Without Satoru Iwata, the Pokémon phenomenon might never have left Japan.
The former Nintendo president, who sadly passed away earlier this year, played a huge part in bringing the hit role-playing series to the West back in the mid-’90s. Iwata’s personal role in localizing the the first Pokémon games isn’t well known, but a 4Gamer interview with The Pokémon Company president and CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara, translated by Siliconera, shows the gratitude Pokémon fans worldwide should have toward Iwata.
After creating Pokémon Red and Green, developer Game Freak didn’t see localization as a realistic possibility and instead decided to focus its limited resources on making a sequel — despite a call from Nintendo’s then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi to bring Pokémon to the North American market. That’s when Iwata stepped forward.
“We only saw one possible choice at the time and decided to focus our attention on Gold and Silver rather than an English version and thought ‘overseas development is just a dream within a dream,’” Ishihara said. “[We] gave up on that idea. But that’s where one man raised his hand — Hal Laboratory’s president Iwata.
“To begin with, Iwata-san got the source code for Red and Green, and bam, read through it all, [and] then began mapping out a course on how to make a foreign version.”
After Iwata’s source-code analysis (something normally unheard of for a company president, according to Ishihara), Nintendo programmer Teruki Murakawa went on to work on the localization — but not before a a lengthy and detailed meeting with Iwata.
“Murakawa was an engineer in the hardware field,” Ishihara said, “but one day, he was told by his superior to ‘go do an employment examination for the project.’ This basically meant to go visit Iwata-san and for Murakawa to carefully examine and see if he could accomplish the work himself. So, he stepped into Hal Laboratory, and you had Iwata-san there telling Murakawa-san about all the work [he had] done up until then. They say that the talk ended up lasting from noon until midnight.”
It goes to show the dedication and love for gaming of a visionary who’ll be sorely missed. As Iwata said himself back in 2005: “On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”