"Balan Wonderworld" was one of the biggest head scratchers in video games in 2021, and not because of the titular Balan’s odd wardrobe choice of a top hat/eye mask hybrid or the level-ending dance numbers with gibberish vocals. No, the real mystery was how a game directed by Yuji Naka, creator of "Sonic the Hedgehog," could have such bland, unengaging gameplay.
Upon release, "Balan Wonderworld" was swiftly blasted by critics and consumers for its simplistic one-button gameplay and bloated list of power-up transformations that added little to nothing in terms of functionality or fun, such as the immediately infamous Box Fox, which, to quote the in-game description, “transforms between fox and box when it feels like it.”
While Naka may not have a perfect track record, his creative missteps tend to be of the overly ambitious and experimental sort, pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum of the sort of the looks-and-sounds-nice-with-boring-gameplay sort of game that "Balan Wonderworld" became. It turns out, though, that Naka wasn’t actually serving as director for the final six months or so of Balan Wonderworld’s development, and he’s filed a lawsuit against the game’s publisher, Square Enix, as revealed in a series of tweets in which Naka also blasts "Balan Wonderworld" developer Arzest.
▼ Naka, snapping a selfie outside a courthouse in Japan
Naka went on a lengthy diatribe against the two companies, with multiple apologies to gamers sprinkled in.
"Roughly half a year prior to the release of 'Balan Wonderworld,' I was removed as director of 'Balan Wonderworld' via an administrative order, and so I filed a lawsuit in court against Square Enix. The trial had ended and the administrative order is no longer in effect, so I would like to talk about the situation.
I think it’s no good that Square Enix doesn’t value games and game fans. According to the court documents, I was removed as director because of two things. The removal was carried out by the game’s producer, head of promotions, sound producer, executive in charge of the project, and the human resources department.
The first thing was that a YouTuber was going to play a piece of music from the game on the piano and release the score. I thought it was strange to use an arranged version, and one from a ghost writer, at that, when we were releasing an original game. I asserted that I wanted to use the original score, and this created trouble.
The other thing, according to the court documents, is the things I said in response to Arzest submitting in-development builds without fixing defects that were occurring in them. In the documents it was written that the comments I made to Arzest were damaging the relationship, and that ['Balan Wonderworld'] producer [Noriyoshi] Fujimoto spoke to ['Balan Wonderworld' artist Naoto] Oshima about that."
"Another point is that in an email from Oshima to Fujimoto, he said, 'I gathered the staff together and told them that we’re moving the date for the release of the game’s trial version back. I told them this was a decision by Producer Fujimoto. Let’s do our best for him, and the staff clapped and cheered. It was surprisingly moving. Recently the staff has been feeling down, but this gave their spirits a boost. Thank you very much. The whole staff will do our best.'
That’s what the email said, but it doesn’t matter because the schedule is decided by the producer. The schedule is tight because the producer decided on it. Doesn’t something seem strange?
I really just can’t think it’s good to send an arranged musical score for an original game out into the world. I think everyone knows that there is game music that people hum to themselves, and I think those pieces of music are the original versions from the games themselves.
I think games are things that you put effort into making good up to the very end, so that game fans will enjoy them after they make the purchase. I think it’s strange to say you don’t have time for the director’s comments, or to remove the director and not let them be involved without first consulting with him.
I was prohibited from retweeting and liking on social media and things like that, so I don’t think Square Enix is valuing game fans. I received many comments and wonderful illustrations about 'Balan Wonderworld,' but I couldn’t do anything, and I feel sorry.
I want to truly apologize to the people who bought 'Balan Wonderwold,' which, to me, was unfinished. In the future, if you mention and tag me alone on social media and the like, I believe there are times when I can react.
Because you are making a game, I think it’s obvious to request corrections to make it better. If that can’t be done, then I think it’s OK to discuss it, but it seems that can’t be done. I don’t think [Square Enix] values games.”
This is about 'Sonic the Hedgehog,' but two weeks before we finished the master I changed it so that if you had even one ring, you wouldn’t die. As everyone knows, because I continued trying to make the game better up to the last moment like this, even now people all over the world can still enjoy playing it, I think. #SonicTheHedgehog
Making a game better up to the very last chance is what makes a game creator, and I really think it’s strange to make it so you can’t do that. I contracted a lawyer and tried to negotiate to at least be able to issue development comments until the end, but [Square Enix] didn’t listen to me at all, so I filed a lawsuit.
I think this situation is a big part of why 'Balan Wonderworld' turned out as it did and got the reviews everyone is aware of. I am truly disappointed that a game I started making from the beginning ended up like this.
All I can feel is regret that 'Balan Wonderworld' was sent out into the world as, what is to me, an unfinished game. I had many thoughts about how to release a proper action game into the world. I think that Square Enix and Arzest are companies that do not value games and game fans."
In case you’re wondering, no, Naka hasn’t specified what specific charge he was accusing Square Enix of in the lawsuit, what damages he was seeking, or whether or not the court ruled in his favor.
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