Yuji Naka Alleges He Was Removed as Balan Wonderworld’s Director & Took Square Enix to Court

Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka shared his account of the development of Balan Wonderworld, alleging his removal as director before release.

Balan Wonderworld

Today Yuji Naka, mostly known as the co-creator of Sonic the Hedgehog and former head of Sonic Team, took to Twitter to share his experience while working on Balan Wonderworld for Square Enix.

It’s relevant to mention that this is a one-sided account involving a lawsuit of which the result was not made public, and there may be different points of view to consider.

While we are publishing it as-is, we have reached out to Square Enix for comment, hoping to hear their side of the story. We will update this article accordingly should they respond.

Naka-san, who Joined Square Enix in 2018 after several years working at Prope, an independent developer that he founded after leaving Sega in 2006, first mentioned he was at work on an original action game for the house of Final Fantasy in 2019.

Balan Wonderworld was then announced jointly with Naoto Oshima, who had worked with Naka-san for a long time and is credited alongside him as Sonic’s co-creator.

Apparently, things did not go as planned, as Naka-san alleges that he was removed from his position as director of Balan Wonderworld six months before its release due to disagreements on the handling of the music and purported friction with development studio Azrest (of which Oshima-san is vice-president).

Naka-san also alleges that he was not allowed to interact with the audience via social media, and apologizes for the game having been released unfinished, mentioning that he believes developers should strive to improve their games until their very end.

Below you can read a full Japanese translation by Twitter user Cheesemeister, which I verified as accurate.

“I was removed as the director of Balan Wonderworld about half a year before release, so I filed a lawsuit against Square Enix. Now that the proceedings are over and I’m no longer bound by company rules, I’d like to speak out.

I think it’s wrong of Square Enix not to value games and game fans. According to court documents, I was removed as the director of Balan Wonderworld for 2 reasons. It was done by the producer, head of marketing, head of sound, managing director, and HR.

First, when a YouTuber’s arranged piano performance of the game music was released in a promotion instead of the original game track, turning the composer into a ghostwriter, I insisted that the original track be released and this caused trouble.

Second, according to court documents, [Naoto] Ohshima told producer [Noriyoshi] Fujimoto that the relationship with Arzest was ruined due to comments I made wanting to improve the game in the face of Arzest submitting the game without fixing bugs.

Also, in an e-mail from Ohshima to Fujimoto, he wrote: ‘I just told the staff about the demo delay. When I told them, ‘This was prod. Fujimoto’s decision. Let’s do our best for him,’ the staff applauded and cheered. This was unexpected, and I was moved…

The staff’s been down lately, but their spirits have been revived. Thank you very much. All of us on the staff will work hard.’ So the schedule wasn’t up to me, but the producer, yet the schedule being tight was the producer’s doing. Something was off.

We were releasing an original game, but only putting out an arranged track was definitely wrong. I believe that the game music that everyone can hum out are the original tracks.

I believe that every effort must be put in to make games the best they can be until the very end so that game fans will enjoy what they buy. It wasn’t right to, without discussion, remove and completely disassociate from the project a director saying so.

Retweeting, liking, etc. on SNS and such was banned, so I don’t think Square Enix values game fans. There were many comments and wonderful illustrations about Balan Wonderworld, and I’m really sorry that I couldn’t react to them.

Myself, I’m truly sorry to the customers who bought Balan Wonderworld in an unfinished state. From this point onward, I will be able to react to posts tagging me or directed only toward me on SNS and such.

I believe that when making games, asking for fixes in order to make something good should be a given, and if that’s not possible, it should be talked over, but it looks like they can’t. I don’t think they value games.

For Sonic the Hedgehog, 2 weeks before finalizing, the spec was changed so that if you have even 1 ring, you won’t die. This now well-known rule was the result of improving the game until the very end, and people world-over have enjoyed it as a result.

Improving a game until the very end is what being a game creator is all about, and if that’s not possible, something’s wrong. I asked my lawyer to negotiate my just being able to comment until the end of production, but their refusal led me to file suit.

I think that the resulting Balan Wonderworld and the critical reception it received have a lot to do with what happened. I’m really disappointed that a product I worked on from the start turned out this way.”

Following the release of Balan Wonderworld, Naka-san left Square Enix and has recently started developing small games on his own, with Prope downsizing to a one-person studio, and publishing SHOT2048 for iOS and Android in December 2021.

About the author

Giuseppe Nelva

Proud weeb hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long-standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality), MMORPGs, and visual novels are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans on Earth of the flight simulator genre.