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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Three Reasons Why Junichi Masuda Is Pokémon's Miyamoto

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - And that headline is supposed to be a bad thing, by the way.

Absolutely nothing good is happening in the realm of Pokémon: Let's Go. The game (in two versions: Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee!) was repulsive at first impression, and it's somehow getting worse as we learn more and more about it. I get the same puking kind of feeling that I did whenever I begrudgingly wrote about Pokémon GO for this site. I don't want to revisit that.

Now that Pokémon: Let's Go is releasing in exactly one month, GAME FREAK honcho and series director Junichi Masuda is having a lot of interviews where he can't contain his own excitement. This is one with Eurogamer, and a shorter one with The Verge. I'll be referring to these interviews throughout this article.

My basic thesis is that Masuda is turning into the Pokémon version of Shigeru Miyamoto for Nintendo — a well-respected guy within the company who has been around since basically the start and has a lot of power and creative control... and is using that power for the detriment of the series he is working on because his vision is so out-of-touch.

Here's three examples from those interviews. They are all intertwined if you think about it, so the headline saying there are three reasons is sort of disingenuous, but I didn't say they are completely distinct with no overlap. Anyway, I make good points, so read on:

Worshipping The False Prophet Of Mobile

Junichi Masuda said these two statements in the Eurogamer interview. Not directly next to one another, but pretty close. Pay attention:
“So actually it was more that one of the main targets of these games is kids, who haven't had the opportunity to play Pokémon Go, because you know, they don't have a smartphone”
“So when we tried to think about how kids these days generally play games, what came to mind was mobile games really. Games which you play for a short time, and perhaps you'll be moving between various games pretty quickly, so if it was a game that kind of takes about two hours to get into, we thought that perhaps people might get a bit bored and then decide to move on to a different game.”
First the kids don't have smartphones. Then the kids generally play games via smartphone. Which is it? You can't have both of these be true, but Masuda is using obviously flawed reasoning to dumb down (in the name of accessibility for kids with trouble concentrating) games for everyone else. 

And don't think that this is something that will just remain in the realm of Pokémon GO and Pokémon: Let's Go. Masuda has previously used the mobile gaming logic as his explanation for why there isn't a Battle Frontier (or other forms of post-game content) in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire. This is what he believes. This will not just go away with him. It will influence everything he touches.

Of course, Shigeru Miyamoto has his own mobile affections. Shigeru Miyamoto was completely obsessed with how you can play his mobile game, Super Mario Run, with one hand while doing other things like eating a hamburger. He's going to keep pursuing that line of thinking.

Not Continuing Characters and Story

We all hopefully are very familiar with Shigeru Miyamoto's role in the Paper Mario series, specifically Paper Mario: Sticker Star. He was against new characters and a story. He was very restrictive on what Intelligent Systems could do.

In a similar fashion, Masuda is apparently responsible for why Pokémon is so obsessed with Generation 1 lately, from how Pokémon GO started with only Generation 1 Pokémon, to only Kanto Pokémon getting Alolan forms in the Alola games, to Pokémon Quest, to only Generation 1 for Pokémon: Let's Go despite other generations building off it:
“So, kind of at the basis of it you know is that in the first generation there aren't any Pokémon Eggs, so you know, when we thought about how would these Pokémon be hatched in the first place, it kind of didn't make any sense. But also you know 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.”
He later went on to bash player obsession over Pokémon breeding, despite that obsession only existing because of game design choices that Masuda has made throughout the franchise's history.

Seriously, if individual values (IVs — genetic differences between Pokémon) didn't exist, along with elusive egg moves and other things, then all this breeding wouldn't be a thing. And Masuda is the one who invented the Masuda Method where Shiny Pokémon are more likely through breeding two international Pokémon together.

Anyway, I'm intruding a bit on the next reason, so the point is this: Pokémon has many years of locations, characters, and lore accumulated. Masuda is only interested in the basics of that and wants to ignore the rest. You know, even if it makes sense that friendship would be in Pokémon: Let's Go (it's a theme of the game with all the companionship going on!), and there are several Generation 1 Pokémon that evolve into Generation 2 Pokémon on the basis of friendship. Like Golbat to Crobat, Chansey to Blissey... and, of course, the star of Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee!... Eevee.

But Eevee can't even evolve in the game, so oh well.

Just to make sure you understand the comparison, there are many, many characters and directions that the Paper Mario series was going, with a lot of built-up lore. And Miyamoto wanted it arbitrarily gone because he later decided he wasn't interested in it. Both men completely demoralise world-building. This is much more than a case of the world being unmanageable so the developers want to avoid scope creep.

