Recently we were invited down to The Pokémon Company International's European headquarters in sunny London to not only have a good old look at the upcoming Pokémon Sword & Shield, but also have a chin-wag in person with Junichi Masuda, the games' producer, and a similar (if rather more digital) natter with Shigeru Ohmori, director of these latest entries. It's available in both moving picture form and written form for those with silence on the brain.
Nintendo Life: First of all, Ohmori-san, Masuda-san, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today.
We’ve known that the eighth generation of Pokémon games has been in development for some time now. When did development begin and how did the team adapt to the newer, more powerful hardware of the Nintendo Switch?
Ohmori-san: So really we got started on developing this game as soon as we’d finished with Pokémon Sun & Moon, at the time a lot of the development team were busy and moved over to the development of Let’s Go, Pikachu! And Let’s Go, Eevee!, so we used that as a sort of stepping-stone while we gathered more and more people to work on this project. As this was sort of the first main-series new project after moving over on the 3DS to the Switch, something that was really hard to come to grips with was the new power we had at our disposal, particularly in a graphical sense; we could express a lot more on the characters’ faces and things like that, and it, of course, comes with added cost and things as well, so there was a lot to get right with the team, and so we all had to muck in and work together hard to make sure we used everyone’s skills in bringing this game together.
The Galar Region clearly draws inspiration from where we are right now, the British Isles. We’ve already seen a direct representation of England in Alcremie, and Wales in Sirfetched. Can we expect similar treatment for the other locales, such as Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and perhaps even some of the smaller islands that dot our coast?
Ohmori-san: There’s been a lot of research going into making the region and the Pokémon for this game, and we’ve been around and seen all the different areas that we could, implemented different bits and bobs from that, but instead of making more of a strict representation of one part of the country or one specific aspect, we’ve rather gone at this from a different angle thinking ‘what sort of design would fit the UK as a whole?’. So in terms of finding out specifically what Pokémon are in the game we’re going to have to ask you to wait and play the game for yourself when it releases and hopefully enjoy what you discover.
Masuda-san, I can see you've got the three starter Pokémon with you, or at least their initial evolutions. Right now which one is your favourite?
Masuda-san: That’s a really hard decision, but at the moment I’m thinking I’ll go for Scorbunny, but I may well have changed my mind by the time the game comes out.
In the past you’ve mentioned you’ve been working to improve the balance of the games; it’s no secret that a vast majority of Pokémon have historically not been viable choices in competitive Pokémon battles. How have you taken steps to increase the number of Pokémon that would be useful in competitive situations?
Ohmori-san: Of course one thing we’re always keen to make it so that there’s a larger variety of Pokémon that can and want to use, but of course things like pre-evolutions are necessarily weaker than the later evolved forms. This time we have the Dynamax feature, which means you can give any Pokémon a chance to Dynamax in battle, which hopefully may inspire people to broaden the number of Pokémon that they use and explore possibilities with Pokémon that they haven’t used before using the Dynamax feature.
Following the announcement that not all Pokémon previously featured in the series will be appearing in Sword and Shield, certain fans’ reactions were not at all positive. How did the development team feel upon hearing this negative response?
Masuda-san: So of course this is a decision we didn’t just land on by happenstance, we thought long and hard as a whole team about what the best approach for this game was, and this is the decision we ultimately came to. We’re always thinking about how we can make the very best experience for the game we’re currently working on, and the best way that fans can really get to grips with and enjoy that game. We ultimately came to the decision that this is the best way to go for this game.
Regarding the Pokémon that have made the cut in the games, are there any specific criteria that had to be met in order for their inclusion to be solidified?
Ohmori-san: This is a really difficult aspect that we have to get to grips with when designing the regional dex. The way we go about this is the same as with previous generations, so when we were deciding what Pokémon to include in Kalos of Alola. We really look at what Pokémon would best fit that sort of region, so we think hard about that, and that’s the main criteria when deciding what we pick.
When creating a mainline Pokémon game, how much attention is spent on creating new mechanics such as the Dynamax and Gigantamax systems?
Ohmori-san: Really we think of different ideas at the start of the project and discuss with the designers about how we can bring these different ideas to fruition, but it doesn’t really start and end there, it’s something that you constantly revisit throughout the project with game balance and things like that, so from the start to finish we’re constantly thinking about what sort of new features will work and how we can make them happen.
Many fans are fond of Mega Evolutions such as Mega Beedrill; can we expect Mega Evolutions and Gigantamaxing to marry in some form to preserve these newer, more powerful versions of some of our favourite Pokémon?
Ohmori-san: Well, if a Mega Evolved Pokémon also Dynamaxed, they’d probably be crazy strong, so this time around what we’d really like to see is people playing around with the Dynamax feature and really enjoy that, and see what they can do there so they won’t necessarily have to Mega Evolve as well. This time around we really want people to get to grips with the Dynamax feature and enjoy what that has to offer.
Lastly, and most importantly, why hasn’t a fish & chips-themed Pokémon been announced already?
Masuda-san: I really like fish and chips, and I’ve eaten a lot of it, to the point that I’ve discovered that the flavour wildly varies between different shops. As for making fish and chips into a Pokémon, it’s fish and it’s chips, and I can’t really think of a great way to combine the two into a single creature.
Ohmori-san, Masuda-san, thank you for speaking with us today, it's been excellent.
This interview has been lightly edited for readability. Thank you to Masuda-san and Ohmori-san for talking with us and The Pokémon Company as well as Nintendo UK for arranging the interview. You can point your eyes towards our thoughts about the games after playing them by travelling through this link right here.