Game Freak's Shigeru Ohmori has an intimidating task in front of him. As Pokémon Sun and Moon's director, it's on him to ensure that one of gaming's most popular franchises smoothly transitions into the next generation. No pressure.
After spending some time with the opening hours of Pokémon Sun and Moon, I had the chance to speak with both Ohmori and long-time steward Junichi Masuda and see where they stand ahead of the new generation. As I learned, Ohmori has a very particular perspective that informs Pokémon Sun and Moon's more natural setting as well as how players interact with the game's monsters. Here are a few items that jumped out at me over the course of the interview.
Pokémon Sun and Moon puts a lot more emphasis on the monsters themselves
Ohmori wants Sun and Moon to put the spotlight on the creatures themselves, as well as how trainers interact with them. The fact that your menu is possessed by a chatty Rotom is one result of that philosophy. But there are less obvious moments, like when you pick up your starter for the first time and look into their eyes.
"This is the seventh generation, but this is also my first time working as a director on an all-new generation of Pokémon games," said Ohmori, who joined Game Freak during the Diamond and Pearl generation. "So what I wanted to do was reexmine Pokémon as living creatures and really focus on that relationship: how they interact with humans, how they live alongside human. Nature and abundant life were two of the major themes I wanted to focus on with Pokémon Sun and Moon. I think you'll find throughout the game that it's even more lively than previous Pokémon games."
As for why he's taking this approach in particular, "I've always had an interest in showing animals in a digital medium. It's just an interest I have: I like going to the zoo, for example, and I want to show them in a more realistic way in a digital medium."
Game Freak doesn't neccesarily look back on old games to see what they can improve
Game Freak takes an old-school approach to game design: Rather than poring over user feedback and advanced metrics to see what works and what doesn't, they more or less take each new generation as it arrives.
Ohmori explains, "I mentioned earlier, but this is the first time I've worked as the director for an entirely new generation of Pokémon, so I really had a desire to build a new game from scratch while working closely with scratch. And because introducing a new director is kind of a momentous occasion, I really wanted to use the occasion to rebuild or reexamine some things. I think trials in place of gyms is one example of that; introducing Z-Moves is also another thing. These are things I put in the game because I wanted to focus on Pokémon as living creatures, and I think these are two elements that will help express that. But just like the Pokémon themselves, each game should have their own characteristics. So it's less about looking at past games and seeing what went well or what went poorly, it's more just looking at each project as its own new thing and determining what we want to do and how we can accomplish it.
Z-Moves won't just be used for attack
One of Sun and Moon's biggest additions are Z-Moves: super attacks that bring out each monster's hidden potential. These moves can only be used once per battle, and they require a Pokémon to be holding a Z-Crystal to active, but they have the potential swing a battle if used properly.
"With the Z-Moves, each of them are an extension of the Pokémon. There will be a lot of ways to use these in ways that weren't possible in previous generations," Ohmori told me. "I keep putting the focus on the Pokémon, but I hope players will get creative and use these Z-Moves to show Pokémon in a way they haven't been used before. I think you're going to see a really different battle environment from previous games.
He adds that Z-Moves won't just be super damaging moves, either. "There are more supportive Z-Moves that will increase the statistics of the Pokémon, and I think it will open more strategic possibilities."
We already know about Extreme Evoboost, which will increase all of Eevee's stats by two stages. And, of course, there are amazing moves like this. From the looks of itt, Z-Moves will go a long way toward the determining the viability of individual monsters in battle.
Transfers from Pokémon Red and Blue could have some interesting effects
In a rather nice treat, Pokémon Red and Blue will be compatible with Sun and Moon through Pokémon Bank, linking the first generation with the modern games for the first time. But there are a lot of complications, like the fact that stats work totally differently in the Game Boy games. So how's it going to work?
"Of course the way it works is that you put it in the Pokémon Bank to bring them into your Sun and Moon games, and at that stage the data is converted to bring in all of the stuff from over the years. I think players will have a lot of fun seeing how their Pokémon change from one game to another," Masuda says.
As for whether aspects like traits and personalities will be randomly assigned, or whether playing Red and Blue will give trainers some sort of special advantage: "That's definitely one thing we want people to try out for themselves."
You heard him: Start mining that data.
The Festival Plaza is the true successor to Black 2 and White 2's Join Avenue
Pokémon Sun and Moon introduces the Festival Plaza, which features special shops that can be upgraded by interacting with other players. If it sounds a lot like Black 2 and White 2's Joine Avenue, there's a reason, says Ohmori. "The person who came up with the Festival Plaza was the same person who designed the Join Avenue, and they really wanted to find a way to make an improved version of the Join Avenue. What would Join Avenue look like in Sun and Moon? So there are a lot of fun gameplay elements like powering up or leveling up the various shops."
This is great to hear because the Join Avenue is great. When I was playing Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, I was completely obsessed with meeting as many players as possible and upgrading all of my shops. Looks like I'll be back at it against in Sun and Moon.
Ohmori likes the more gimmicky Pokémon
In the end, I couldn't resist asking Ohmori what his favorite monsters from the previous generation were. His answer? Malamar, the squid-like monster introduced in Pokémon X and Y. But Ohmori isn't drawn by Malamar's design or its utility in battle, but how it evolves.
"I like the Pokémon that have a more playful element or a gimmick for their game they're in. For example, X and Y has Malamar, which evolves using the gyroscope. That's one of my favorite things from that game. I've definitely explored a lot of things in that regard for Sun and Moon," Ohmori says.
As if Pokémon's evolution methods couldn't get any weirder. Looks like we're going to have a lot of interesting new systems to try when Pokémon Sun and Moon drops on the Nintendo 3DS on November 18.