Adventures in 3DS Hacking

Game Preservation & Emulation Access

Game preservation and piracy tend to go hand in hand, and I’m not going to debate the ethics of archival sites like hShop, especially in the context of a discontinued handheld console with an impending digital store discontinuation. Sites like hShop are contextually important for accessibility purposes, especially with physical cartridges becoming hot commodities amongst collectors, in turn driving up prices (see: various Atlus games on the console). Additionally, archiving sites have been helpful for various 3DS games that have been delisted over the years for various reasons. For example, Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy was quietly delisted from the eShop, likely to avoid cannibalizing sales of its Switch port. Similarly, Etrian Mystery Dungeon and the 3DS port of Zero Time Dilemma were delisted due to an expired licensing deal between Spike Chunsoft and Atlus. On a smaller note, indie puzzle-action game Dodge Club Pocket was delisted earlier this year for reasons outside of the creator’s control. Fortunately, these games, among others, have been preserved on hShop for the hopefully foreseeable future, and can be easily downloaded through QR codes using the 3DS’s scanner. 

A hacked 3DS also gains the ability to run fan translated games, many of which are also hosted on the aforementioned hShop. Most valuable to me are the translations for the Dragon Quest Monsters spin-off’s that got passed over for official localization, including Joker 3 and the 3DS remakes of the GBC games. Other fan translations include MapleStory: The Girl of Destiny, Puyopuyo Chronicle, and Digimon World Re:Digitize Decode. There’s a significant labor of love involved in fan translations for 3DS games given the complexity of coding and file structure, but they offer significant experiences.

No, I do NOT have enough time to play all of these, I just enjoy having options

I am/was a big fan of the library of Virtual Console games Nintendo offered during the 3DS’s lifespan, though I was also more than a little disappointed by the lack of availability of certain ‘classic’ SNES JRPGs and keeping the GBA games locked to a select few games for Ambassadors. Yes, the restrictions were likely due to licensing reasons, but I can still be sad about the lack of old school Enix games. Fortunately, injecting ROMs of various games to run on the 3DS is super simple and mostly involves fiddling with some 3rd-party converters. ROM hacks are very doable, and I was able to inject Pokemon Crystal Clear and a version of Lufia & the Fortress of Doom patched with modifiers to cut down on grinding. I had issues with certain ROMs, like Terranigma and the fan translation of Bahamut Lagoon, which did not play well with the 3DS’s baked-in emulator, but simply needed to be run off a different SNES emulator. The easier access to GBA games has also been a huge asset, especially since GBA games run off the 3DS natively rather than through emulation, enabling better performance for timing-based games, like Mother 3.

Incidentally, DS ROMs can also be played on a hacked 3DS. TWiLight Menu++, an app originally developed as a replacement for the DSi’s menu for emulation accessibility, reached a point in development wherein it can run DS ROMs directly off the SD card. As someone who was dreading having to play Prosecutor’s Path and Last Window on a PC DS emulator, being able to play these games on my 3DS, without the use of a flashcart, has been a huge relief. Furthermore, DS ROMs don’t require conversion to be played, and can simply be dragged and dropped onto the SD card to launch.  

Utilities

Admittedly, I don’t dabble too heavily with some of the extraneous utility apps available for a hacked 3DS. These apps vary from practical programs, such as a save editor or wireless streaming, to more niche novelties, like an IRC channel or a sound novel interpreter. Aside from the aforementioned TWiLight Menu++, I also use NDSForwarder, which creates menu icons for DS ROMs on the SD Card, enabling the games to be launched from the home menu instead of having to open TWiLight Menu++ every time. 

Calling the homebrew file manager ‘FBI’ is still very funny to me.

Another  extremely helpful app is FTPD, which allows wireless transfer files between 3DS and computer. The New 3DS XL lacks a dedicated SD card slot, forcing me to unscrew the back of the console every time I wanted to add new ROM files. This design issue genuinely drove me nuts to the point I was considering buying a flashcart so I wouldn’t have to pry open my 3DS’s backplate ever again. FTPD came to my rescue at an excellent time and copying files to my 3DS wirelessly from my laptop has been seamless.

Fast PlayCoin is an app that does exactly one specific thing and does it extremely well – giving me max play coins every time I use it. Back in my undergraduate days, I did enough walking on campus to keep my play coin count topped off on a regular basis. Nowadays, my 3DS is only able to get a piddling amount of coins from my short walks to and from my workplace. This limitation created some issues while I played Yo-Kai Watch 3 and needed a steady stream of coins for the in-game gacha machine. Fast PlayCoin quickly made this a non-issue, and I got a steady stream of items while the game itself was none the wiser. 

Customization

Last, a hacked 3DS opens numerous possibilities for customization. Sure, I collected my fair share of official themes, but even I got tired of my seasonal rotation of Animal Crossing ditties. Enter Themeplaza – a huge repository for user-made themes. Of course, with so many themes coming in regularly, the quality can greatly vary, but I found quite a few very good ones, such as this lowkey EarthBound theme and this Fire Emblem theme of my Conquest husband. I even found this really neat SMT theme based on Atlus’s promotional metroidvania. While I haven’t tried making a full custom theme myself, it’s super easy to download themes from Themeplaza using the Anemone app. In addition to custom themes, custom badges for the home screen and boot-up animations can also be created. Basically, if you were mad that official themes weren’t made for some specific game, or if you really need anime tiddies on your double screens, Themeplaza probably has you covered. 

Not responsible for Mother 3 ending memories.

I absolutely would not have expected to be so enthralled with my 3DS post-hacking. I won’t even lie, hacking the 3DS genuinely made me fall back in love with the console, and I’ve been favoring bringing my console (in a fresh decal + new carrying case) to work to play on my lunch breaks. The experience has genuinely brought joy to me, especially since I can finally sit down and play the retro JRPGs I’ve been eyeing for years on a dedicated console instead of a PC emulator. If you’re not uncomfortable with the gray areas involved with some parts of console hacking, hacking the 3DS is an excellent experience overall.

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