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Let’s Respond! Junichi Masuda Interview Opinion

A recent Eurogamer interview with Junichi Masuda sheds some light on the upcoming Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee titles. Rivvon looks over some specific points and gives her opinion.

The game development process has always been incredibly fascinating to me, and as such, I have a great enjoyment of reading interviews, which offer insights players may never have considered a possibility regarding their favorite games. So when Eurogamer published their interview with director Junichi Masuda regarding the upcoming Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee earlier this week, I was very interested in what would details would be unveiled. This interview in particular has some wise insight coupled with a puzzling mindset that I would like to go over in detail. Let me begin with the more minor points.

“One of the main targets of [Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee] is kids, who haven’t had the opportunity to play Pokémon Go, because … they don’t have a smartphone.”

I used to teach at a Title I elementary school, which, in basic summary, is a school where a very large percent of students come from low-income families. And yet most of these students had a smart device of some kind. So I’m mostly interested as to the culture difference where Junichi Masuda can say that children haven’t had the opportunity to play GO because they lack a smartphone. Another interesting thing to think about: with how many helpful functions a smartphone has, would a parent rather get their kid a smartphone which can be used both practically and for fun? Or a game system that can only be used for video games? For most children, I would say if they don’t play GO it’s not because they can’t, but because they don’t want to. There are always children who think Pokémon is “lame,” but others who like it. Still, hardly any kids seem to play GO. They do, however, adore the card game. They are immensely popular, even though most children don’t seem to understand how to actually play. Perhaps a card-based game in the future could help attract the child demographic?

On this note, however, Masuda goes on to say:

“We thought that amongst all of the previous Pokémon games up until now, the one that’s the most relatable to kids like this would be Pokémon Yellow [because] you have Pikachu of course as a main feature in these games, and you have Team Rocket, who appears a lot in the anime as well.”

I had always been mostly alright with the voyage back into Kanto as a means to give Game Freak a chance to get familiar with working on a Switch title without worry of making an all-new game, but this does cement it as a wise decision. Pikachu, it goes without saying, and even Eevee, are very marketable and iconic, allowing them to easily substitute for starter Pokémon that you can use throughout your entire journey without even needing to evolve them (cries in Espeon and Raichu). I will say, though, The Pokémon Company International does a fantastic job of marketing all the starters, because there are always children who really like the starters of the game they first started with, seemingly even more than Pikachu (I guess what they say is true: you never forget your first starter!).

But I do worry slightly, because while Kanto features these iconic Pokémon on-par with starters, no other generation really has this outside of their starters themselves. The chances of us getting “Let’s Go!” remakes of other regions are starting to look rather slim. The only Pokémon I could think that even begin to match this duo are Espeon and Umbreon, despite already being evolved. Well, Game Freak could always pick two Pokémon they think could work as starters in tandem with what The Pokémon Company International deems is marketable, and—

“Actually we only noticed afterwards that it would be the 20th anniversary of the release of [Pokémon Yellow Version], so we thought ‘Ah great! That lines up very nicely.'”

And just like that, the dream for a special Johto-centric 20th anniversary in 2019 is officially dead.

“We didn’t want to make [Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee] in any way a scary game.”

I thought this was an interesting remark because of the ever-so-infamous Lavender Town nestled away in the Kanto region. The new rival in these games is described as somewhat of a scaredy-cat, so I thought it would have been interesting to see how he reacts in Lavender Town, but now I’m wondering if Lavender Town will even be spooky this time around. What shocking news to get during the month of Halloween!

“[Hidden Machines are] something that is tricky every time with every new game. … It would be a bit boring if we just had the player push the blocks themselves! … [Or] the player would just have to be swimming across the ocean themselves carrying their Pokémon – and you’re like, well, am I the Pokémon? Or is my Pokémon the Pokémon? It would get confusing.”

