Junichi Masuda, Director of the upcoming Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Let’s Go Eevee games, talked with Japanese news publication Famitsu about changes coming to the newest entries in the Pokémon games. In the Interview, they spoke about deliberate changes the team made to both the visual style and sound engineering to make the game feel more inviting to all ages and audiences. Masuda, who started his career with Pokémon as a sound engineer and composer, revealed that he even took a backseat this time when it came to the games musical direction to give the game a different feel then normal.
The director also spoke about incoming changes to the series from the popular mobile game Pokémon GO including varying sizes for Pokémon as well as the addition of Candies to the stats mechanics. Personally, this is one of the aspects that I’m both interested and worried about all at the same time. For those who make it through the entire interview, there is a little bit of information at the end about the upcoming mainline RPG 2019 game but it’s mostly vague information that we’ve heard before.
Full interview after the break.
So, you’ve already discussed this in a variety of places, but could you tell us about how you developed the concept of the two games?
Masuda: With the success of Pokemon GO, the Pokemon franchise’s impact on people has increased greatly on a global scale. However, despite the fact that Pokemon GO events bring in a lot of trainers, not all of those people experience the rest of the Pokemon series. On the other hand, players who have enjoyed the mainline Pokemon games up until now may not necessarily be playing Pokemon GO. So, naturally, the driving force behind the development of Let’s Go, Pikachu and Let’s Go, Eevee was bringing those two groups of people together in some way. Our approach could be best summarized by saying that our goal was to make “a Pokemon game for everyone!”
Pokemon GO can’t be played without some kind of smart device, right?
Masuda: That’s right; for example, there are a lot of kids out there that don’t have smartphones yet who can’t experience Pokemon GO. We basically made this game to allow people who might not have access to Pokemon GO to enjoy a Pokemon GO-ésque experience. Of course, this also presents an opportunity for parents to enjoy the franchise with their kids!
This kind of game does certainly seem like it’d be optimal for parents and their children to play together.
Masuda: Right, for example, let’s say a parent and child go out to play Pokemon GO together. After they come home they can bring the Pokemon they caught in Pokemon GO over to the two Let’s Go games and continue playing together on the living room TV! That’s the kind of natural blend between Pokemon and the flow of everyday life that we considered over the course of the games’ development. It isn’t just about the experience of throwing a Pokeball but being able to play and experience Pokemon as a part of everyday life – I really wanted both fans of the mainline series and fans of Pokemon GO to be able to get a taste of that. Again – to put it frankly – we wanted to make a Pokemon game that all fans could enjoy.
So, in attempting to implement that kind of gameplay, what kind of challenges did you face?
Masuda: Well, we had to update the graphics without making them too realistic – we wanted to maintain the game’s fantastical elements, so as not to surprise any parents who may be watching, for example. For instance, we pictured a child playing the game in the living room while their mother watches from the kitchen; it needed to seem like the kind of game that would give her peace of mind. We based the sound design off of a similar philosophy. We were particularly conscious of the need to express a sense of gentleness and ease throughout the games’ world, so we primarily utilized classical instruments. Personally, though, I’m quite the fan of fast-paced techno music… (laughs) Which reminds me, I’m actually not in charge of the music – that would be Mr. Kageyama (Shota Kageyama). Rather than having a specific direction that he composes the music in accordance to, he primarily focused on what he feels would be comfortable for players to listen to while playing the game. As for the actual hardware aspect of the games’ sound design, the number of things we’re capable of musically have increased dramatically. We’re capable of more technically, so much so that we think players will be able to “feel” the music on a more profound level than before, so please look forward to it!
A life where Pokemon always has a presence… Even just thinking about it is exciting!
Masuda: We created the two-player mechanic with that blend of Pokemon and everyday life in mind, as well! It isn’t limited to parents and their children of course – siblings, friends, significant others… a whole host of people will be able to play together!
Beginning with the actual capturing mechanics, you seem to be utilizing many of Pokemon GO’s mechanics in a variety of places. What do you aim to accomplish through this?
Masuda: We’re incorporating the best mechanics from both the core games and Pokemon GO, so that way both groups of players can enjoy a fresh experience! Although it seems like the games are based around Pokemon: Yellow Version, there are elements of Pokemon GO as well; we tried to find a happy medium between the interesting features of both games and ended up pursuing what you see now!
