For a growing number of people, Retroarch is the ultimate hub of everything emulation-related. It doesn’t do Retroarch justice just to call it a “frontend” for every console emulator imaginable because all the great emulators can be integrated into it, downloaded and loaded up as “cores” within seconds. Such a vast platform with so much going on inevitably runs into problems however. ROMs may fail to scan, emulators run too slowly, and controllers don’t get detected.
Here, we’ll run through the most common Retroarch issues, and fixes to get it working again.
1. N64 Cores Not Working
The two main N64 cores in Retroarch are Parallel64 and Mupen64. If you run your other Retroarch cores using the Vulkan video driver, then you may encounter problems with both of these N64 cores. Namely, neither core works with the Vulkan driver by default.
Firstly, if you want to use Mupen64, then you need to manually switch your video drivers (Settings -> Drivers -> Video) to “gl” rather than “vulkan”. Annoyingly, you can’t save this setting just for the N64 core, and need to manually switch it whenever you use cores that use the GL and Vulkan drivers.
With ParaLLel 64, you can use Vulkan drivers. First you need to start a game up in the core using the “gl” driver. Once the game is running, go to the Retroarch menu -> Quick Menu -> Options and change the GFX Plugin to angrylion and RSP plugin to cxd4.
Next, quit Retroarch and reopen it, go to Settings -> Drivers -> Video and change the driver to “vulkan”. Now open a ROM using the ParaLLel 64 core and it will work with the Vulkan driver (using very accurate if low-resolution N64 graphics).
2. Game Slowdown and Audio Crackling
These two issues often go hand-in-hand, and you may particularly have experienced them on some of the more demanding cores like the Vulkan-based PS1 core Beetle PSX HW. No matter what graphical settings you change, the game suffers a ‘dragging’ effect on both video and sound that makes it extremely unpleasant to play.
After lots of poking around and futile settings tweaks, we found the solution in the simplest of the places – Windows Power Options. Go to the Windows Control Panel -> Power Options then change the “Preferred plan” to “High performance”. This option may be hiding under “Show additional plans” which you may have to click to see it. With High performance selected, your CPU will stop unnecessarily throttling your games.
3. Retroarch Not Scanning Roms
When you want to add ROMs or games to Retroarch, you should first make sure the databases are up to date by going to “Online Updater” from the Main Menu, then selecting “Update Databases”. This will ensure that Retroarch has the latest information when it comes to detecting your roms.
If you try adding ROMs using “Scan Directory” or “Scan File”, bear in mind that Retroarch will only scan for the file types associated with your already-installed cores, so to scan for games in the “cue” format, you’ll need to have a PS1 core installed, for example.
Another complication with scanning for PS1 games is that you need to have a “cue” file along with the main image file (BIN or ISO) for Retroarch to scan it. It’s not too hard to create these (you can use this online tool): just create the cue file in Notepad, give it the same name as the main file (but with “.cue” at the end), then chuck it in the same folder as the main image file.
4. Retroarch Crashing Before Game Loads
It’s tough to address such a broad issue without writing an essay about it. There are so many reasons why Retroarch may crash that we’ve decided to pick out some of the most common ones so that they hopefully apply to a wide spectrum of people.
Update your graphics card drivers. This one applies particularly to people on mid-lower-end systems, which may struggle with the fact that Retroarch runs on the OpenGL graphics API by default. You should go to the “retroarch” config (CFG) file in your Retroarch directory, open it with Notepad (or, to make the information clearer, Notepad++), and change the “video_driver” option from “gl” to “d3d,’ then save your change. You won’t be able to use the slick XMB-style Retroarch UI anymore, but more importantly, you should be able to run games.
Another option for people on older operating systems or with older hardware is to download the “MSVC” versions of Retroarch instead of the default MinGW version. MSVC2005 is designed for pre-Windows XP systems, while MSVC2010 is from Windows XP onwards, but some people have reported that it helps them even when using Windows 10 on older machines, so it’s worth a pop.
5. Cores Not Downloading
So you’re trying to download the cores/emulators for all your favorite home consoles, but it’s not working. There’s a chance that the core updater in Retroarch isn’t linked to the place where it sources its cores.
Open the “retroarch.cfg” file in your Retroarch directory (again, Notepad or Notepad++), then one of the first options should be ‘core_updater_buildbot_url=”http://buildbot.libretro.com/nightly/x/x/x” where the x-es represent whatever system you’re on.
If this is blank, you need to manually enter the URL that you want to source your cores from. Go to “buildbot.libretro.com/nightly/” in your web browser, then navigate to the directory on the site that corresponds to your system (/windows/x86_64/, for example).
Eventually, you’ll reach a folder called “latest.” Click this to see all the cores available for your system, then copy the URL into the Retroarch config file. (If you want, you can actually download cores directly from here, and stick them in the “cores” folder in your Retroarch directory.)
Save the change in the config file, and Retroarch should now be able to download cores for you.
6. PS1 Cores Not Working
Of all the cores on Retroarch, the PS1 ones are probably the trickiest to get working. It’s not too complicated, but there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First up, you’ll need to track down and download three very specific BIOS files for the PS1. (Just do a Google search.) The ones you need are SCPH5500, SCPH5501 and SCPH5502, and you need to chuck them in the “system” folder in your Retroarch directory.
Note: the SCPH files need to be named just as they are above. If the file is called “SCPH_5501” or whatever, that won’t do. You just need to rename it to “SCPH5501.”
Another thing is that the PSX games need to be extracted and have both the “bin” and “cue” files in the same folder to work properly.
These fixes are just the tip of the iceberg for getting Retroarch working again, and we accept that there are probably problems that we haven’t covered here. If you run into any Retroarch trouble, let us know in the comments, and we’ll research fixes to add to this list in the future. Happy gaming.
This article was first published in Dec 2017, and was updated in October 2019.