Game Freak Discusses Localization Challenges For The Original Pokémon Games



In the latest issue of Retro Gamer, the magazine featured a fairly large piece following the journey of Pokémon from the franchise’s beginnings to its most recent entries in the game series. [Thanks, NintendoEverything.]


Composer and producer Junichi Masuda and Ken Sugimori, the artist for the original 151 Pokémon, shared their own comments about the series, including how the hardware of the Game Boy limited what they were able to achieve with the original games as well as how they chose the titles “Red” and “Blue” for the Western versions.


When it came to the development process of the original games, Masuda said the following:


“From the inception of the idea to the completion of Red & Blue took a total of about six years, so a long time! We started by creating loads of different Pokémon designs, then we reduced that down to the favorite 150. That took a lot of effort. After that, once we were happy with our designs, we started working on the moves they could each use. This process probably accounted for around three of those six years. It was quite the task! There wasn’t an initial plan of which Pokémon would get which moves – we designed the Pokémon then designed the moves, then decided which would fit well together as a gradual process.”


Due to the limits of the Game Boy hardware, Game Freak was restricted to how much they could achieve with Red & Blue. Masuda recalled the limitations and the challenges they presented:


“It was difficult. The thing we wanted to focus on at the start was communication and trading but it was difficult to do that as we could only transfer small amounts of data between two consoles. Communication itself was a big challenge – the technology just wasn’t there but we really wanted to do it, so we fought to get it in there. That was an overriding theme – it was a fight against capacity, a fight against what we could fit onto the cartridge. We had designed these 150-odd Pokémon to get in as well. But then we had the problem of movement, so we came up with the idea of the map tiles being the things that moved while the character was animated in place. With these ideas, we found ways to squeeze as much in as we possibly could. I like the Game Boy as a machine but trying to work with all these challenges and make a game that anyone could get into and enjoy was difficult.”


In Japan, the original games were known as Red & Green, with Blue replacing Green in the west. Masuda explained the name change with the following:


“Originally, it was kind of based on how people feel about and view different colors. The clearest split for us was between red and green but when we started thinking about abroad, it was clear that wasn’t the case. In America in particular, it’s red and blue that are considered ‘opposites’, if you will.”


Lastly, Sugimori answered the question as to why there are only about 100 new Pokémon added with each release of a new game generation:


“The reason why there are about 100 Pokémon added per game is not that we can’t come up with the ideas, especially when we have new staff – everyone can come up with unique ideas. The number is set by the duration of the project. Plus, if you added like 300 or so new monsters, that’d just be too many – we have to think of the balance of battles.”


To read more from Retro Gamer’s Pokémon feature, you can go here.