Balan Wonderworld been an absolute disaster for Square Enix, released in 2021 to dismal review scores and equally dismal sales figures, including only 2,100 copies in opening week in Japan. It was incredibly disappointing to see a game created by Yuji Naka, one of the main people responsible for sonic the hedgehog, hurt so much. It looks like there may be more to the story, as Naka himself posted a lengthy Twitter thread delving into a lawsuit he filed against Square Enix and a host of issues with the development of Balan Wonderworld.
What is most surprising in the thread, translated as cheesemeister3k on Twitter, is that Naka claims he was removed from his position as director of Balan Wonderworld six months before the game was released. This ultimately led Naka to take legal action.
“First, when a YouTuber’s arranged piano performance of the game’s music was posted in a promotion instead of the original game track, turning the composer into a ghostwriter, I insisted that the original track to be released and it caused problems.
Second, according to court documents, [Naoto] Ohshima told the producer [Noriyoshi] Fujimoto that the relationship with Arzest was ruined because of the comments I made wanting to improve the game against Arzest who submitted the game without fixing the bugs.”
Balan Wonderworld began production in 2018, and in a 2020 interview, Naka said he convinced the president of Square Enix to give him “a chance” to make a platform game. The terminology seems to suggest that there was already pressure on the project, and Balan Wonderworld would have been somewhere in the middle of development when developers had to start working remotely in early 2020. Game development was hugely impacted, causing multiple delays at Square Enix for games like Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Bravely Default 2. Surprisingly, Balan Wonderworld had no delays, even after a rather negative reception to the first demo. It seemed particularly strange not to delay Balan Wonderworld, given that it wasn’t a major title for Square Enix, and the company had other releases coming anyway, like Neo: the world ends with you.
“I personally regret that Balan Wonderworld was released to the world in an unfinished state,” Naka wrote in the thread. “I wanted to consider all kinds of things and release it as a real action game. I don’t think Square Enix and Arzest value games and their fans.”
Removing a director from a project right near the release date seems like a drastic move. Naka stresses that he wanted to work and improve Balan Wonderworld until the very end. “For sonic the hedgehog, 2 weeks before finalization, the spec was changed so that if you have even one ring, you won’t die. This now well-known rule is the result of improving the game to the very end, and people around the world have taken advantage of it,” says Naka.
Naka has faced a lot of criticism since the release of his latest platform game. He was the subject of a GameRant 2021 report on a canceled Dreamcast game called geist strength. Mark Subotnick, a former Sega producer, claimed that Naka came to see the progress of the title and, assuming no one in the studio knew Japanese, said to fire everyone on the team except the engineers who knew how the technology worked, which would be incorporated into Sonic Team.
Naka’s Twitter feed elaborated on a project riddled with issues and opposing ideologies. Developing a game is an extremely complex process, and it’s often difficult to see how something like Balan Wonderoworld can go so wrong. The whole story is a testament to how fast even the most promising projects can go south.