Balan Wonderworld: How a Wonderful World Flopped

A closer look into why this game did not do as well as the general public would’ve thought.


Square Enix

Screenshot from the impressive cut scenes from Balan Wonderworld. One of the few highlights of the game.

Margaret Young, Staff Writer

Balan Wonderworld is a 3D platformer published by Square Enix and directed by Yuji Naka, producer for games like Nights into Dreams, Phantasy Star Online, and a former member of the of the “Sonic Team.”

The game was announced for consoles back in September of 2020, and the hype for it was real, with many articles published about the announcement and particular focus put on the director Yuji Naka. 

With the pedigree of Yuji Naka, and the involvement of Square Enix, this game had all the right ingredients to be a success. But a lot was happening behind the scenes, out of the view from what the excited public knew. 

Featuring the titular character of Balan, this displays some of the residents and enemies of the game. (Copyright: Square Enix)

However, things continued smoothly, and eventually the demo was released to mixed reviews. One review of the demo from The Spokesman said, “‘Balan Wonderworld’ has charming characters and excellent music and sound design – and while it’s difficult to ascertain from the demo, it’s likely to be a fairly easy, laidback experience.”

Another review of the demo by Greg Bargas for PCINVASION stated, “I’m still hopeful that this is only a sliver of pre-alpha gameplay that has since been heavily modified – emphasis on heavily. Either way, I can’t say that I share that excitement I once had.”

Overall, reviews for the demo were mixed, with many citing disappointing gameplay and level designs, but praising the visuals and soundtrack for the game. And with that, hopes were high, but there was some doubt as to whether the game would play well or not. 

The months went by smoothly, the occasional new trailer was dropped, and more interviews with Yuji Naka and the development team came out explaining their excitement for the release of the full game. 

Eventually, the full game released in March, and it got mixed reviews as well. Many reviews expressed disappointment in the gameplay. One review from IGN sayd, “So, I’m disappointed but not surprised to see that Balan Wonderworld…is a fundamentally flawed shadow of its predecessors. Its character designs, cutscenes, and music are certainly charming, but charm alone isn’t enough to make this half-baked platformer any less boring to actually play.”

Like the demo, many reviews praised the visuals and music for the game, but were disappointed by the gameplay and thought the game’s story was confusing. And as such, the game sold poorly and didn’t even manage to break into charts in Japan or worldwide. 

Everything was set up, and Balan had the perfect recipe to be a successful game, with a legendary director, and with support from a huge studio like Square Enix. So what went wrong?

The development process is possibly the main reason for why the game is the way it is and why it failed to impress the general public. The project was handled in an unusual way compared to other games. 

Box art for Balan Wonderworld displays the charm of the game’s characters. (Copyright: Square Enix)

Yuji Naka formed the Balan Company, and they would be responsible for all the pre-production work for the game, and then the development work was done by Arzest.  Overall, the whole process was a mess, and with the goals being extremely wide, the game suffered as a result.

Because of this, Balan Wonderworld turned out lackluster, and the gameplay suffered as a result. What could have been a breakthrough return for Yuji Naka  flopped horribly and barely made a dent in sales. 

Instead, it just left a disappointing result of what could have been, and leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those who wanted something new and innovative.