Everyone knows that a finished FE ROM hack is incredibly rare. People who have no hacking experience frequently enter with the expectation of completing a full-length ROM hack of 25-30 chapters with a completely original story featuring an original setting and original characters. Needless to say, those will never get finished.
Obviously there’s a reason why newcomers to FE ROM hacking have those sorts of expectations: they have never experienced working on such a project before (thereby greatly underestimating the amount of work needed to deliver a finished product), and every official FE game is a full campaign in the range of at least 25-30 chapters in length. It doesn’t help that even veterans in the community take up these lengthy projects, because it further establishes the expectation that one should or must design a full campaign and it also contributes to the syndrome of ROM hackers never finishing anything.
I think that we should start encouraging ourselves and others to aim a little lower in this respect. It’s fully possible to deliver a compelling story with fleshed out characters without spending 25-30 chapters to do so - in literature, writers write short stories all the time, and they are by no means insubstantial. We’re well aware that many FE ROM hacking projects do tend to stall at around the 10-chapter mark, which means that a short campaign of 10 chapters or less is an ideal target. Of course, one can’t go about designing a short campaign the same way as a full campaign, much like how a short story is structurally distinct from a novel:
- There must be a smaller conflict than the typical FE-style two-powerful-nations-duke-it-out type of conflict.
- The plot has to progress at a faster pace. A typical FE game starts with small chapters and few characters. Although this is beneficial for the main series games because they serve dual function as a tutorial, this is wasted effort in a ROM hack because the people who play ROM hacks are not likely series newcomers.
- If one wants to deliver content in fewer chapters, then larger, somewhat more complex chapters are desirable.
- FE’s standard pace of units leveling up, gaining experience, and promoting doesn’t fit a short campaign. There are some options here: let units start at a higher base level (e.g., L5 instead of L1), accelerate the experience curve, or eschew promotion altogether. I’m sure there are other ideas.
- FE’s standard formula of giving the player far more units that they can use must be abandoned. A cast of even 20 playable units is probably too large for a campaign that’s less than 10 chapters long. This also defeats the purpose of really complex class trees, but I think that’s a good thing.
I can completely understand why this concept might not be palatable to all, especially because it’s different from what we are familiar with. However, I think that being able to produce complete and high-quality ROM hacks has the potential to attract more attention to this community and its efforts. It may even give ROM hacks a niche that the main series games don’t fill - the ability to tell a high quality story that doesn’t rely on stock caricatures and fanservice for mass appeal - and I encourage you to seriously entertain this idea.