Incorporating elements from Pokemon GO is quite ground-breaking; it must’ve taken a lot of courage to make that kind of decision.
Masuda: It was a daunting task we took upon ourselves, for sure. There was considerable debate within the team concerning the absence of wild Pokemon battles. Up until this point I had been steadfast in defending the mechanic as the series director; this time, though, I felt like we should try to change things up a bit. Personally, I’ve always felt that the weakening and capturing mechanic is a bit like fishing – there are people that aren’t fans of that kind of strategy, though. To that end – as I mentioned before – I wanted to make these games more enjoyable for a wider audience of fans. As such, we simplified the mechanics. Until now, catching Pokemon has been vaguely reminiscent of fishing, whereas I’d liken the new mechanic to catching bugs with a net. I have to wonder if people will enjoy that sort of straightforward mechanic more so than the previous mechanic.
Changing something so fundamental as the capturing mechanic would be difficult for somebody who isn’t you, Mr. Masuda, wouldn’t it? None of the younger staff could decide something so bold as that, I’d imagine… (laughs)
Masuda: There are certainly plenty of other mechanics that’d be difficult to change, I’d guess. (laughs) But if we as developers don’t actively confront those kinds of challenges, the series’ gameplay would become fixed and stale, wouldn’t it? So, to prevent that staleness, I’d like to keep proposing new ways of play without any reservations. Of course, there will be those that aren’t satisfied with the changes, but even so the driving idea behind these games is that they’re for everybody to enjoy. Given that philosophy, I will do my best to make sure that future games will reflect the feedback we receive – both good and bad.
Obviously the gameplay is significantly new, but as a whole, can you tell us how the story has changed?
Masuda: In remaking a 20-year old product, the hardware is completely different, and the graphics and sound have evolved to a completely different caliber; the story, however, hasn’t really changed all that much. Players will notice a few additional elements here and there, though. For example, now that I think back on Pokemon: Yellow Version, there are some instances where it might be difficult to figure out where to go next, or where the next objective is. In this game, by contrast, there are a few supplementary features that make the game a bit easier to play.
It seems like it might be easier for even first-timers to progress through the game. How about battles and training Pokemon? Are they much different?
Masuda: When it comes to training Pokemon, you can still level up by catching Pokemon and through trainer battles; additionally, you can send caught Pokemon to the Professor to receive candies that you can use to directly enhance your Pokemon’s strength. I thought about implementing training in a variety of ways, but when it came down to it, utilizing Pokemon GO’s system seemed to be the simplest and most comprehensible. Regarding battles, we changed the UI a bit, but the logistics of the battles themselves are largely the same. I really want those who have stuck with the Pokemon franchise since its early days to be able to recall their experiences playing Pokemon: Yellow Version.
The way you’ve simplified certain areas of the gameplay makes it seem like the game will be fun for all types of players! Was having wild Pokemon appear on the map itself also a product of seeking a higher level of user-friendliness?
Masuda: I didn’t really consider it at first, but the more I thought about catching Pokemon as catching bugs in a net, I decided to implement a system in which you could decide to catch a certain Pokemon after seeing it from a distance. In order to cultivate that sense of realism, I decided to have them viewable on the map.
I see, I see. Having every single Pokemon have a moving animation would be an immense workload though, wouldn’t it?
Masuda: That was definitely the case. (laughs) The programmers who were in charge of that did a great job, though, so I think it was the right decision. Walking, stopping, and even just looking around idly – each Pokemon has animations characteristic to themselves.
That’ll definitely strengthen the bond between you and your partners, too – this seems like the kind of game that you could easily get lost in by just watching each Pokemon’s behavior.
Masuda: The Pokemon you can see in the field are incredibly lively, too! Just watching the Pokemon is great in and of itself, but I feel like it’s also nice to finally be able to see a Pokemon, think to yourself “I’m going to catch that!” and just do it.
Speaking of map encounters, in the footage that was shown off during the Nintendo Treehouse: Live presentation at E3 2018, you could see Pokemon on the map that had both red and blue auras surrounding them. What exactly do those auras mean?
Masuda: Those auras mainly represent the size of the Pokemon! Effectively, the red aura represents a Pokemon on the bigger side, while the blue aura represents a Pokemon on the smaller side. There is a similar size mechanic in Pokemon GO; some people like bigger Pokemon, while others prefer smaller Pokemon – these auras allow trainers to catch whatever size Pokemon they like!
