Balan Wonderworld
Image: Square Enix

Update #2 [Fri 13th May, 2022 11:45 BST] As part of Square Enix's earnings briefings today, the company has confirmed it had a lawsuit case with Yuji Naka, but has declined to comment further. The only response the prominent Japanese developer gave was to say that Balan Wonderworld "is a game that we recommend with confidence."

This was shared on Twitter by by Bloomberg reporter Takashi Mochizuki:

Update #1 [Thu 28th Apr, 2022 14:15 BST] We've now got a more accurate translation of Yuji Naka's tweets, courtesy of Twitter user Cheesemeister.

The tone of the message is very much the same as the machine-translated one, but it's much clearer here that Yuji Naka thinks the poor reception to Balan Wonderworld was a result of the behind-the-scenes goings-on.

We've embedded the beginning of the translated thread, and also included the full translation of Naka's tweets underneath.

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.

Thank you Cheesemeister for this translation.

Yuji Naka makes comparisons to his dismissal to the time he worked on Sonic the Hedgehog, where he worked right to the last minute to implement a now-essential mechanic for the series. It seems he believes that had he been allowed to stay on board, he could've put that same care and attention to Balan Wonderworld.

Last summer, Naka announced that he left Square Enix at the end of April 2021 and had plans to retire, although the famed game developer did get into the mobile game market. Him leaving Square Enix is likely different from his removal as director of Balan Wonderworld.

Original article: Balan Wonderworld was a pretty big disappointment to many. Fans of Yuji Naka (the director of the platforming flop) and his work on various Sonic titles, Nights into Dreams, and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg took one look at the Square Enix-published platformer on its announcement and were charmed with the music and visuals. It was evocative of a Dreamcast-era platformer, and we craved it.

Sadly, things didn't go to plan, and Balan Wonderworld was dubbed the worst Switch game of 2021, but it sounds like a lot more was going on behind the scenes. Today, on Twitter, Yuji Naka revealed that he was in fact removed as the game's director six months prior to its launch. Many still credited a lot of Balan Wonderworld to Naka, so this is pretty shocking, but the original Sonic the Hedgehog programmer didn't just leave it at that.

Naka filed a lawsuit against Square Enix, which is now over, but in a Twitter thread, he covers how unhappy he was with many of the decisions both Square Enix and co-developer Arzest made. Naka knew that the game was unfinished and needed more work, and he wanted to help with that, but Square Enix's removal of him meant he couldn't.

Right now, we only have a machine translation via Nibel and DeepL on what Yuji Naka has to say, but even so, it's clear that his thoughts are scathing on the matter:

Naka is deeply apologetic to fans who picked up the game throughout his thread while being particularly pointed towards Square Enix:

I think Square Enix is not taking good care of their game fans as retweeting, liking, etc. was also banned on social networking sites. There were many comments and very nice illustrations of Balan Wonderworld, and I am very sorry that I could not do anything about it.

It sounds like Yuji Naka was looking to give the fans what they wanted, and because he was removed as director, he couldn't do anything about that. His closing statement summarises this sentiment perfectly:

For me, it is a real shame that you have released your unfinished work "Balan Wonderworld" to the world. I wanted to release it to the world as an action game in a proper form considering various things. I think Square Enix and Arzest are companies that do not care about games and game fans.

Square Enix or Arzest have not responded to these claims at the time of writing this, but given Balan Wonderworld's poor reception — including our own 3 out of 10 review — it's easy to understand Naka's frustration. It sounds like now might be a good time to reread our own retrospective defence given this context:

If we find out anything more about the situation, we'll let you know.