives.
Lex Talionis: Lex Talionis AI is about as competent in combat as GBAFE AI. HOWEVER! There is a really powerful AI Editor built into the engine that can let you heavily customize how units act on each chapter or across a whole game. This makes it the most versatile option by default.
Tactile: If you don’t want to mess with AI but you want the most ruthless and vicious AI capable of tearing your players apart, Tactile rules here. Its enemies are like hunter-seeker missiles. They will scour your defenses for holes and rapidly pick you apart. However, the AI itself is very hardcoded so don’t expect to modify it without touching the code.
FEXP: Same quality as Tactile.
SRPG Studio: From what I understand, SRPG’s AI is about on par with GBAFE.
Some engines, and the games they produce, can connect to the internet for automatic updates and other useful features. Others cannot.
Romhacking: Romhacks themselves cannot connect to the internet. This means no online play, nothing like that. It is technically possible for people to update to a newer version of a romhack if they open and play it with FEB, but I doubt 99% of your likely audience would do this.
FEBuilder: FEBuilder is extremely easy to update. It prompts you every time you load the engine if there’s a new update available.
And then you accidentally click ‘yes, update’ and there goes five minutes of your day
Buildfiles: Buildfiles don’t have much reason to connect to the internet, and since they’re managed entirely through text and excel files, with few exceptions, there aren’t really ‘tools’ to keep updated.
Lex Talionis: LT has a few options for updating the engine and its games. It’s entirely possible to code a ‘callback’ function to a server that would keep your LT game updated. Additionally, you can update your LT build pretty painlessly through Github Desktop, Git Bash, or if you’re using the .exe build of the engine, through its dropdown update option. That will prompt you to say Yes. Aaaand just like that, you’re done.
Tactile: Tactile can presently only be updated through Github. Updating Tacile is a pain because the ‘engine’ is in a specific folder with a specific project file, and sometimes when you update the engine this causes issues with the project. I’ve had this happen too many times to count. As for Tactile games, it’s theoretically possible to have them auto-update when the devs make a new version, but I don’t think anyone’s coded a system for this yet.
SRPG Studio: SRPG Studio auto-updates because it’s run through Steam. Definitely the easiest and lowest-hassle engine to manage overall. SRPG games can also be auto-updated as well, especially games published through Steam.
FEBuilder: Babby Builders
Buildfiles: Builder Bros
Lex Talionis: Sex Talionis
Tactile: Touchy Tactilers?
SRPG Studio: The Rebels!
This is the most important category and as I think it’s clear, Sex Talionis wins so, you know that makes it the best one. Sorry, debate’s over.
If you guys have any further suggestions for engine comparison points, let me know! I’ll try and add them wherever possible! I have been at this all day. It really fell off in effort toward the end due to ten straight hours of typing, so, I can use help polishing it up. If you notice typos, errors, oversights, or simply big important things that I missed, comment below and let me know!
If I’m missing key advantages of engines, especially SRPG Studio and Tactile, also let me know. Make sure your post is detailed and informative!