When Pokemon GO was first released, some were discussing how size might affect the strength of the Pokemon itself… What do you have to say about that?
Masuda: That isn’t the case. (laughs) Size is one of the elements from Pokemon GO that I definitely wanted to include in these games. For example, it’s handy to be able to remember things like, “Oh, the Pokemon I caught in that particular area was big!” If, by chance, all the Psyduck you catch in a particular area are big, you could imagine something like “that place must be abundant in nutrients,” or something like that. In that way, if there’s one Pokemon that really just sticks with you, there are even multiple varieties of that for you to catch!
Nowadays, it seems that people perceive Pokemon as more than just game characters, don’t you think?
Masuda: In the past I avoided putting things like clothing on Pikachu, mostly because people might have been confused as to what were clothes and what was its body. Machamp, by the way, isn’t wearing pants – that’s his body. (laughs) These days, even if Pikachu is wearing clothes, people can still perfectly recognize that it’s Pikachu, and I really appreciate that!
In Pokemon: Yellow Version, your partner Pokemon – Pikachu – could walk alongside you! In this newest iteration of Pokemon games, you can choose either Pikachu or Eevee depending on which version you buy. Can you tell us a little bit about why Eevee was chosen to be one of the player’s potential partners? What prompted this change?
Masuda: Well, in Pokemon: Yellow Version, Eevee is the first Pokemon your rival chooses; but truth be told, in the end it was the depth of the fans’ love for Eevee that prompted the choice. A lot of fans send me pictures of Eevee that they themselves have drawn – sometimes they’re even cuter than the official art… (laughs) The fans’ support was particularly evident on November 21, which we’ve declared to be “Eevee Day:” a day celebrating the Pokemon and its evolutions; the celebration really reached a lot of fans! When you see one, you can’t help but be excited and wonder what it’s going to grow up into; it radiates the same kind of cuteness as a baby, I think! In the end, that cute charm that Eevee exudes is what cemented the decision. I definitely didn’t want fans to be disappointed by the choice, so I did a little bit of research beforehand.
Oh? What kind of research?
Masuda: First, I talked with those in the office that really liked Eevee and found out what about it fascinated them! I learned quite a lot actually; for instance, when I asked what contributed to that infant-like cuteness, a lot of people mentioned how fluffy its neck and tail were. At any rate, I desperately tried to make it as cute as I possibly could. It’s thanks to the fans that Eevee is where it is now!
Eevee truly is well-loved! By the way, since Pikachu is voiced by Ikue Otani-san in the most recent games – as it is in the anime – does Eevee have its own voice actor?
Masuda: Aoi Yuki-san is the voice of Eevee; thankfully, Yuki-san really loves Pokemon and brings an amazing energy to the role. She had previously shown up to an event coordinated around Eevee, and we were left with the impression that she really liked it! In truth, we actually decided on Eevee’s voice through an extensive audition; 108 people showed up to try out for the role! At first, we judged simply based on the voice – without knowing the actual names of the voice actors – and so it was that Yuki-san was the only candidate that made it until the end.
As one would expect, she really does love Eevee, doesn’t she?
Masuda: And that love translates into motivation – that’s crucial. Recording couldn’t have been easy; players are going to hear Yuki-san as Eevee no matter where they are in the world! I’m truly thankful for how motivated she was for the role. Pikachu’s name is the same no matter where you go, but Eevee’s is a bit different. For instance, in America it is Eevee of course, yet in Germany it is Evoli. Yuki-san has to record all of those different cries for each language and works tirelessly alongside Mr. Mima Masafumi – the sound director for the Pokemon anime.
Of course, even in the games’ preview it doesn’t simply cry something like “Eevee!”
Masuda: That’s right. Your partner Pokemon are special in a variety of ways, however, not just because of their cries. For instance, just like your Pikachu from Pokemon: Yellow Version, the player’s partner Pokemon will not evolve. Moreover, while there are differences in the tail shape of male and female Pikachu, there are also differences between male and female Eevee as well, as females’ tails have a heart design on the tip.
The differences between males and females must come as great news to the fans!
Masuda: We’ve also added a mode in which you can interact with your partner Pikachu or Eevee, so a lot of voice clips had to be compiled for that as well. Even in Pokemon: Yellow Version, your partner Pikachu would have a variety of responses should the player interact with it; now, should you interact with your partner, the game is chock-full of responses for you to discover!
