When it comes to Pokémon ROM hacks and fan games, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of games you can play. Decision paralysis is something you can experience at the start, and this is something I experienced as well. From games that feature extensive new regions and original storylines to others that have brutally challenging difficulty levels that up-the-ante of the original games, there’s no shortage of Pokémon ROM hacks to choose from.

Even so, I truly think there’s something for everyone, no matter what you are a fan of. Pokémon Unbound is one of the many you can dive into, but it’s also one of the best Pokémon ROM hacks out there.

It stands head and shoulders above the rest and sets the gold standard when it comes to Pokemon ROM hacks. It is one of the most polished, comprehensive, and enjoyable ROM hacks I’ve encountered so far. If you are just now jumping into the world of ROM hacks, Pokémon Unbound is a perfect starting point. 

The game is packed with endless quality-of-life improvements and offers difficulty levels that range from “vanilla” to “insane”, making it a great pick for newcomers as well as experienced players looking for a unique challenge. Its mission system also features over 75 unique missions. And that’s just the beginning—there’s so much more to discover thanks to the immense number of features this game has.

There’s a lot I want to talk about after playing Pokemon Unbound, but before I get into my review, I want to first talk about what Pokemon Unbound is about for those of you who are new to it all.

Pokemon Unbound Gameplay Screenshot

What’s Pokémon Unbound about?

Pokémon Unbound is an original story that’s set in a new region, the Borrius Region. It takes place 16 years after a fierce conflict with the Kalos region. This war reached a climactic end when the Borrius people summoned a powerful dark force, which was countered by the Kalos King’s deployment of an ultimate weapon. Deemed too dangerous to ever be used again, it is later decided that this dark force will be sealed away.

Fast forward to the present, a nefarious criminal group known as “The Shadows” emerges. Their goal is to unleash this ancient dark force upon the world once more. Accompanied by your Pokémon, you embark on a journey to put an end to The Shadow’s sinister agenda and save the world from impending doom.

From its opening cutscene, Pokémon Unbound not only pulls you into its story, it makes you want to explore its world and uncover its mysteries as well. 

pokemon unbound gameplay screenshot 3 edited 2

Highlights

While Pokémon Unbound harkens to a more nostalgic time, it has a distinctly modern feel. The developers’ dedication to making this game as polished and feature-rich as possible is largely to thank for this. The game is well-developed, with everything being properly thought-through. It has snappy controls, fun gameplay, and great design.

When you start the game, you are greeted by a character customizer, which allows for personal touches like hair color and outfit choice. I appreciate this because customizing your character makes it feel a bit more personal. The dialogue, though sometimes a bit over-the-top, has a unique and refreshing sense of humor that caught me off guard, in the best way possible.

The game’s mission system is especially impressive, featuring over 75 missions, some of which extend throughout the entire game. Among these, were a handful of missions that I can only describe as pleasantly weird. I’m glad I took the time to complete them because they were enjoyable but also fun quests to take part in. The mission ‘Abandonment Issues’ in Fallshore City stands out as a prime example of this game’s ability to be different in the best way.

The inclusion of a mission log to track missions is a thoughtful touch that significantly enhances the RPG experience. Its presence allows you to keep things organized and it makes the overall experience more enjoyable. The pacing and progression of the story are also well-executed. I never felt the need to grind, and the enemies were well-balanced throughout. 

pokemon unbound gameplay screenshot edited 1

Each town is vibrant and distinctive, with its own history and culture that come further to life as you interact with the locals. Since Pokémon Unbound is a brand new story, delving into the world’s lore significantly enriches your overall experience. That said, I implore you to explore, do as many side quests, and talk to as many characters as possible.

Pokémon Unbound excels in immersion and it has this uncanny ability to keep you invested in its story. The complexity of the main story, combined with extensive lore and world-building through side missions, paints a thorough and vivid picture of this world. It has a darker narrative than your average Pokémon game, which I found appealing as well.

The main villain group is intriguing and formidable too, offering a refreshing change from the usual “be the best” Pokémon game goal. In Unbound, you’re fighting for a greater cause, which adds an engaging dimension to the gameplay.

Minor Complaints

Like most RPGs, the side missions in Pokémon Unbound offer varying levels of enjoyment. The good news is that if a side mission doesn’t appeal to you, you can simply skip it. As you progress, you’ll quickly identify the types of missions you enjoy.

If you’re engaging with every character in each town, you’ll get a decent amount of mission requests. This ultimately led me to become more selective about the ones I chose to complete as the game advanced.

The only other minor frustration I encountered during my play-through was a few game crashes. These occurred less than a handful of times. Regular saving is a good practice to mitigate any significant disruption, but it’s still worth mentioning. For context, I played most of my play-through on my Steam Deck using EmuDeck.

pokemon unbound gameplay screenshot 1 edited

In Summary

Pros

  • Modern Feel with Nostalgic Elements: The game successfully blends a nostalgic feel with modern gameplay elements.
  • Polished and Feature-Rich: The developers’ dedication is evident in the game’s polish and rich features.
  • Well-Developed Gameplay: The game boasts snappy controls, fun gameplay, and great design.
  • Character Customization: The character customizer allows for personal touches, enhancing the player’s connection to the game.
  • Unique and Humorous Dialogue: The dialogue is refreshingly humorous and adds to the game’s charm.
  • Impressive Mission System: Over 75 missions further enhance the world-building and gameplay experience.
  • Thoughtful Mission Log: The mission log helps keep track of quests, improving organization and enjoyment.
  • Well-Executed Story Pacing and Progression: The story progresses smoothly without the need for grinding, and the enemies are well-balanced.
  • Rich World-Building: Each town has its own distinct culture and history that connect you further to the story.
  • Immersive Storytelling: The complex main story, extensive lore, and side missions create a deeply immersive world.
  • Darker Narrative: The game features a darker storyline than typical Pokémon games, which adds to its appeal.

Cons

  • Varying Enjoyment of Side Missions: Some side missions may not appeal to all players, though they are optional.
  • Occasional Game Crashes: I experienced a few game crashes although they were infrequent and can be mitigated by regular saving. This issue occurred while playing on the Steam Deck using EmuDeck.

Final Verdict: Is Pokémon Unbound Worth Playing?

Absolutely. Pokémon Unbound stands toe-to-toe with some official Pokémon releases in terms of presentation, story, and gameplay. It’s remarkable what the developers were able to achieve and incorporate into this game. Its refreshingly modern aesthetic and the depth of its features are particularly impressive, making it one of the best Pokémon ROM hacks I’ve experienced.

The game excels in storytelling and world-building, introducing us to a narrative that’s both darker and more complex than traditional Pokémon games. This, combined with the extensive lore that’s explored through side missions, provides a unique and immersive experience.

The gameplay in Pokémon Unbound is well-balanced. The absence of a need to grind and the well-executed pacing of the story particularly made it enjoyable and memorable to experience. Whether you’re a beginner or looking for a more challenging adventure, this game is accessible to a wide range of players. 

Personally, as someone who grew up playing Pokémon Red in the 90s, I see Pokémon Unbound as a perfect evolution into the type of game I enjoy now in my 30s. It aligns well with my current gaming preferences and offers a more mature tone that I appreciate.

I highly recommend Pokémon Unbound to anyone seeking a game that breaks the mold in terms of narrative depth, gameplay experience, and overall polish. It’s a testament to what dedicated developers can achieve in the realm of fan-made games.