Opinions and Stories

Masuda is back directing – but has he ever left?

He said he was going to stop after Let’s GO, but is back co-directing the Sinnoh games already.

Let’s put aside the debate on chibi Dawn, or the mash-up of different art styles between overworld and battles for a moment. One key announcement that stood out to me during the announcement for the Sinnoh remakes, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, was on the development side. While a different studio (ILCA Inc.) is in charge, the game will be directed by both Yuichi Ueda and one Junichi Masuda.

This may have been surprising to some, as Masuda had indicated in an interview that Pokémon Let’s GO, Pikachu and Eevee would be his last stint at directing.

But at the same time, it’s important to have the younger generation at GAME FREAK take over the development of Pokémon as a series. I do believe this will probably be, in terms of the main Pokémon RPGs, the last time that I work as the director.

Masuda has all the roles.

With Pokémon Sword and Shield there was no such Director role for Masuda – Ohmori instead had that responsibility. Both parts of the Expansion Pass meanwhile were led by Hiroyuki Tani, which does line up with Masuda’s statement in letting the younger generation at Game Freak lead development. James Turner also had a clear, significant role in helping shape the Galar games. But you can be forgiven for thinking that Masuda hasn’t really been out of the loop.

For starters, he’s still been listed as a Producer – for the base game and the DLC. And in that role, despite being one of three, he had essentially been in every important PR appearance. He was the one who gave the widely criticised news about the Galar Dex restriction at the 2019 E3. He also featured alongside Ohmori in the various interviews had on the gaming website Eurogamer. And he appeared again for the announcement of the Expansion Pass. The pair were even highlighted as the stars of an interview published on the official Pokémon website. This adds to other titles where he served as Producer, such as for the Alola games. There’s his famous line in this interview on the Nintendo Switch and Pokémon Sun and Moon:

Of course, it is very difficult to make the game, so I hope people don’t get their expectations up too high.

For someone not directing, he has had a lot of involvement in the Pokémon Sword and Shield games, both in announcing and explaining features and decisions for the titles. That’s not to say Ohmori hasn’t, but Masuda has definitely been involved. It’s hard to really feel like Masuda has stepped down in any way.

It’s hard to say for sure, of course – perhaps he just has a larger PR role, and took the ‘public’ responsibility for more controversial news (even if some of his own statements are part of that). He put his name on an announcement made in response to the Dexit reaction, for example. But it doesn’t appear to me that this is all to the story. Masuda has been with Game Freak since the company started in 1989, some 32 years ago. He started as a composer, and then added ‘Programmer’ to his game credits title. By Pokémon Stadium, he was an Advisor, and with Pokémon Crystal he was a co-director. Every generation since he has directed at least one title, and if not he was a Producer. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will continue the run of directing that has stood for seven generations of Pokémon games, not held by any other person. The point here is that he’s been majorly involved in Pokémon main series titles for most of the franchise’s history, and even if he wasn’t a Director in title for Pokémon Sword and Shield, he’s already stepped back into that (co-)role a meer two titles after his claim in an interview.

Masuda is everywhere.

Whether you are currently a fan of him or not, there’s no denying the great work he has achieved, with many classic Pokémon tunes created by him, and games such as Pokémon Emerald, Pokémon Platinum, and Pokémon Black and White as part of his Director credits. There is also no denying, however, that he’s remained at the forefront of the games for an immensely long time now, and this doesn’t appear that this will change after all, at least not anytime soon.

So where does it leave Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl? On the one hand, it is a main series title to be handled by another company to Game Freak. The last time something like this happened would have been the Genius Sonority titles, Pokémon Colosseum, Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, and to a lesser extent Pokémon Battle Revolution. These were all termed as spin-off titles, but did largely use the same game mechanics as the main series, and the first two titles had its own story adventure. These titles had flaws, even by the biggest fan admissions, but they were also fun, and full of distinctive flavour, themes and personality. We have never had a region with the same tone and weirdness to it as Orre. As far as I am aware, there was no Game Freak higher up with a strong first-hand involvement in the game development.

But with the Sinnoh remakes, Masuda will co-direct. How much of the game design and decisions will be up to him, and not Ueda and ILCA Inc.? Is he to have a guiding and supportive role, or will he be implementing his own decisions, rather than let this title be taken up by a new team, for better or worse?

Time will tell.

Edited by Aldo and ranko.