In celebration of the November release of Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee!, Game Freak's director Junichi Masuda recently reflected on the earlier years of the series during an interview with Polygon. He explained how the team had to work on multiple projects from other companies to make ends meet, while each staff member added their own ideas to the original Game Boy Pokémon titles in their spare time.
It was really because of that kind of teamwork that I think that Pokémon, the original games, just came out to be as interesting and as fun as they were. That also led to their success. We definitely take that kind of [...] that teamwork-focused work style, and that’s part of the Game Freak culture now.
When the project did finally reach completion after roughly six years of development, concerns were then raised about the Game Boy being at the end of its life:
At the time in Japan, the Game Boy had been on a decline. You didn’t really see so many people playing it out and about at that point. Even when we were talking to our friends in the industry and saying that, “Oh, we’re working on a Game Boy game,” they were like, “Really? You’re working on a Game Boy game? That’s not going to sell very well, don’t you think?” That’s kind of what the atmosphere was like in Japan at the time.
It's a surprise the development even got to this point, as Masuda recited how there was a "really bad" computer crash around the four-year mark, where all the game data was nearly lost:
Somewhere midway through the development, maybe in the fourth year or so, we had a really bad crash that we couldn’t, we didn’t know how to recover the computer from. That had all of the data for the game, all of the Pokémon, the main character and everything. It really felt like, “Oh my God, if we can’t recover this data, we’re finished here.” I just remember doing a lot of different research. I called the company that I used to work for,seeing if they had any advice to recover the data.
I would go on this internet service provider back then called Nifty Serve. It’s like a Japanese version of CompuServe. I’d go on and ask people that I never talked to for advice on how to recover the data. I would look at these English books about the machine itself, because there wasn’t a lot of information in Japanese, just to figure it out. We eventually figured out how to recover it, but that was like the most nerve-racking moment, I think, in development.
In the end, the original games were obviously released and well-received, which then spawned more entries in the series along with an anime and even trading card game.