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Yuji Naka leaves Square Enix Following ‘Balan Wonderworld’ flop

Oh, dear. Balan Wonderworld was, if you’ll permit me a distinctly British culinary analogy, much like the gaming equivalent of a Cadbury advent calendar. One moment, you’ll open up something delicious and satisfying – the Fudges and the Creme Egg Twisteds, if you will – which reassures you that the folks behind the product know what they’re doing. But then, the very next day, you’ll come across a revolting Bounty in the mix, ruining your palate (and frankly, your entire day) while making you wonder what in heaven’s name they were thinking.

For anyone that isn’t British, and for the maniacs who somehow just don’t like chocolate, what I’m saying is it was a mixed bag; you can check out our review for it here, which goes into far more detail. Suffice it to say I don’t think Balan will be trotting out of his Wonderworld for a second game.

What Balan Wonderworld wasn’t, however, was soulless. There was clearly a lot of thought and care put into the concept and presentation, which makes sense as it was a passion project for long-venerated former SEGA boffin Yuji Naka. This was to be his crowning moment, his grand return to the theatre of the platforming arts after years of absence – however, it was also imperative to him as much as any of us that it be a success. Why? Square Enix, his publisher and then-employer, laid it out for him as plainly as a Dairy Milk on Christmas Eve (see, we’re circling back to the analogy): Balan was to be his ‘one shot’ at continuing to work with them.

The outcome? Well, those of you who are good at parsing text will probably have noticed I wrote ‘then-employer’. Yes, as VGC reports – and based on our own little delve into Naka’s Facebook profile – it seems he’s no longer working for the company, and hasn’t been since April; which, if true, would put his termination date right around the ballpark of Balan Wonderworld hitting the scene to a critical massacring. Ouch.

A little bit of espionage on our part shows this evidence on Naka’s timeline.

While we could speculate until the cows come home (in time to be milked, which will then be used to make delicious Cadbury chocolates) as to why Naka has left what was presumably a pretty cushy position, it’s not a huge stretch to imagine it has a good deal to do with the negative reception to Balan Wonderworld. It supposedly sold so poorly Square declined to release sales figures for a while, and performed exceptionally direly in Japan, where these sorts of titles usually are met with greater warmth than Western markets addled on Call of Duty and its ilk. Did it deserve its fate? Some would argue yes, some would argue no – but ultimately, such musings mean little to the shareholders that ordain the fates of game developers.

Whatever occurred, we do wish Yuji Naka well for the future, and hope that this doesn’t put him off tapping into his undeniable creative spirit forever.

We may never really know why Naka departed Square, though it’s pretty easy to hazard guesses. What’s yours? Did you enjoy Balan Wonderworld? Was this inevitable? Let us know below!

Bobby Mills

Motor-mouthed Brit with a decades long - well, two decades, at least - passion for gaming. Writer, filmmaker, avid lover of birthdays. Still remembers the glory days of ONM. May it rest in peace.
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