Since those early proto-hackers began their journey, we have come a long way in the field of what is called rom hacking. Dedicated hackers continually program software patches and mods to be applied to game files, producing some very interesting results.
Many of these are translations, written and applied to raw Japanese games by dedicated fans so others can play beautiful games that Japanese companies decided weren't worth sending over to Europe and North America. Some of them are mods that change the difficulty or settings of a game, making it a slightly different experience. These are much like Game Genie mods, changing values like number of lives, starting money, and enemy spawn rate.
...And some create whole new games inside an existing game. Enter the Final Fantasy 5 Ancient Cave Hack.
This beautiful hack, first done in Japanese then translated into English, creates a new experience for the hardcore FF5 fans. In this hack, the player has to go through a randomly-generated dungeon 100 floors deep. They can level up as normal, but a time limit on each floor forces the player to move on and limit level-grinding on any floor.
Treasure chests are scattered throughout the dungeon, and they contain weapons, armor, items, spells, and jobs. That's right, jobs are unlocked one at a time as they are discovered in chests.
The game becomes quite difficult as the player advances, and management of healing items becomes critical. With only one (randomly-appearing) shop with overpriced merchandise, saving those Phoenix Downs becomes very important. Boss floors force very difficult encounters- not all of them are escapable.
If you can make it to the bottom floor, you are rewarded with a very, very interesting final boss fight:
It's Zeromus from Final Fantasy 4! He/She/It has some of the abilities of the Zeromus we know and love like Big Bang, and some of the abilities of Neo Exdeath like Grand Cross and Almagest. It's a tough fight, but if you finish if, you are rewarded with a special surprise- the final dungeon area from Final Fantasy 4. There are no encounters and the character can't interact with chests, but it's a nice little feature to include in this genius rom hack.
Here is a longer gameplay video with some failed attempts at the final boss if you need to see more of the devastation it can cause.
Next week, I'll be working on more Blue Marlin tricks, attempting to actually learn the mechanics of a game I know and love so well.