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Sunday, April 14, 2024

It’s the End of a Pokémon Era

Since the beginning of Pokémon, there has always been Junichi Masuda. As a cofounder of Pokémon developer Game Freak, Masuda worked on the very first titles, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green (Pokémon Blue in the states), released in 1996. By 2002, he began serving as series director, starting with Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire.

But Masuda’s close involvement in the series has come to an end. On June 1, he stepped away from his managing editor position and into a new role, moving on from developer Game Freak to the Pokémon Company—which serves the top-line role of managing the entire brand, from animation and trading cards to video games. As a chief creative fellow, Masuda will use “his deep understanding of the Pokémon brand” to help create new services and products. Masuda’s departure comes at a pivotal time for the series. We are now only months away from the November 18 launch of Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, the series’ first true open-world game.

It’s the end of an era. Masuda isn’t, and certainly hasn’t been, the only decisionmaker when it comes to Pokémon games; his last director role was on soft remakes Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! But the franchise has been a notoriously slow one when it comes to change, especially in terms of modernizing its content. For the majority of its 26 years, mainstream games followed the same blueprint: Catch Pokémon, battle gym leaders, become a Pokémon master. Pokémon remained a dedicated handheld series until Let’s Go in 2018, followed by 2019’s Sword and Shield. Each title was also a largely static entity until 2020, when Game Freak finally began to expand content with DLC available after release.

It’s obvious that fans want more expansive Pokémon content. In its first week, Pokémon Legends: Arceus sold 6.5 million copies, making it the fastest-selling Pokémon game on Switch, beating out Sword and Shield at 6 million; it has since sold more than 12 million. Scarlet and Violet are already poised to push the series’ boundaries even further. The game will introduce four-player co-op, a series first, and long-needed expanded character customization options.

As for Masuda, who said in 2018 that it was “important to have the younger generation at Game Freak take over the development of Pokemon,” he already has big plans for his new gig. “I hope to transcend the boundaries of video games by trying to offer greater surprises, fun, and excitement to people all over the world,” he said in a prepared statement, “while doing my utmost to connect people, expand the circle of ‘play’ and to help bring about a richer world for us to share.”

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