To cut straight to the chase, I find it a tad concerning that Masuda is overthinking this specific point. Personally, the way Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee are handling HMs in conjunction with rideable Pokémon is my favorite in the series thus far. The inconvenience of HMs is rectified with the Ride Pager in the Alola games, but the severely limited number of rideable Pokémon left me yearning for more. While it may be silly for Fly to essentially become a balloon ride with a Pikachu or Eevee, the way Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee simplifies HMs while also allowing the player to ride any large-enough Pokémon in their party makes for a much more enjoyable exploration experience.

But when it comes to non-Let’s Go! games, the player is not guaranteed to have any specific Pokémon at any given time (yes, even their starter—sorry, Litten). The ideal scenario would be to retain both a Key Item similar to the Ride Pager to replace HMs while also keeping the ability to ride any large Pokémon for fun (and while we’re at it, can we not have the Pokémon following you mechanic disappear for 9 years again?). But with how often we see fan-favorite mechanics disappear into the Distortion World, I can’t help but worry that with how oddly unsure Masuda seems to be regarding the future of HMs that one of the few things I’m really, really liking about these games may not make it into the 2019 title at all.

“I’m always kind of thinking how to approach the Pokémon series from a different aspect so, in that sense, [an open-world Pokémon game is] still on the cards.”

Considering that some of the easier-to-answer questions such as “is this the ‘definitive’ Kanto?” didn’t seem to get a solid answer out of Masuda, I feel oddly… pleased with this response. I’m not one to get my hopes up in any way, but I can only dream that the success of the open-world Zelda and Mario titles, combined with Game Freak’s willingness to deviate from the “Pokémon norm” (as seen with Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee themselves) gives Game Freak the idea to play around with the idea of an open-world Pokémon title. If handled correctly, I feel that such a game could answer a lot of player concerns in one fell swoop.

“We wanted to spend more time and put more effort into making the Kanto Pokémon, the original 151, as well made as possible, and expressing them as well as we could.”

I only say this primarily because our Kalos game had a decent amount of “Gen I pandering,” followed by two Alola games with very in-your-face “Gen I pandering,” but I really do hope that if other gens ever get their chance in the spotlight that Game Freak gives them the same love, care, and attention that they’re giving to the Gen I Pokémon now.

And now we get to the numerous statements that all funnel into a similar issue, one that is on a lot of players’ minds with each new game announcement: how much content does Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee provide?

“And in this age with so many games to choose from, we thought that we’d rather make something that was easier to progress through, and kind of tailor that playstyle to how we think that the playstyle has evolved over the years and how children are playing games now.”

Even from my own experience, I find this mindset very understandable. There are lots of games I would like to play, and I hardly have the time between jobs to play them. The games I do end up playing tend to be mobile games, designed for playing in short bursts, or very rarely the console release that really manages to impress me that I prioritize it once I am at home. But as peoples’ lives get busier, it becomes harder to find console titles worth prioritizing.

But! Game Freak is very much aware that people want to prioritize Pokémon titles in their gaming libraries. Masuda even claims they are “kind of … bending to the will of the players here, and giving them more options to choose the way to play that’s most fun to them,” but his answer to what more “hardcore” players would want is to try to challenge the region’s Master Trainers and utilize the Catch Combo mechanic, “whereby you catch the same Pokémon multiple times in a row and get various rewards and benefits for that.” But for the fans who have been clamoring for more content, aside from making an Internet meme about how they are the Magikarp master or their Ditto triumphed in a battle of the Transforms, I highly doubt Master Trainers will satisfy that itch.

I also find it rather interesting that Masuda says “I know that a lot of people and fans have spent a lot of time hatching eggs, … I’d be really sad to think that for them, Pokémon is hatching eggs,” but somehow believes that catching the same Pokémon over and over again is a more… “appropriate” way to enjoy Pokémon? At least if it were different Pokémon, you would be making progress towards completing your Pokédex. As someone who has spent more time breeding eggs in Moon than bothering to even complete Ultra Sun, I can offer my reasoning: I want, very much so, to have something else to do once my Pokémon game is complete. But what is there? Competitive or online play, or shiny hunting. Guess what both of these require?