Rebooting and Refocusing The Franchise

Now I'll quote The Verge's interview with Masuda for this quote:
“The biggest thing I feel with Let’s Go is really hoping that it’s going to serve as sort of a base or starting point for the next 20 years of Pokémon.”
You think that Pokémon: Let's Go is just a spin-off that won't be affecting the main series? No, Masuda is a guy who will be taking his reboot philosophies with him. He won't keep them to side games or whatever. This is a viewpoint that goes deep to his core.

Shigeru Miyamoto has pulled this off multiple times in his career. Look at the New Super Mario Bros. series, which paralysed the direction of that franchise for a decade. You look at Star Fox Zero, a terrible reboot of the franchise that serves as another example of throwing away characters and story. Look at the F-Zero franchise, which is an example of what happens to a game series when Miyamoto cannot think of a way to reboot it. Now it's just staying there, dead, only alive through Captain Falcon's appearances in Super Smash Bros.

Oh, and Miyamoto's minions have said the same thing about Sticker Star (per the earlier-hyperlinked Sticker Star article) that Masuda is quoted as saying in this section.
“Well, as mentioned before, the mechanics present new challenges and the gameworld represents a new start. We worked hard so that this game would become the new standard for future Paper Mario games, so please play it to the fullest!”
While that didn't ultimately end poorly for Paper Mario (though our opinion on Paper Mario: Color Splash is rare on the Internet), it still isn't all that it could be. Because of this Miyamoto-Masuda way of thinking where you can just arbitrarily decide the million(s) of fans that support how you've been doing things for decades suddenly aren't worth it. And that's not saying the fanbase doesn't support innovation and doing things differently. We're not asking for the same stuff.

In fact, we're definitely not asking for the same stuff, which is what reboots like Star Fox Zero ultimately provided compared to Star Fox 64, and what Pokémon: Let's Go is going to do with Pokémon Yellow. As evidence, I'll bring up that Starlink: Battle for Atlas just released today. That's the Ubisoft game that features Fox McCloud in the Nintendo Switch version. Star Fox fans seem happy about it, and that's obviously quite different than what the franchise was doing before!

Concluding Thoughts

I want to end the article with this concluding piece of evidence to wrap things up. Junichi Masuda, for over a decade (going back to 2004), had a HIDDEN POWER blog where he talked about director stuff at GAME FREAK, which has a lot of travel and musings and whatever. I don't know, I haven't read it. But I can observe the very last blog entry to be made, number 244, was about Pokémon GO. It was written right after the first public announcement of the game. After that, he never wrote anything ever again, because I guess his life was complete with his GO dream at the cost of anything else Pokémon.

Take a look at the very last picture on his blog:

Junichi Masuda Shigeru Miyamoto Pokémon GO smartphone mobile
Far-left: Junichi Masuda.
Far-right: Shigeru Miyamoto.
They're all holding smartphones, united. I rest my case.

Ludwig is incredibly irritated at his favourite franchises ruined by people who share Miyamoto's philosophies, so he's been ranting about this topic for many years on KoopaTV. Maybe you can tell by the many hyperlinks to other articles in this article. And there are many others that he hasn't hyperlinked here but he could have. Are you worried about the direction of the Pokémon franchise? Or are you a Genwunner terrorist? Let KoopaTV know in the comments!

Ludwig finally got the opportunity to play Let's Go. Here are his thoughts...


  1. I swear I didn't see that you'd posted this before I wrote my blog post today about the people's weird attitude toward Pokemon these days. XD

    Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee doesn't worry me as much as the last two main entries. If X/Y and Sun/Moon had felt like the older games, then it would be easier to see this as a spin-off. But since they were already steering the series in a simpler, more guided direction... :/

    1. Hmph. You should always look to KoopaTV before you do anything. How else are you gonna succeed in... life?

      Guess I'll read your post to see you elaborate on the point.

    2. After his recent comment about how they used to have to work harder to make characters individuals through their dialogue than they do now, the comparison rings even truer.

    3. I know!

      Should I just write a new article every time Masuda says something stupid, or what? This could easily become a weekly series for the next month.

    4. Hahaha.

      Thoughts on this?

    5. Was gonna save it for its own article, but... I approve.

      In terms of other GAME FREAK talent, not sure if that means future Pokémon titles will be more reminiscent of the Alola games (not that great of an idea), or more reminiscent of Pocket Card Jockey (YES).


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