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Game Freak on Pokemon’s sustained success, keeping the main games on handhelds, more

Posted on October 16, 2016 by (@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News

Pokemon is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Junichi Masuda is one of the main developers responsible for its success, as he’s been working on the series since the very beginning. He started out as a programmer and composer before eventually becoming a director.

Speaking about Pokemon’s long-lasting success and continued relevance in the latest issue of EDGE, Masuda has this to say:

“There are so many variables in the games market that it’s not easy to define why Pokemon has had sustained success. There’s no doubt that the core elements of collecting, battling and trading have a lasting appeal when it comes to kids. But the thing that all our games really have in common is that we start by designing them with the younger audience in mind, and then add elements for our other core players. This means that even people who have never played the game before can easily buy it and get stuck in.”

Masuda also commented on how the competitive nature of Pokemon has helped the franchise gain appeal outside of its traditional demographic:

“There are lots of activities that can be enjoyed by adults alongside kids. Think about football, for example. Younger kids may not understand the more complex rules of the game, but both they and adults alike can enjoy playing and seeing the incredible skills of real players. We’re always researching these kinds of elements that can be appreciated and enjoyed regardless of age, and looking to add them to our games.”

One challenging aspect for Game Freak has been mixing the new with the old. Masuda noted, “When you have a game formula that resonates so well with the fans, you need to cater for what they’re expecting, as well as innovate in ways that will excite both them and new players coming to the world of Pokemon for the first time.”

He went on to later add:

“Pokemon has been consistent in delivering a positive player experience over the past 20 years and, as such, we’re seeing a real nostalgia coming through from those who played the earlier versions of the games. I think the fact that we’ve never overhauled the series and created a divide between the old and the new is also one of the reasons Pokemon has enjoyed such longevity.”

Keeping in line with Pokemon’s traditions, the main games have always stayed on systems. Some fans have requested the series to appear on consoles, but Masuda mentions that a key element is having players meeting up, trading, and battling over Pokemon.

“When coming up with the idea of Pokemon, what we really wanted to create was something where people could get together and have fun trading, battling, showing off their Pokemon collection, and just talking about their own adventures with the game. Handheld consoles and devices offer us the best way to achieve this vision.”

This all goes back to the significance Pokemon places on communication. During his talk with EDGE, Masuda discussed how important he feels it is to form memories with other players.

“We want Pokemon to be a means of communication. What I really want to do is to connect people, then help them form great memories by experiencing these distributions and such in certain places. I think of it like having a meal. By itself, a meal is usually pretty forgettable – it can be hard to even remember what you had for lunch yesterday! But if you go for a meal with a close friend at a restaurant you love, you’ll remember that meal for a long time. I want to give people memorable Pokemon experiences with one another.”

Masuda described the introduction of online trading in the Pokemon games as “a very natural development”. This is because “trading is really at the heart of Pokemon” and “many aspects of the game were created to facilitate or encourage trading – the large number of Pokemon, the ability to nickname them, the Pokédex and, of course, the creation of two different versions.”

Masuda is actually composing music for Pokemon Sun/Moon, of which EDGE states that the OST will feature 175 tracks. Masuda’s approach to making songs has changed slightly, as hardware has improved and the team is now capable of producing “almost any sounds and tones we like.” That means Game Freak needs “to produce sound with the same level of quality you’d expect when producing a CD.”

Masuda ended his talk with EDGE by extending thanks to the fans. It’s all because of those who appreciate Pokemon that the series has continued after so many years.

“What I’m most grateful for is that so many fans have supported Pokemon all this time. Without them, Pokemon wouldn’t be where it is today, and Pokemon Go certainly wouldn’t have seen the phenomenal success that it has so far. I really love getting to meet and talk with Pokemon fans, and they’ve given me so many great memories throughout the years. As a recent example, not long ago I gave a speech at the Japan Expo in Paris, and I was blown away that over 3,000 people came to hear it. Pokemon Go seems to have really resonated with people and has huge numbers of players all over the world. It’s far beyond anything I had ever imagined.”

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