For shiny hunting you can find them in wild encounters, but personally, I love that the Alola games implemented a way for both parents to pass down their Poké Balls, so I have been focusing on breeding so I can get myself shinies with as many controlled elements as possible (not to mention it’s the only way to “reuse” Dream Balls, and it doesn’t help that Samson Oak only gives one of each Apricorn Ball). But you can’t escape breeding and hatching tons of eggs for online or competitive play, and it is, admittedly, one of the major elements that stops people from participating at all. As an aside, however, I do hope this signals an easier method of IV breeding in the upcoming 2019 titles.

Another point of interest is that Masuda’s egg hatching comment comes as a response to the question “[Do] you have one eye on another Let’s Go style game set in Johto?” Does Game Freak associate baby Pokémon, and therefore the breeding mechanic as a whole, as a defining characteristic of the Johto games? Even as a huge Johto fan, I never really thought of it that way; there aren’t that many baby Pokémon to begin with, and honestly, I don’t believe anybody actively breeds Pokémon during the course of the main story. The tools required to make breeding worthwhile are always made available (or at least much more reasonable to obtain) after the player has cleared the game.

Which brings me to my main point: if people are breeding egg after egg after egg, it is because they want something, anything, to do once the game is over. They want to keep playing and enjoying the game after the credits roll. But the reality is all there is to do is complete the Pokédex (something made trivial thanks to Pokémon Bank), shiny hunt, or breed for competitive Pokémon. The Pokédex completion requires breeding as some Pokémon only appear as evolutions in the wild, whereas shiny hunting can be made easier thanks to the variables you can control with breeding (not to mention the… I guess now-ironically named “Masuda Method” which makes obtaining a shiny even easier). Each game comes with other, minor elements, but most of them are not fleshed out enough to really keep people interested (as an example: I loved taking photos in Moon, but there were so few Pokémon that would appear, which made getting the whopping 1 and a half million photograph points really boring because I would only be taking pictures of the same handful of Pokémon over and over and over).

This interview shows that Masuda is very much aware that fans want something more to do in their Pokémon games. After all, Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee are very clearly meant to be casual-oriented, and yet Masuda still felt it necessary to point out that there are features that may perhaps interest the more “hardcore” audience’s eye. But the attempts to “meet in the middle,” having “hardcore” content that can be completed “casually,” does not seem to be working.

For these games, honestly, I can excuse it. I would much rather Game Freak get accustomed to developing a Switch title so that the next generation titles come out more polished and full of content without the struggle of never having developed for that console before. But there is no way to be certain that the upcoming “hardcore” games of 2019 will deliver what fans have been asking for right now. My primary hope is that Masuda really does consider a potential open-world title, and that the fun new features of Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee such as riding Pokémon and dressing-up your partner make it into the next instalments (Sinnoh contests confirmed?!), while the more casual focus of these titles allow Game Freak to really push the limits with the content they include in the games scheduled for next year.

They also really need to do something different, and by that I mean drop the “Gen I pandering.” In order for people in this busy world to prioritize a console game over an easier to play on the go mobile game, said console game would preferably be something new or different than what they are used to. The latest Pokémon titles all feel like more of the same, starting with X & Y with moderate “Gen I pandering,” leading into the “Kanto 20th anniversary games” themselves, Sun & Moon, followed by their glorified DLC, Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, and now full-blown Kanto re-remakes. I definitely don’t feel compelled to prioritize any of the recent titles over more unique mobile games because they all put such a heavy focus on the same set of 151 Pokémon (except for Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, which are remakes, but at least focus on a different set of Pokémon). Again, I can excuse it for Let’s Go! because it is the group of monsters Game Freak has the most experience with, making the entire development process smoother and allowing them to focus on learning the hows of creating for the Switch rather than also having to worry about what they are making. But if the 2019 titles prove to be yet another “more of the same,” “first games of a generation” with little content or challenge, I will fail to see the more metaphysical benefit of Let’s Go!

Edited by HeroLinik.