Tsunekazu Ishihara reveals that former Nintendo president Satoru Iwata played a role in the localization of Pokemon Red and Blue for North American audiences.
During his time with Nintendo, the late Satoru Iwata was vital to the success of the company. Taking over as president of the gaming giant in 2002, Iwata oversaw the release of the Nintendo DS and the Wii, with both opening up video gaming to a whole new audience. Iwata’s influence was felt long before his time as president, however, and it has recently been revealed that he played a vital role in bringing the Pokemon franchise to the West.
In a recent interview with 4Gamer (as translated by Siliconera), president and CEO of The Pokemon Company Tsunekazu Ishihara explained the precise role that Iwata had in organizing the localization of the original Pokemon games. According to Ishihara, Pokemon developer Game Freak was ready to move on to the sequels to Pokemon Red and Green in Japan, without even considering bringing the games to North America. Overseas development was just “a dream within a dream,” said Ishihara – that is, until then-president of HAL Laboratory Iwata stepped in.
Game Freak was facing pressure from Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was then the president of Nintendo, bring the games to the West. Lacking the manpower to both work on new projects as well as the localization of the Pokemon games, it looked like the developer would struggle with the workload. Iwata, however, was more than happy to help with the games, personally working with the source code for Red and Green and mapping out how to make foreign versions of the games.
It speaks volumes over both Iwata’s professionalism and determination. After all, that level of personal involvement in the translation process was much more intensive than one would expect of an executive, particularly one who had no immediate ties to the project in hand. Nonetheless, Iwata made sure that Pokemon saw release in North America, with Pokemon Red and Blue eventually making their way to Western shores in September 1998.
Iwata had an endless dedication to the video game industry, and when he passed away in July it was a shock to the whole gaming world. Immediately, thoughtful messages were released from some of the biggest names in video game development. Thousands attended his funeral, whilst the Nintendo president also received a touching tribute from Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai.
Pokemon, of course, went on to become one of the powerhouse franchises of Nintendo. Whilst Pokemon has branched out into various other forms, including $30 million investment Pokemon GO, the original releases still have a huge role in video game pop culture. In fact, Nintendo has revealed that those first games will be seeing release for the Nintendo 3DS. Without Iwata’s influence at this crucial stage, who knows whether the franchise would have had such an impact.