NHK World’s most recent episode of Imagine-Nation in Japan did a feature on Bandai Namco’s Pokkén Tournament, including interviews with The Pokémon Company president Tsunekazu Ishihara and Namco’s Katsuhiro Harada.
“Considering that many of the people in the generation who experienced Red and Green are now nearing their thirties, and those who were in elementary school then are now in university, we aimed to make a game for those who grew up playing Pokémon—rather than just target children,” Ishihara said. “The bottom line is, we want to show adults that this is the new Pokémon, and get them to play.”
As previously reported, the goal behind Pokkén Tournament was to create a game where you manipulate the Pokémon directly. Tekken series producer Katsuhiro Harada—who is in charge of Pokkén—touched upon how tough this can be.
“Players want to move around with a great deal of freedom and do a wide range of things, but the operability needs to be smooth as well. That’s probably the most important point,” Harada said. “To be frank, with both Tekken and Soulcalibur, I’ve worked for the past 20 years on the pursuit of how to best organize copious amounts of animation into a product that can be animated smoothly and comfortably by players. That work has led to where I stand now, meaning I’ve given everything I’ve got to pull this off.”
The challenges go beyond just designing the Pokémon and their animations, though. Harada says Japan’s arcade market—which is still hanging on despite the advent of consoles and smartphone gaming—is a brutal space to compete in.
“Players can quit a game after just one try if they find it boring,” he says. “Seeing people quit after spending a hundred yen or even watching them play from behind and hearing their reactions firsthand can be very tough. There’ve been countless games that have been unable to re-coup their production costs after customers say things like ‘this is not fun’ or ‘this isn’t good at all!’ I mean, it’s all for nothing if nobody wants to play, even after spending a stupendous amount of money to develop the software, to cover the cost of the expense of the chassis, and the costly system that serves as the base. It can really be an unforgiving market.”
In order to work around this, Pokkén Tournament is designed to be played using a familiar controller that will hopefully catch the eye of people that like playing games at home.
“Envisioning that our customers were Pokémon fans and maybe new to arcade games, we decided to forego the usual buttons-and-joystick approach common to arcade games, and opted for a controller people would be familiar with from home gaming, with the D-Pad, four buttons, and the L and R buttons,” says Harada. “When they visit an arcade and see this controller, even those who play at home—which is now the trend—might just think ‘I can play this one’.”
And Pokkén Tournament is being considered for release outside of Japan, too. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given that The Pokémon Company’s U.S. division released a trailer for the game last year, but now we have confirmation from company president Tsunekazu Ishihara as well.
“I think the possibility definitely exists,” Ishihara says with regard to an overseas release of Pokkén. “Basically, as an arcade game we would like to push the boundaries of combining familiar Pokémon characters with new and unexpected ones in battle. We want to show people different kinds of Pokémon characters that they can actually use.”