Game Freak co-founder Junichi Masuda has spoken about the personal hardship that he faced when developing Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire on Game Boy Advance.
The handheld, which went on to sell 81.51 million units worldwide, provided “more freedom” in development but meant that the development process was “a lot longer ” and “more resource-intensive” thanks to the graphical upgrade.
“With Ruby and Sapphire, the screen got a little longer and it was a different aspect ratio, a lot more colours and sound channels so the tech was improved dramatically,” Masuda explained to Game Informer. “It allowed us to do a lot more and gave us more freedom, but at the same time it made it take a lot longer to do things and was more resource-intensive.”
These technical challenges had to be considered, but the team became far more concerned about the brand’s perception worldwide.
“After Gold and Silver came out, it was a huge hit around the world, but shortly after everyone was saying, ‘That’s it. The Pokémon fad is over! It’s dead!’,” Masuda added. “We at Game Freak took that as a challenge and said, ‘It’s not dead. We’re going to show you guys you’re wrong!’.
“Pokémon GO is experiencing something similar where people are saying, ‘Eh, it’s done. The fad’s over.’ But it was way worse than that after Gold and Silver.”
He recalls that retailers were clearing any Pokémon merchandise that they had in stock, whether official or not and that they were being replaced with Star Wars, explaining: “The next time I visited it was all Star Wars. Everyone was saying it was on a downtrend, the fad’s over and I really felt that pressure to make something amazing.”
Even before Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire had entered development, Masuda had mapped out a long-term plan for Game Freak. After Ruby and Sapphire, they would move on to work on Diamond and Pearl – with the FireRed and LeafGreen remakes to see release between the two generations.
“I had this three-game span in mind already, but then midway through it, we were doing trademark research, and the issue came up that maybe we can’t use Ruby and Sapphire. This whole plan of mine relied on this game being Ruby and Sapphire, and moving on to Diamond and Pearl,” Masuda recalled.
Worries around the brand’s perception as well as the roadmap that he had planned out soon saw Masuda admitted to hospital for a stress-related illness.
“I got really stressed out and had to go to the hospital with stomach issues, and had to get a camera inserted. They didn’t know what it was – very stressful,” Masuda revealed. Even then, he was concerned right up until launch.
“The night before release I had a dream that it was a complete failure, a total nightmare. The morning after, the day of release, I went into the local shop and saw people lining up to buy it and was extremely relieved. It was close. Super scary at the time.”
He needn’t have worried, with Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire having gone on to sell around 16 million copies worldwide to rank as the best-selling titles on Game Boy Advance.