The latest Did You Know Gaming? video tracked down some of the translators who worked on the original Pokémon games, who described how and why the games were translated and localized the way they were in different countries. Before Pokémon‘s debut in the West, it was uncertain if the games would sell well outside of Japan, so some changes were initially suggested. The video outlines many changes, some actually made and others only proposed. One of the recommended changes by American PR that definitely didn’t happen, according to Pokémon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara, involved turning Pikachu into a “tiger with huge breasts.”
Ishihara was told American kids didn’t enjoy playing games with lots of text in them and that the Pokémon were “too cute.” As a result, he thought Pokémon had about a 10% chance of success in the region. In order to tone down the cuteness, American staff began submitting replacement designs that they thought would help the games sell. The direct quote from Ishihara says it all:
… we just couldn’t believe the kind of stuff they were proposing. They turned Pikachu into something like a tiger with huge breasts. It looked like a character from the musical Cats. When I asked, ‘How is this supposed to be Pikachu?’ they said, ‘Well look, there’s its tail right there.’ Seriously, that was the kind of stuff being proposed.
Given just how successful Pokémon was when it first launched, this all seems crazy. Had The Pokémon Company taken these design changes on board, it’s possible that they could have ruined Pokémon entirely.
Watch the full video for many more interesting insights, including many practical reasons why Pokémon names were changed according to region.