It really does seem like Pikachu and Eevee will be right there with you all the while.
Masuda: I was really particular about the details of the interacting mechanic – both Pikachu and Eevee had their own motion designer solely dedicated to them. Originally, there was one person in charge of both of them, but they suggested that that arrangement would end up having them “divide their affection” between the two… (laughs) I figured that that might be the case, so I brought in another motion designer and requested that the two give their all to their respective Pokemon! Both Pikachu and Eevee ended up having a lot of gestures and movements characteristic to themselves; I don’t doubt that one could just sit there and watch them and not get bored.
Please tell us about how you implemented Pokemon GO and its mechanics in the Let’s GO games – when did you come up with the idea in the first place?
Masuda: It was something that I had been thinking about for quite some time… When was that, now…
In fact, in an interview with our magazine a few years ago, you mentioned something pretty close to it. Is it something that you’ve been working on since then?
Masuda: Really now! (laughs) In any case, I had been thinking about some kind of mechanic in which you’d connect your Nintendo 3DS and your smartphone, but that ended up proving to be a bit too complicated. At the time I thought that there are a lot of people looking to have more fun while exercising, so I figured I could manage coming up with something simple that revolved around that. There wasn’t much we couldn’t do, in fact; there were lots of methods that players could set their preferences through initially, such as connecting through the internet through a computer and the like.
That doesn’t seem too practical, though…
Masuda: Right – I didn’t even want to go through with it. (laughs) It was the Nintendo Switch that ended up solving a lot of the issues we were having. By utilizing BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) we were able to come up with a simpler alternative for connecting the devices.
In concrete terms, exactly how simple is connecting the devices?
Masuda: A great deal of Pokemon GO players are already able to connect their smartphones to their Pokemon GO Plus device. Connecting through BLE acts in a similar way – imagine it’s the same kind of sensation as connecting to a Pokemon GO Plus.
That does seem pretty handy! Regardless, I didn’t know you went through so much difficulty in order to implement such a feature.
Masuda: It was pretty difficult to understand. After a good deal of talks between Nintendo and Niantic, Inc., we were finally able to come up with a concrete idea. Nevertheless, even though we’ve figured out how to connect smartphones with the Nintendo Switch, there are a variety of types of phones from a whole host of manufacturers… As such, we’re doing our best to make the technology work with as many types of phones as we can.
We’re really looking forward to seeing how it all pans out! Incidentally, I think there are a lot of people who’ve gotten attached to the Pokemon that they’ve caught in Pokemon GO; do these games have an appeal to that kind of player?
Masuda: I think one of the best things about Pokemon GO is that it’s the kind of game that really allows you to remember when and where you caught your Pokemon. Naturally, then, you’d want to keep those Pokemon and the memories they carry close at hand, right? You can take those Pokemon – and the countless other Pokemon you’ve captured – to the Let’s Go games; you can add them to your team, interact with them, or even just enjoy their in-game animations in the games’ “GO Park.”
I’m sure the more Pokemon you transfer, the more familiar the mechanic will become. Can you tell us anything about the “GO Park” mechanic?
Masuda: The “GO Park” is the method by which you bring your Pokemon from Pokemon GO to the Let’s Go games; Pokemon that you have on-hand can be brought over.
Speaking of, will Pokemon maintain their CP value after being brought over into the Let’s Go games?
Masuda: It has to be recalculated to fit with the game, so no, a Pokemon’s CP will not necessarily remain the same. Pokemon with a high CP value in Pokemon GO will have a relatively high level after being brought over to the Let’s Go games.
How do a Pokemon’s level and CP differ?
Masuda: Well, for one, two Pokemon of the same level may have entirely different CP; this generally means that the Pokemon with the higher CP must be better in some way. (laughs) If anything, the CP value is only there so that fans who have played past entries in the mainline series can better understand the strength of their Pokemon.
So, in other words, a player who wants a high-performance Pokemon will have to keep an eye on its CP value as well. That reminds me, around May 30th’s Pokemon press conference, there were some rumors that players may be able to befriend Alolan-form Pokemon as well… Is there any way to catch these Pokemon aside from bringing them from Pokemon GO?
