Veteran developer Yuji Naka hit out at his former publisher, Square Enix, after a court case over his removal as director of Balan Wonderworld concluded.
Naka is best known for his work on Sonic The Hedgehog, Phantasy Star, and Nights into Dreams. In a series of tweets, Naka said that “Square Enix is no good” and that neither they nor co-developer Arzest are “companies that care about games or fans.”
Naka had served as the director of Balan for much of its development but was removed from the post about six months before the game was released. He resigned from Square Enix shortly after Balan was released and filed a lawsuit against the company. He also floated the idea of retiring from the games industry for good.
In his thread, Naka cited two reasons for his last-minute dismissal. First was he voiced concern about promotional work with a Youtuber, who was to perform and release sheet music for a piano arrangement of the game’s music. “I thought it strange that we would only release an arrangement of the game’s music, and furthermore use a ghostwriter to produce that arrangement,” wrote Naka. “I got in trouble for arguing that we release the original score.”
Naka also cited tensions between himself and Arzest surrounding his comments that the game was submitted in an unfinished state, with known issues left unfixed. “I believe that games should be made by working hard until the very end, until it’s a good game that the team thinks their fans enjoy when they buy it,” he wrote.
— Yuji Naka / 中 裕司 (@nakayuji) April 28, 2022
Balan Wonderworld was announced in 2020 and hyped as the long-awaited reunion of Naka and fellow Sonic creator Naoto Ohshima, who is currently the head of Arzest. It was a critical and commercial failure upon release in March 2021, with our review calling it a “half-baked platformer” that was little more than a “jumble of endearing but incoherent ideas” and let down by “fundamentally bad choices.”
While mostly focusing his ire on Square Enix and Azrest, Naka also thanked those who provided “comments and fantastic illustrations” inspired by the game, and offered his “sincere apologies to those customers who bought the unfinished Balan Wonderworld.”
IGN has reached out to Square Enix for comment and you can read our independent translation of Naka’s Twitter thread below.
I filed a lawsuit against Square Enix after I was removed as director of Balan Wonderworld roughly six months before release. Now that the court case is over and the removal order is no longer in effect, I have some things that I’d like to say.
I think Square Enix is no good: they don’t care about games or fans. According to court documents, I was removed as director from Balan Wonderworld for two reasons. This decision was made by the producer, publicist, sound director, the head of the company board, and the Human Resources department.
One reason is that a pianist Youtuber was going to perform songs from the game and publish the sheet music arrangement as part of the game’s promotion. I thought it strange that we would only release an arrangement of the game’s music, and furthermore use a ghostwriter to produce that arrangement. I got into trouble for arguing that we release the original score.
Another is that, according to court documents, my relationship with Arzest had been damaged because of comments I made about them submitting the game without fixing issues uncovered during development, as well as comments I made with the aim of improving the game itself. The producer, Mr. Fujimoto, told Mr. Oshima about these comments.
Another point: In an email to Mr. Fujimoto, Mr. Oshima wrote “I just gathered the staff and told them about postponing the demo version. I told them, ‘This decision was made by Mr. Fujimoto. Let’s do our best for his sake.’ They clapped and cheered when I told them. This was a little unexpected and I was very moved.
“Recently, staff who’ve been seeming down have been revitalised. Thank you so much. We’ll all do our best.” However, the producer decides the schedule, not me. The producer decided on that tight schedule. Something’s strange about that, right?
I don’t think it’s a good idea to only release arrangements of the game’s music. I think there’s game music that everyone knows and can hum, but I’m not sure that this is what you’d call the game’s ‘true’ music.
I believe that games should be made by working hard until the very end, until it’s a good game that the team thinks their fans enjoy when they buy it. I think it’s strange to remove and totally exclude a director who’s had input on the game, and to do so without discussion because there isn’t time.
By forbidding retweeting, liking, etc. on social media I think Square Enix is doing their fans a disservice. There were so many comments and fantastic illustrations of Balan Wonderworld and I’m really sorry that I couldn’t do anything to recognise them.
For my part, I would like to offer my sincere apologies to those customers who bought the unfinished Balan Wonderworld.
Henceforth I believe I will be able to respond to mentions and tags as an individual.
I think it’s natural to request changes that will make a game better. If you can’t do that, I think it’s fine to at least discuss it, but even that seems impossible. I don’t think this allows us to do a game justice.
Two weeks before the final deadline for Sonic the Hedgehog, we changed the spec such that if Sonic has even a single ring, he can’t die. This famous mechanic came as a result of us working to improve the game up until the last minute, and I think that people are still enjoying this game around the world to this day. #SonicTheHedgehog
I think it’s strange to say that developers can’t work until the last minute to make their game better. I asked my lawyer to help me negotiate the ability to simply make comments on the game until the end of development but this was totally ignored, so I filed a lawsuit.
I think this matter has become so big because of the results and recognition that Balan Wonderworld gained. It is such a shame that a project that I worked on from the beginning has come to this.
Personally, I think it’s a real shame that an unfinished ‘Balan Wonderworld’ has been sent out into the world. I wanted to release it properly, as a carefully-made action game. I don’t think that Square Enix or Arzest are companies that care about games or fans.
Jack Richardson is a Freelance Writer for IGN.