Softmodding the Nintendo 3DS / New 3DS / 2DS

Here’s the How-To Guide (For Now)

This site has a great step by step guide to mod your Nintendo 2DS/3DS:

https://3ds.guide/get-started

I’m really hoping this is hosted off-shores, because I can see Nintendo shutting it down very quickly. If you’re reading this and thinking about performing this mod, I’d do it sooner than later. They’re also very good at getting software sites shut down, so before you start in on the instructions, I’d go through the tutorial for your system and make sure all of the download links still work. Additionally, some of the links are magnet links for a Torrent client, so you’ll need one of those to be installed. I don’t usually do torrents, so I had to find one. qBittorrent is the client I ended up using in Windows. It’s small and isn’t full of ads or annoyances like the “official” client.

Following the above guide is fairly straight forward though. Simply click on whatever version of the console it is you have and follow the instructions. I went through this today with my New 3DS, and although it did take a while, and there were some moments that I thought I bricked my system (scared me a couple times), it’s wasn’t necessarily “difficult” – more time consuming I’d say.

I’ve owned those R4 cards in the past. I had one for a DS that would allow me to run homebrew (emulators and stuff), as well as backed-up DS game files, but it didn’t work with 3DS games. The last time I looked at 3DS modding, nobody had cracked the encryption yet. Apparently now that’s no longer the case.

Through a memory exploit in the “Music Player” app that comes on the 3DS, the hackers have found a way to run unsigned code, which opens up the door for all sorts of fun stuff. The method above is pretty great – it requires no hardware purchases (aside from the fact that you’ll probably want a much larger SD/microSD card), it’s all done with downloadable software, and it can even be reversed.

Since the exploit is installed in NAND itself, Nintendo’s updates don’t break it like they used to brake the R4 cards. In fact, at the end of that tutorial, the instructions say to go in to Settings and manually run a system update! If you make it through the hack without bricking your system you’re pretty golden.

Kid-Proof? Not At All

One thing to note – I would love to put this on my kid’s 3DS, since he’s always taking it to school and daycare and he always has a bunch of game cards with him. I’m very surprised he hasn’t lost any yet (maybe he has, he wouldn’t tell me if he did). I’d like to put all of his games on  his 3DS internally so he doesn’t have to use the cards. HOWEVER – the software that you install during the exploit does put some pretty powerful stuff on the system that you wouldn’t want a kid messing around in.

If you happen to have Select or Start pushed when booting the system, it will go in to a very administrative mode with a options that could brick the unit. Not good. In addition to that, it installs a file manager or sorts that lets you install, uninstall, and delete software from the system. This isn’t protected in any way, so you probably don’t want people poking around in there either if they aren’t sure of what they’re doing.

So What Does it Do?

The biggest reason you’d do this is to run unsigned code. There are some practical purposes that are legal – as described above. If you would like to have all of your software with you at all times without having to carry cards around, this is the perfect way to do it. How you go about getting the software on the 3DS is a little sketchy, but it works (I’ll talk more about that later). As far as I know there’s no way to rip a game directly from a game card to the system, but there very well could be – I haven’t researched it that much yet, as I just got my system up and going today.

Another reason you’d do this would be to run third party emulators. I’m already seeing mention of your typical 8 and 16-bit emulators that have been created for the 3DS, so NES, SNES, SMS, Genesis, PCE, GB, GBC, GBA, etc. There’s even a port of DOOM, of course.

The third reason would be the obvious and nefarious reason – you want to pirate the shit out of some 3DS, DS, or Virtual Console games. Well, the hackers have you covered there too.

[Fre]eShop

Someone went so far as to create a “[Fre]eShop” app, which uses a key file that is updated continuously as new games come out. The key file itself is nothing illegal – it’s just a binary encoded file that contains pointers to current eShop software – from Nintendo’s own eShop servers. That’s the scary part. Back to that later. The binary key file itself can be downloaded from https://3ds.titlekeys.com/ by clicking on the Download button under “Get encTitleKeys.bin.”

I found what looked like the old site to download the FreeShop app… but it looks like Nintendo go to them, as there’s a DMCA Takedown warning up on the site now. But of course that doesn’t stop the pirates. The new URL I found is https://freeshop.pw/, which interestingly enough (and I had to look this up) is hosted on the island nation of Palau. Apparently they don’t care about copyright there… that or Nintendo has no reach in to that area (yet).

After you install the FreeShop application file freeshop.cia (all of the installation packages for the 3DS end it .cia, and the program you use to install them is called “FBI” – cute eh?), you launch it and it updates, and then tells you that it’s unable to find the keys file that you downloaded above, and then gives you a path on the SD card where it expects to find said file. After using your PC to put the file where it belongs, you’re good to go.

The application is actually quite nice for a piece of pirate software. You can search for 3DS games, demos, Virtual Console games (all systems), videos, etc. (anything that’s on the eShop really). You can sort by region (keep in mind the device is still region locked so you’ll only be able to download software from your own region – I’m sure someone has hacked that too, though I haven’t tried it). The app shows you all of the information, screen shots, etc. just as if you were viewing the real eShop, but the kicker here is that you can download everything… for free.

How Safe Is This?

To be honest, in regards to FreeShop, I have no idea. You are downloading from Nintendo themselves with a pirated app, and after you receive the games, something breaks the encryption on them and installs them to your SD card. They show up on the home screen as if you purchased them from Nintendo themselves. Kinda sketchy. I guess there are some pros and cons to this.

The pros would be that you aren’t getting sketchy files from some sort of random Chinese or Russian ROM site with your PC. In fact, this is all done on the 3DS and you don’t need a PC at all – just a wi-fi connection. That part is pretty brilliant, and the actual interface to the store itself is brilliant as well.

The cons would be that you’re basically digitally walking in to Nintendo’s servers to take things you didn’t pay for. Worth the risk? You might want to find a Starbucks with free wi-fi. (I kid, I kid).

In terms of the soft modding of the system itself, I’d say you’re relatively safe as long as you closely follow all of the directions to the letter. I even made sure that my case was correct on files and folder names when I went through it and had to rename files as it had instructed. I’m not sure if whatever OS the 3DS uses is case-sensitive or not, but I didn’t really want to brick my 3DS either.

After I go through this system a bit more and do some research on all of the software that I installed as a part of performing this soft mod, I might do a “Part 2” follow-up post to this one. Honestly when I go through tutorials like this I’m so freaked out about breaking something that I don’t really take the time to read through the documentation for all of the little side-project hacks that it takes to get to the end goal. After it’s done and working though it’s typical of me to want to find out how every little piece of the whole puzzle works.

If you decide to do this, good luck! Take your time and you’ll be fine. If you are curious as to a follow-up, stay tuned!

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