Masuda: Alolan Pokemon will not appear in the wild in-game, as such, they can’t be caught in-game. However, it is possible to acquire them through means outside of Pokemon GO. I can’t say exactly how to get them yet… But I will say that you get them through something that’s a pretty well-established part of the mainline Pokemon series… Probably. (laughs)
I see, I see. (laughs) I suppose that means that you can somehow get them even if you don’t play Pokemon GO. By the way, what about the Pokedex? I’d think that players who have already caught all 151 Pokemon in Pokemon GO would be able just transfer all of their Pokemon through the GO Park to complete their in-game Pokedex, for instance. What do you think about that?
Masuda: Actually, it will only be possible to bring Pokemon over from Pokemon GO after reaching Fuchsia City. Until then, you’ll have to use Pokemon that you catch in-game, so even players who have only played Pokemon GO will be able to enjoy the game! Again, it’ll all be a great deal of fun to play through – so do your best to catch them all!
We can only wonder what’s in store for us – we’ll be paying close attention to the games’ actual contents!
Masuda: Again, I can’t really say much, but if you catch all of the Pokemon within the Kanto region, something good is bound to happen! (laughs)
Let’s talk a little bit about Pokemon GO itself, first. It has been about two years since the game was first released, and it has significantly changed since then; Mr. Masuda, how do you view that progress?
Masuda: The sheer massiveness of the public’s response really shocked me, I think. I feel like a lot of people even discovered the Pokemon series through Pokemon GO. I’d imagine a lot of people became particularly acquainted with the Pokemon native to the Kanto region! And as they were released, people eventually became familiar with Pokemon from the Johto and Hoenn regions too; even now, a lot of people still play the game!
The Friend List and trading were added to the game the other day as well!
Masuda: We had been thinking about those mechanics for a long time but were finally able to implement them! I think that it’ll be a lot easier for people to connect with each other, now that those mechanics are in place. I feel like it was a good approach to release those features around the two-year anniversary.
The Pokemon GO Summer Tour is also happening this year, isn’t it? It’s coming to cities like Dortmund and Chicago, and there’s a lot to be excited about!
Masuda: At last year’s event in Chicago, the communication network was unstable and caused quite a bit of trouble for everybody… Even still, the event was incredibly exciting! The city was absolutely filled to the brim with trainers playing Pokemon GO – you could really see how games can bring even strangers together!
Chicago brought a really unique feeling to the event! Do you think this year’s event at Yokosuka will meet Japanese players’ expectations?
Masuda: By all means, look forward to it! Everybody, please take the train if you can; it’d be pretty bad if everybody came by car! (laughs)
All right, let’s switch gears now; about the 2019 Pokemon game – can you tell us anything about it in its current stage?
Masuda: As I’ve already mentioned, the Let’s Go games were pretty challenging to develop. The 2019 title will truly be a game for those that are already fans of the core Pokemon series. Expanding the series onto the Nintendo Switch has definitely presented new challenges.
The Pokemon Company’s president – Tsunekazu Ishihara – announced that the 2019 title will have more of a hands-on playstyle; can you tell us anything about that?
Masuda: For the Let’s Go games, we imagined that they’d be the kind of game that you’d play at home on your TV; the 2019 title, on the other hand, is the kind of game that one would play with their friends on their own Nintendo Switch systems. Those who are familiar with the series through the handheld titles will feel right at home – it’ll be more closely aligned to a traditional Pokemon game.
Will you be able to bring Pokemon over from the Let’s Go games to the 2019 title?
Masuda: There have been times where you couldn’t bring Pokemon over from previous titles – and I imagine that created some bad memories. I want to try and change that, if I can.
Great! Now, do you have anything to say to the fans who are eagerly awaiting the release of the Let’s Go games?
Masuda: The Let’s Go games are a true reworking of the Pokemon formula; you can see Pokemon moving about on the map and can even walk with a partner Pokemon of your choosing! We really wanted to rework the game to capture the experience of being with your Pokemon – it truly captures a feeling we haven’t been able to before, and I hope everybody enjoys that. We’d also love to see how people play this Pokemon game differently from past entries in the series. Again, you can play the game without having played Pokemon GO, but we’ve found that Pokemon GO really increases the scope of the experience. Please enjoy the game as much as you can with your family and friends. If you’re saying to yourself: “I don’t have anybody to play games with!” – don’t worry! The games are still fun to play alone, so please, enjoy!