With Pokémon Black/White, directors Junichi Masuda and Ken Sugimori wanted to be especially radical. Because Diamond/Pearl were created as the ultimate compilation of the series (complete with an impressive name — “Diamond,” the hardest of all minerals — as Iwata put it in his interview).
If they were to develop a new game thereafter, they would have to change all but the most basic aspects of the series.
A few of these changes were to do with trying to maintain the series’ broad audience. Originally, Pokémon was created with the aim of being for both children and adults. Despite this, Masuda felt a little bitter at the thought that the audience was always getting older and would eventually “graduate” from the series. Ever since Platinum, he had been wondering, “How can I keep a hold of these fans?”
Some of the smaller ideas that were tossed around during development were a study of what the favorite topics of this generation of people were, as well as the usage of kanji in the game.
Some mainstays that had always remained ever since the first Pokémon games were also changed. An example of this is the usage of TMs. Originally, they would disappear after one use. Game Freak learnt that, as a result, there were many people who would kept TMs in their item box, and they became a sort of collector’s item, never to be used.
Masuda had noticed, though, that people liked to change moves often, and experiment with new combinations. In light of this, in Pokémon Black/White, TMs can be used more than once.
Another change, this one on a much grander scale, was the completely new setting and set of Pokémon.
As with every other game before, these new generation of Pokémon games take place in a new setting. However, this time, the region, Isshu, is very distant from those of the previous games. As a result, there are absolutely no old Pokémon appearing in the game.
This way, everyone — both newcomers and veterans to the series — can start the game on an equal footing. No one will see a previous Pokémon they’ve come to know or like and it without any consideration of the newer ones.
Another complaint Masuda had heard was that children were having too much trouble completing the main story of the game, and that they usually ended giving up. Along this line, the map was designed so that it would be a linear adventure and younger players wouldn’t get lost. Since most of the appeal of the game was what you did post-story, Masuda wanted as many people to reach that point as possible.
This doesn’t mean the game is any shallower than before, however. In fact, one of the main focuses in this game is urging players to come up with their own way of playing the game. Even though the game was essentially designed so that there would only be one destination you go to at a time, there are many ways to get to that point. As a result, there is a tight balance between a feeling of freedom without allowing too much deviation such that players get lost.
Tsunekazu Ishihara, the producer of B/W, stated that even though he had played through the game three times with the three different starters, he feels like he’s only uncovered a fifth of the game.
The Iwata Asks session also hints at a change in scenario, but these weren’t clear in the interview other than the fact that it may be deeper than in previous games.
There were a great many changes being made, but the goal of Pokémon Black/White was to keep the core the same. What made up the basics, then? Masuda and Sugimori both had a lot of trouble trying to pinpoint what exactly these basics were, in order to decide what to keep and what to change.
For Sugimori, Pokémon had always been somewhat based on reality. It was the story of a “boy’s summer” with the setting based on Japan. The boy wasn’t a superhero with special powers of any sort; he was just a boy collecting bugs in the summer, and as he continued to collect, he continued to grow.
But with the stage being set in a much larger scale — a region based off of New York as opposed to places in Japan — the creators had to make sure all the more that their feet were firmly set in reality. They didn’t want to make the character designs too fantasy-based, or the story too outlandish. Even when they created the new Pokémon, the design team constantly kept this in mind.
This ideal was reflected in both the designs of the humans, as well as the design of the Pokémon themselves.
Masuda wanted to give the games’ introduction the same feel as previous titles. While Sugimori was the one who suggested that the introduction to the game by a Professor with the three starter Pokémon was very important to the atmosphere, it was Masuda who concentrated on making the start of the game familiar. As a result, gyms and Pokémon Centers are introduced to the player as quickly as possible.
Even after you cross the great bridge that leads out of the metropolis center and enter the world of freedom where everything from the previous generations has been changed, Masuda wanted to the region of Isshu to at least maintain the same feeling as previous titles — a feeling of “Love and Peace.” A world where people would always give up priority seats for senior citizens on the subway.
With these ideas in tow, Masuda and Sugimori sought to create what was essentially an old game in a completely new set of clothes.