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Balan Wonderworld director Yuji Naka says he was kicked off project, sued Square Enix

Ex-Sonic Team leader lashes out at Square Enix and developer Arzest on Twitter

Balan, of Balan Wonderworld, dances in a still from the game’s opening movie Image: Balan Company/Square Enix
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Yuji Naka, the former head of Sonic Team at Sega and the director of the disastrous musical platformer Balan Wonderworld, says he was removed from that game’s development six months before its completion, and that he sued publisher Square Enix over that decision. Naka said his court case is now over and he is no longer bound by company rules, but did not disclose its resolution.

In a lengthy Twitter thread posted Thursday, Naka apologized to fans who bought Balan Wonderworld, which he described as “unfinished,” according to a translation of Naka’s comments.

According to Naka, he was removed as director of Balan Wonderworld by the game’s producer, head of marketing, head of sound, managing director, and human resources department for two reasons. One issue that caused conflict during development, Naka said, citing court documents, was a promotion that used a YouTuber’s piano arrangement of music from Balan Wonderworld, instead of the original composition. Naka said he insisted that the original be released. The second issue was a disagreement with Arzest, the game’s developer, over the quality of the game. Naka said he made comments to Arzest about improvements to Balan Wonderworld and bug fixes that were not addressed, leading to a “ruined” relationship with Arzest.

Naka further apologized to fans for not interacting with them on social media, saying he was restricted from doing so by Square Enix. He said he believes that Square Enix does not value game fans or games themselves, based on his experience developing Balan Wonderworld.

Citing his work on the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Naka recounted that the game was changed just two weeks before its completion so that if Sonic had even just one ring left, he could continue to fight. Naka said this design choice was the result of improving the game’s design until the very end, and that he wasn’t afforded a similar opportunity as director of Balan Wonderworld. He said he ultimately involved a lawyer to negotiate with Square Enix on changes to the game, but was refused and filed suit.

Polygon has reached out to Square Enix regarding Naka’s comments and will update when the publisher responds.

Balan Wonderworld was announced in July 2020 as a new game from Sonic the Hedgehog and Nights Into Dreams creators Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, the designer of Sonic and founder of Arzest. Balan Wonderworld was released on multiple platforms in March 2021, and was a critical and commercial flop. Naka said he left Square Enix just a few months later, and floated the idea of retiring from the games industry.

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