Answering All Your Questions About GBA ROMs

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Written By Larious

Larious is the Executive Editor of LowkeyTech. He is a tech enthusiast and a content writer. 





Last Updated on August 19, 2019 by Larious

Emulation has been in the grey area for years. A lot of games would like to get into it but don’t know where to starts and what’s the right approach. That’s because there are different kinds of emulation – some require you to download an emulator and a ROM for a particular game. Others are transferred to an online service – you can play the game directly from the website without having to install it on your device.

  • What emulation delivers best results – a downloaded emulator and a ROM or an online version?
  • Does emulation require a powerful PC?
  • Where to start and what games fit best for beginners in emulation?
  • How to make the gaming experience as close as possible to the one, offered by Gameboy Advance?
  • Is emulation legal, and if not, what are the consequences?

As you can see, there are many unresolved issues, and most of them cannot be answered simply with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. In fact, any of these questions deserves a full guide on its own, but no one has got time to read such a detailed examination, right?

To make things easier and faster, we looked up the expert advice, analyzed the feedback of the gaming community, and analyzed our own experience. We think we’ve got your back with concise but relevant answers to all these bothersome questions.

  1. Online VS Download Debates

Saying that one kind is 100% superior over the other is impossible. In reality, it depends on what you are looking for in the game and what is your experience in emulation. The technical characteristics of your PC also play a significant role in the choice.

So, long story short, we made a summary of the circumstances that fit best for each of those alternatives.

It’s better to choose online ROM if:

  • You are new to emulation and don’t have an experience of installing or customizing the emulator;
  • You want a one-time experience, not a long-term journey;
  • You care about only about a standalone game or one game of the franchise, not the entire series;
  • Your PC cannot take significant workloads – this depends on the technical characteristics of your CPU;
  • You are not an experienced console gamer – the online controls are more primitive;
  • You want an online multiplayer experience (like assembling international teams and chatting with players from different countries).

Pokemon online game

The interface of the Pokemon online game in a multiplayer mode

It’s better to download GBA ROMs if:

  • Retro-gaming emulation is a long-term project, not the one-time visit;
  • You want to explore the entire series of the game or even several ones;
  • You want to make the most out of the emulation experience – the installed emulator+ ROM combination offers much more versatile functionality and customization possibility than a stripped-down online version;
  • You have a powerful PC;
  • You want your experience to be as close to the original as possible.

Let’s summarize this with the rule of thumb: those who prioritize accessibility, go to online emulations, whereas those who look for quality, download emulators and ROMs separately.

2. The required computing power

Rumor has it, you need to have a great PC if you want to get into emulation. Since PC has to run the emulator software first, and then also keep the ROM running, the CPU power has to be on the professional level.

This is most certainly the case if you are talking about modern emulation. With retro-games, however, the standards are much looser. The older the game is, the less technical capacities are required.

It’s logical if you think about it: older games have limited functionality and a simple interface. The files are lightweight, and running a ROM will feel like nothing to modern PCs. The primary workload will be created by emulator software, but it’s usually lightweight and has limited settings.

So, you need a dual-core CPU with medium performance levels. The single-core processing unit is likely to crumble under the pressure unless you download a stripped down the emulator and a straightforward ROM. For a wholesome emulation experience, two cores are a must.

3. The starting point

Getting started with emulation is no quantum physics. You don’t need experience or in-depth computer knowledge to set up a simple emulation toolset. Let us walk you through the essential steps of the preparation process.

  1. Check the state of your hardware. You want to pay attention to a CPU and see if it adheres to the requirements, discussed above.
  2. Free up the storage space. It’s best if you have at least 10 GB available on your disk. The more ROMs you download, the more significant is the storage they’ll require.
  3. Download a GBA emulator. Our favorite choice is No$GBA; it’s simple, lightweight, and versatile, but not yet complicated.
  4. Go to the ROM library – check the reviews first, making sure that it’s not a scam.
  5. We recommend starting with popular games like Pokemon Emerald. You’ll have access to multiple tutorials, and access to free tips and tricks.
  6. Download the chosen ROM and install it. The installation window will walk you through the process.

ROMs into a specific folder

Be sure to save all the ROMs into a specific folder, so you don’t lose the files

You’ll have to get used to controls, improved settings, and slightly different interface (this is atypical for popular games but happens with rare titles). Still, these six steps are all there is to know to start emulating. As you can see, they are straightforward.

4. Creating an authentic experience

The common hurdle with emulation is that transferring a game from a handheld console to a PC requires new approaches to the game’s functionality and interface. To create a playable experience, developers can be forced to make some changes. You risk getting not a 100% similar experience.

However, there are some things that you can do to increase the probability of receiving an almost GBA-like experience. Here are the top tips for adapting your device to a retro-game.

  • Use smaller screens. Typically, in gaming, you want to have a big screen so the interface can shine. However, with emulators, remember to adhere to the original characteristics of the console. GBA never had a large console, so naturally, emulated games are likely to not look good on your 4K screen.
  • Don’t adjust the built-in controls unless you have to. If you change one control, you might have the entire hand position imbalanced, and it won’t be comfortable at all. Remember: never mess with controls.

default controls

The default controls will be shown on the screen or in ‘Settings’

  • Use split-screen mode to enhance the experience. If one screen takes to little space, you can choose to display several ones as well. For instance, as the dialog between characters continues, you can see their reactions from different perspectives.

5. The legal side of the story

Owning a ROM is considered an illegal action since you haven’t technically purchased the copy. You can copy the original version of the game and use a ROM as well. As long as you have the original version of the game, it shouldn’ matter on which device you are playing.

That’s how it should be. In reality, getting the original versions for a lot of games is merely impossible. For one thing, a lot of them aren’t on the market. Even the ones you can find on eBay can turn out to be broken or fake. If there is no proper way to purchase a game, you find yourself in a grey area.

Emulators collections

Legally, you should have a similar collection to be able to emulate – we are talking about a huge amount of money and efforts

Luckily, there have been no instances of development companies who were targetting individuals for using ROMs. As soon as you are not distributing them online publically, you are not of much interest to the big corporation.

To keep your consciousness clean, remember that by acquiring the original copy, you won’t support Nintendo in any way. The best-case scenario is that you will reward a collector – or a scammer depends on your luck.

So, even if downloading or using a publically available ROM is not the right thing to do by law, it often turns out to be the only realistic option. If there is no official way of getting a retro-game, you are just finding a way out. It’s not your fault that the company didn’t develop a business model for satisfying such needs.

The bottom line

Emulation is not nearly as tricky as some gaming enthusiasts paint it to be. Setting up an emulator and installing a ROM takes only a couple of seconds, whereas the joy of accessing nostalgic old titles lasts much more than that. Now that we’ve answered all common questions, there is hardly anything that can stand on your way.

Emulation makes old games accessible, so it’s by all means supposed to be simple. Now that you are prepared for most common issues beforehand, you’ve got a smooth road ahead. So good luck and have fun!


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