Pokémon Black/White 2 will be released this Sunday in North America, and mark a significant change for the series in that they’re direct story sequels to existing games, rather than a completely different setting or a third upgraded version along the lines of Pokémon Emerald or Pokémon Platinum.
Black/White 2 aren’t the only change we’ve seen to Pokémon of late, though. Earlier in the year, Nintendo released Pokémon Conquest, a surprising but well-executed crossover between the Pokémon series and Tecmo Koei’s strategy RPG series, Nobunaga’s Ambition.
We asked Seth McMahill, Assistant Manager of Product Marketing at Nintendo, what it was like, having to localize such an obviously “Japanese” game for the American Pokémon market. Was it a difficult process?
Staying true to the original
“You know, it wasn’t actually so bad,” McMahill replied. “Localization is handled by The Pokémon Company International. They’re based in Bellevue, right by our Nintendo headquarters in Redmond, so my team worked very closely with their localization team on it, and a lot of the initial discussion was: What words do we use? Do we use ‘warlords’? Do we keep the names Japanese?”
“In the end, we decided to keep it as true to the developers’ wishes as possible. That’s one of the big things about localization. You always want to respect the developers’ wish, but at the same time, make it feel like it was developed in America. However, this one was a little different.”
Different how? For starters, Pokémon Conquest has a much more “Asian” look to it than Pokémon games usually do. When you have characters dressed up in samurai armour, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to try and pass them off as something else.
“It was decided to keep it true to how it is. Let’s give the warlords the actual names they have,” McMahill recalled. “It would sound weird if it was ‘Bob’ or something like that. In that stance, it was kept very much the same. Other than that, it’s your standard fight. Pokémon moves which have been around forever, Pokémon names which have been around forever, and things like that. You know, really not so much during it, but pre-localization, there was a lot of discussion because we’ve never done anything like this before.”
A new way to play Pokémon
By “pre-localization,” McMahill is referring to when Nintendo began to lay out marketing and promotional plans for Pokémon Conquest. Turn-based strategy RPGs are a niche genre in the west, and naturally, Pokémon Conquest needed to sell more than any of those games typically do.
“With Pokémon Conquest, the audience base for that kind of game—players of Final Fantasy Tactics and things like that—is pretty small,” McMahill admitted. “It’s not a very big group of people. In Japan, it’s much bigger. The biggest challenge for Pokémon Conquest was: How do we tell people about this game? How do we explain what this game is?”
“We don’t want to say, ‘It’s a turn-based strategy game!’ Unless you’re a fan of Civ 5 or something like that, you’re not gonna get it. And to a 12-year-old, it’s just going to be like, ‘Whaaat?’ So, we came up with the idea of ‘A new way to play Pokémon’. That’s what it was. That’s really what appealed to everybody at the company. And to the public, it was a new way to experience these characters.”