The Pokémon series has transitioned between three different handheld generations comfortably (four if you count Game Boy to Game Boy Color), but there is one one in particular that proved more difficult than the rest. Pokémon X and Y may have marked the series' biggest graphical upgrade, but according to Game Freak co-founder and Pokémon director, producer, and composer Junichi Masuda, the most difficult Pokémon to bring across the finish line were the games that brought the series to the Game Boy Advance.

Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire released in 2003 to wide acclaim and impressive sales. In some ways, the technical leap between the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance helped development. "With Ruby and Sapphire, the screen got a little longer and it was a different aspect ratio, a lot more colors and sound channels so the tech was improved dramatically," Masuda says. "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."

The main problem with the game wasn't the technical side, but rather the general opinion surrounding the franchise in the early 2000s. "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 says. The games were meant to be the starting line for the next few Pokémon games. "It was a very stressful project, for sure," Masuda says. "When we were first developing it, I had the idea in mind that it would be Ruby and Sapphire, and then the next games, including the titles, would be Diamond and Pearl, and in between we would do the remakes, FireRed and LeafGreen, so we could create this structure where you could take the Pokémon from the Kanto region to the Diamond and Pearl games."

Just as development began, however, trademark research revealed the names Ruby and Sapphire may not be usable, which would have hobbled plans for the next three games from the beginning. That coupled with the franchise perception made everything more stressful. "At the time, the atmosphere and general thinking was that the Pokémon fad was over and there was huge pressure to prove people wrong," Masuda says. Toy stores that used to be filled with Pokémon toys were clearing out their stock, and when visiting America, Masuda says he noticed that all the Pokémon merchandise, including the unofficial toys featured at mall kiosks, were beginning to disappear. "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," Masuda says.

"I got really stressed out and had to go to the hospital and had some stomach issues and had to get a camera inserted and they didn’t know what it was – very stressful," Masuda says. "The night before release I had a dream that it was a complete failure, a total nightmare." Alternatively, Shigeru Ohmori, director of Sun and Moon and Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, views the game as a far less stressful time in his career. Ruby and Sapphire were the first Pokémon games he worked on, marking his official transition from fan to creator. "It was actually a lot of fun to work on it and I was able to think, 'I’m making this',” Ohmori says.

Despite the general perception of the series, and Masuda's stress-induced hospital visit, he never gave in to the pressure. "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!'." Masuda says, and ultimately, it worked out. Game Freak were able to use the names Ruby and Sapphire and the games sold well. "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."

in 2014, Game Freak returned to Ruby and Sapphire for the 3DS remakes, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, with Ohmori taking on director duties. "I kept hearing from Masuda about how hard the original Ruby and Sapphire games were and I kind of had that pressure in mind while creating Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby," Ohmori says, "But from my perspective, it was a lot of fun to work on them, so I was super motivated to work as the director on the remakes."

For more on the history of Pokémon, you can check out the latest issue for a 12-page feature covering the franchise’s history, as well as online features and interviews linked below.