Everyone has a couple of games they particularly like, regardless of how good they are, because of the memories they have of them. Unless, of course, they don’t like video games, in which case they must be card-carrying communists. For me, one of those games is Capcom’s greatest RPG: Destiny of an Emperor for NES.
I have to avoid making this into a Best Game Ever, but I still want to summarize: The game runs very quickly, with fast text speed and auto-battling. You can recruit many enemy generals after defeating them, over 100 in total. The tactic system is somewhat more fleshed out than many other RPGs magic systems, although it can also be more restrictive. The game’s backdrop of China’s Three Kingdoms period makes the world a bit more solid than many other games of the time. What I’m trying to say is, this game still holds appeal for me, and is still pretty accessible after playing all those namby-pamby current-gen RPGs.
And I’m not the only one, either. DoaE is one of those games that has a cult following, based around a couple of Three Kingdoms forums. Among other things, there have been multiple game challenges posed (similar to, say, the White Mages challenge of FF1) and debates of where in the world the few Capcom-made generals came from.
A little over a month ago, I was chatting with a fellow fan of the game. He was attempting a challenge posed by yet another fan, in which he tried to beat the game while keeping three early optional-recruits in his party. Since only a handful of officers gain more soldiers on level-up, this becomes frustrating when even the normal enemies can kill in one hit.
Joking, I asked “Well, what if we could make those characters level up? Would it be a bit easier?” Of course, about five minutes later it hit me; I’ve done some of this stuff before. I could open it in a hex editor, poke around, see if it would be feasible. If not, well, no harm done. If it were… it opened up some interesting possibilities.
That weekend, I got to work. I found the officers were stored in a set order, with set stats in certain places, et cetera. Nothing too complicated, really. After a while, fellow DoaE fan James joined in, and together we figured out roughly how things were arranged. Within a few days, I released a patch that allowed the extra characters to level up, and all was well.
But then, I thought… what if we changed more? Renamed officers, tweaked stats, made the game a little tougher? James had already set to work on a hack of this nature by the time I thought of it, so I went another route. I set out to make an officer editor, so anyone could change nearly all the stuff I could. I won’t bore you with too many details; suffice it to say much of it was easy, but some parts were hard. Pointers are nasty beings, especially when cornered.
After a somewhat rocky start, the editor was complete. It was rough around the edges, but it was all there – you could modify the usual stuff, as well as multiple hidden stats, names, tactics, the character’s sprite and the portrait. Everything clicked into place; to make things even better, the game used pointers to the officer when referring to them. For example, if you changed Liu Bei’s name to Cao Cao, every time Bei’s name would normally pop up, you’d see Cao’s instead.
My editor is just one of many. Romhacking may have a pretty small following, but there are still several editors – and hacks – out there. For example, there are many Super Mario Bros hacks, there are a few RPG hacks (some complete redesigns, some changing difficulty or other features). Some have even gone a more complete overhaul route; for example, there is a group working on an impressive hack of Final Fantasy VI.
So, keep in mind – when you see the “Congratulations” screen, it doesn’t have to mean the end. There might be more out there. And with a bit of persistence, you can add a few touches to make a game feel entirely different. Who knows, in another 10 years there might be a hack of Shadow of the Colossus.