Veteran developer Yuji Naka hit his former publisher, Square Enix, after a lawsuit over his dismissal as director of Balan Wonderworld finished.
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 not good” and that neither they nor co-developer Arzest are “companies that care about games or fans.”
Naka had served as 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 sued the company. He also pursued the idea of retiring from the gaming industry forever.
Balan Wonderworld Xbox Series X Screenshots
In his thread, Naka mentioned two reasons for his dismissal at the last minute. First, he expressed 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 was weird that we were only going to release an arrangement of the game’s music, and also use a ghostwriter to produce that arrangement,” Naka wrote. “I had trouble arguing that we’re releasing the original score.”
Naka also cited tensions between himself and Arzest around his comments that the game was submitted in an unfinished state, with known issues that were not resolved. “I think games have to be made by working hard to the last until it’s a good game that the team thinks their fans enjoy when they buy it,” he wrote.
About half a year before the launch of Balan Wonderworld, a business order was issued to be removed from the director of Balan Wonderworld, so I filed a lawsuit against Square Enix in court. I would like to say that the trial is over and the business order is no longer valid at this time.#BalanWonderworld pic.twitter.com/9KE7hLqfor
– Yuji Naka / Yuji Naka (@nakayuji) April 28, 2022
Balan Wonderworld was announced in 2020 and hyped as the long-awaited reunion of Naka and other Sonic creator Naoto Ohshima, who is currently head of Arzest. It was a critical and commercial failure at the release in March 2021, with our review called it a “half-platform game” that was little more than a “tangle of captivating but incoherent ideas” and let down by “fundamentally bad choices.”
While mostly focusing his anger on Square Enix and Azrest, Naka also thanked those who provided “comments and amazing illustrations” inspired by the game, and offered his “sincere apologies to the customers who bought the unfinished Balan Wonderworld.”
IGN has contacted Square Enix for a comment, and you can read our independent translation of Naka’s Twitter thread below.
I sued Square Enix after I was removed as director of Balan Wonderworld about six months before release. Now that the trial is over and the removal order is no longer valid, I have some things I would like to say.
I think Square Enix is not good: they do not care about games or fans. According to court documents, I was removed as director of Balan Wonderworld for two reasons. This decision was made by the producer, the publicist, the sound director, the head of the company’s board of directors and the human resources department.
One reason is that a pianist Youtuber had to perform songs from the game and release the sheet music arrangement as part of the game’s promotion. I thought it was weird that we would only release an arrangement of the game’s music, and also use a ghostwriter to produce that arrangement. I had trouble arguing that we’re releasing the original score.
Another is that my relationship with Arzest, according to court documents, had been damaged due to comments I made that they submitted the game without resolving issues that were revealed during the development, as well as comments I made with the aim of improving the game itself. Producer, Mr. Fujimoto, told Mr. Oshima on these comments.
Another point: In an email to Mr. Fujimoto wrote Mr. Oshima “I just gathered the staff and told them to postpone 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 as I told them.It was a bit unexpected and I was very touched.
“Recently, staff who have worked downstairs have been revitalized. Thank you very much. We all want to do our best.” However, the manufacturer decides the schedule, not me. The manufacturer decided on the tight schedule. There’s something strange about that, right?
I do not think it’s a good idea to only publish arrangements of the game’s music. I think there is game music that everyone knows and can hum, but I’m not sure that’s what one would call the game’s “true” music.
I mean games have to be made by working hard to the last until it is a good game that the team thinks their fans enjoy when they buy it. I find it strange to remove and completely exclude an instructor who has had input to the game, and to do so without discussion because there is no time.
By banning retweeting, likes, etc. on social media, I think Square Enix is doing their fans a disservice. There were so many comments and amazing illustrations by Balan Wonderworld and I’m really sorry I could not do anything to recognize them.
For my part, I would like to give my sincere apologies to the customers who have purchased the unfinished Balan Wonderworld.
Going forward, I think I will be able to respond to mentions and tags as an individual.
I think it’s natural to ask for changes that will make a game better. If one does not know it, I think it’s fine at least to discuss it, but even that seems impossible. I do not think it allows us to do a game of justice.
Two weeks before the final deadline for Sonic the Hedgehog, we changed the specs so if Sonic has a single ring, he can not die. This famous mechanic came as a result of us working on improving the game until the last minute and I think people still enjoy this game around the world to this day. The Hedgehog Sonic
I think it’s weird to say that developers can not work until the last minute to make their game better. I asked my lawyer to help me negotiate the possibility of simply commenting on the game until the end of the development, but this was completely ignored, so I filed a lawsuit.
I think this case has become so big because of the results and the recognition that Balan Wonderworld achieved. It is so unfortunate that there has been a project that I have been working on from the beginning.
Personally, I think it’s a real shame that an unfinished ‘Balan Wonderworld’ has been sent out into the world. I would publish it properly, as a carefully made action game. I do not think Square Enix or Arzest are companies that care about games or fans.
Jack Richardson is a freelance writer for IGN.