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Legendary Game Designer Slams Square Enix For Massive Flop

"Balan Wonderworld" had the potential to be a great game, based purely on the team behind it. The whimsical 3D platformer was the passion project of Yuji Naka, one of the creators of Sonic the Hedgehog, and it had the backing of Square Enix publishing the game. Combine that with colorful visuals and solid music and, from the outside looking in, "Balan Wonderworld" seemed like it had a lot going for it. It even looked like it should have been one of the most exciting releases of 2021. Instead, the game that was released was critically panned, with the Nintendo Switch version sitting at a miserable 36 on Metacritic, and the other versions in the same range. The game's bad sales and poor reviews all seemed to reflect poorly on its director, Yuji Naka, who left Square Enix in the wake of the game's failure.

Despite the bad publicity and poor reception of the game, Naka never made any substantial public comments about "Balan Wonderworld" or its quality. Well, Naka has finally spoken, tweeting out a massive thread about the development of "Balan Wonderworld" and the decisions made by Square Enix that Naka alleges resulted in the poor quality of the game. Not only that, but it has been revealed that Naka was so frustrated with the process that he took Square Enix to court. 

Here is what with wrong with "Balan Wonderworld," according to Yuji Naka.

Square Enix removed Yuji Naka from Balan Wonderworld six months before release

Yuji Naka began the thread, which was helpfully translated by Cheesemeister on Twitter, by stating Square Enix removed him as director of "Balan Wonderworld" six months before the game was released. This caused Naka to file a lawsuit against Square Enix, which resulted in him being unable to speak out about the state of the game until the proceedings were completed. Naka does not clarify in his thread the result of his lawsuit, but says that the decision to take him off the project was made by a number of people: "the producer, head of marketing, head of sound, managing director, and HR."

Yuji Naka said there were two reasons why he was removed from the project. The first reason is that promotional material used a YouTuber's piano performance of the game's music, resulting in the actual composer essentially becoming a ghostwriter. Naka said he fought to have the original recording released along with proper credit, which caused some tension. The second reason he cited is that Naoto Oshimina, C.O.O. of Arzest, told producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto that the relationship between Arzest, the developer of "Balan Wonderworld" and Square Enix had been ruined. According to Naka's tweets, Oshimina came to this conclusion after Naka voiced concerns over the game being submitted for final review without receiving fixes for a number of bugs.

Yuji Naka went on to once again harp on his issues with the music in the game, but the major point he made in the thread was that "Balan Wonderworld" simply wasn't ready when it was released to the public.

Yuji Naka felt that Balan Wonderworld wasn't ready for release

"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," Naka wrote. "It wasn't right to, without discussion, remove and completely disassociate from the project a director saying so." Naka went on to apologize to people who purchased the game in what he feels is an incomplete state, arguing that completing the required fixes and talking through issues in game development should be an expected part of the process. He used "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" as an example, stating that the decision to keep players alive as long as they have one ring left was made shortly before release. In that case, continuing work until the last minute resulted in a mechanic that is now considered a staple of the franchise.

Naka ultimately blamed the failure of "Balan Wonderworld" on the lack of fixes and his unceremonious removal from the project. Naka ended his thread with the following statement: "I personally regret that 'Balan Wonderworld' was released to the world in an unfinished state. I wanted to consider all kinds of things and release it as a proper action game. I don't think that Square Enix and Arzest value games and their fans."

It is clear from this thread that Yuji Naka is not happy with the final version of "Balan Wonderworld," Arzest, or Square Enix. While there is an argument to be made that "Balan Wonderworld" had flaws deeper than bugs, fans have certainly been shocked to see a beloved game creator speak out against a major publisher in this way.