Pokémon Black/White take place in a completely new setting. While this has always been the case in the past, the new setting is “separated very far from the previous lands.” In fact, while the previous games were all based off of Japan (Kantou as Kanto, Kansai as Johto, Kyuushuu as Hoenn, and Hokkaido as Sinnoh), Isshu, the world of B/W, is based off of New York City.
Isshu’s name derives from the idea that from far away, the region looks fairly homogenous, whereas from close up everything is extremely diverse, just like in New York. “Ta shurui (多種類)” means many varieties, but here, all the diversity really belongs to one region – “Ichi shurui (一種類).”
The inspiration for this change was actually the Pokémon 10th anniversary Happy Birthday Concert back in 2006. The orchestra had played in all the different regions that Pokémon was based in, but at the time, Junichi Masuda, both a director and the composer for the Pokémon games, felt that if he could have chosen a place to play one more time, he would have chosen New York. In fact, he wanted to do so, but lugging everything onto the plane would have taken too much effort and money.
The exact structure of Isshu was brainstormed while sitting on the benches at the Museum of Modern Art. The main city, filled with towering skyscrapers, would be hexagonal, with the other places spread out around this metropolis as the center. And then, because the adventure was created so that children could complete the adventure, Masuda sought to create a land that was easily understandable to them. As stated in the previous article, one of the biggest appeals of Pokémon was what players could do after they finish the main story, so Masuda wanted more kids to be able to reach that point without giving up.
Because of the (supposed) great geographical distance between regions, Isshu hosts a completely original fauna from the previous games. The team hadn’t done something like this ever since the first generation, so it was a refreshingly new experience. Because the very ecology of the region had to be created from scratch, many of the old genres of Pokémon had to be recreated. An example of a conversation the team had according to the Iwata Asks interview consisted of debating whether they needed a new mouse-type Pokémon.
For brainstorming ideas, everyone took trips to the zoo and the aquarium. Unlike before, the goal was to base all the Pokémon off of reality, since there were so many vivid ideas from nature just out in the open. Ken Sugimori – both one of the directors as well as the artist – didn’t want any Pokémon where the players couldn’t look at it and go, “Oh, so that’s where they got the idea from.”
He was especially appreciative of the newcomers to the team, who brought fresh ideas. Or at least, that was the case after Sugimori specifically urged them to be less conservative with their designs. The first time around, though, because the additions to the team were mostly people who had grown up playing Pokémon, their creations ended up appearing like previous Pokémon. To help them, Sugimori told them start out by just drawing their favorite animals.
Sugimori himself was like the final filter through which all the ideas had to pass. He did this by drawing the ideas in his style and then determining if they could be Pokémon-ified or not.
As for Masuda, he concentrated on looking at the set of Pokémon as a whole. He had all the pictures Sugimori drew and colored laid out on a board side-by-side to take them all in with one view. Towards the latter half of the creation process, he even started to comment on the color balances, like if there were too many red Pokémon. For the most part, though, Masuda left the Pokémon creation process up to Sugimori.
With both the new region and the new roster of Pokémon to choose from, Masuda and Sugimori hoped to create a game where both veterans and newcomers felt like they were starting a whole new game, rather than just another installment where the experienced players could just build off their previous knowledge and Pokémon team.