Yuji Naka, creator of many famous games for Sega such as Sonic the Hedgehog and NiGHTs Into Dreams, joined IGN Japan in the studio during a live Tokyo Game Show 2020 broadcast to discuss his new project, Balan Wonderworld, and how it makes use of the PS5’s unique capabilities. He also spoke about his self-assessed “one chance” to make a platform action game for his new employer, Square Enix.
In Balan Wonderworld, players are able to change their costumes to enable new actions, similar to how Mario’s abilities change when he throws Cappy at an NPC in Mario Odyssey. But what’s interesting is that the player decides which costumes are used instead of having specific costumes assigned to certain stages or bosses. “Even during test play, I saw everyone use different strategies,” said Naka.
Of course, the fun of these 80 types of abilities is shared across all platforms, but they are exceptional on the PS5 and other next-generation consoles according to Naka. “An action game in 4K at 60 frames per second is incredible. It feels so smooth,” he said.
Balan Wonderworld also utilizes the adaptive triggers that are a feature of the PlayStation 5 DualSense controller. Adaptive Triggers have been introduced as a new sensation unique to PS5 that allows players to feel resistance in some PS5 titles, and Naka said that for Balan Wonderworld all 80 abilities will feel distinct in players’ hands thanks to those adaptive triggers. “I think players will be really surprised by it,” Naka said.
For Naka, who joined Square Enix in 2018, Balan Wonderworld will be his first full-scale platform game in quite some time. “I think Square Enix has an RPG image,” Naka said, “but I don’t think I’d be good at making RPGs.” Of course, Naka has made RPGs, such as Phantasy Star and Phantasy Star Online. However, the genre he feels he is most skilled at is still platform games. Therefore, he received permission from the company president to make a full-scale platform game with the condition that it was his “one chance”.
Of course, nothing would make fans happier than more Naka platform games, but whether there’s another game is likely dependent on the popularity of Balan Wonderworld. Naka is confident, however; even though there is no guarantee that there will be another title, he has launched a new brand called Balan Company. “Such is my enthusiasm for continuing to make action games,” he said.
It’s tempting to declare a game like Balan Wonderworld a culmination of platform games, as this one title contains 80 varieties of action abilities. But while that’s an easy statement to make, it should be a pretty high hurdle to clear. “During the proposal stage I wrote down that it would have 80 different types of action, but I thought that once I actually started making the game, I would run out of steam at around 40,” said Naka, who confessed that he exaggerated a bit in his proposal. However, in the end, the planning stage’s goal of 80 was achieved.
Balan Wonderworld looks to be a must-see title for platform game fans, but it also features strong storytelling, which is characteristic of Square Enix. “Square Enix’s management philosophy is ‘to contribute to the wellbeing of people all over the world by providing the best stories.’ When I joined the company and heard that, I was like ‘Stories, huh…'” Naka said. “To be honest, I’m not really the type of developer who focuses on a game’s script. I always emphasize how the game feels and the action, while the story may be a bit weak. I wasn’t very good with stories.”
Naka read up on the well-respected Hero’s Journey theory to study storytelling. While focusing on storytelling without the use of words for the actual game, a rare effort is being put forth to create a novelization of Balan Wonderworld simultaneously with the development of the game. Authored by another former Sega employee, Soshi Kawasaki (known for the Long Arms series), the book is planned to be released alongside the game in English and Japanese. Reading the novel will deepen your understanding of its world, and events which follow the events of the game are also depicted.
“A lot of popular games these days are based on shooting, but I always want to make pure action games,” Naka said of his love for the genre. It definitely seems that he is taking his “one chance” from the president of Square Enix seriously, doing everything to deliver a game experience packed with all the elements of platform games.
Balan Wonderworld launches on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on March 26, 2021.
Esra Krabbe is an editor at IGN Japan. Follow him on Twitter here!