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Creator / Yuji Naka

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Yuji Naka (born September 17, 1965) is a Japanese video game programmer, developer, and producer. His biggest claim to fame, however, is as a founding member of Sonic Team, and one of the original creators of the entire Sonic the Hedgehog series.

In his adolescence, Naka taught himself how to program and code. After deciding against attending university following his graduation from high school, he applied for work as a programmer for Sega. He would be assigned to AM8, a research and development team that would create many of Sega's early home console hits, including the original Phantasy Star (for which he created the game's unique pseudo-3D first-person dungeons). In the early 1990s, AM8 would be assigned the task of creating a Killer App for Sega's latest home console, the Sega Genesis. Naka would conceptualize a side-scrolling platforming game based on a tech demo he made that allowed for smooth movement along slopes and curves, featuring a protagonist that could move quickly and curl into a ball. Together with character designer Naoto Ohshima and stage designer Hirokazu Yasuhara, the concept would give way to the very first Sonic the Hedgehog game, which would secure Sega's place in the industry and video gaming history, and help Naka and his fellow developers become big names in the industry.

Following the success of Sonic (and AM8's rechristening to "Sonic Team"), Naka would join Sega's American branch, the Sega Technical Institute, helping to develop Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles before eventually returning to Japan. He would go on to become Producer for Sonic Team, overseeing the development of the Sonic Adventure series, Phantasy Star Online, and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg.

Naka was the last founding member of Sonic Team to remain after Ohshima and Yasuhara's departures, eventually parting ways with Sega himself in 2006 to found Prope, an independent developer studio, and would oversee the development of Ivy the Kiwi? and Rodea the Sky Soldier. Later, in 2018, he would join Square Enix under a new studio called Balan Company. His first game for Square Enix was the platformer Balan Wonderworld, released on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows on March 26, 2021.

He would ultimately leave Square Enix on April 30, 2021, likely as a result of Balan Wonderworld's failure. In December of that same year, Naka released the mobile game Shot 2048, the first game he had developed and published entirely by himself.

He was arrested in November 2022 for his suspected involvement in a 2020 insider trading incident regarding the then-upcoming Dragon Quest Tact. He was arrested again for insider trading in December 2022, this time regarding Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier. He was eventually found guilty by the Tokyo District Court and given a suspended jail sentence of two years and six months, along with orders to forfeit 171 million yen and pay a fine of two million yen.

Outside of game development, Naka also joined in the production of the anime series Hi-sCoool! SeHa Girls as the voice of Center-Sensei.

Franchises Naka has been involved with:

Yuji Naka is associated with the following:

  • Attention Deficit Creator Disorder: Naka was reported to go the extra mile to achieve his vision, such as insisting on larger ROM sizes (which led to Phantasy Star being the largest console game of its time), demanding a lot from the devs and opposing to the changes done by the games' localizations (see below). He also tended to prefer to work on new games over sequels to keep things fresh, so he had to be coaxed into working in Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 despite the franchise's unprecedented success. This led to him taking a break from series behind during the Saturn era to focus on new IPs, and eventually culminated in him leaving Sega to found his own company.
  • Executive Meddling:
    • Like the rest of Sonic Team, he had to deal with a lot of meddling from Sega of America, both for the games' localizations and the design of the games themselves:
      • Among the meddling the team was reported to be opposed to was the changing of the character's names and backstories for the localizations in the early games, feeling they were unnecessary when the games had been designed to cater to Western markets from the beginning. To make matters worse, after the devs altered the games based on SoA's demands to arrive at a compromise both parties agreed upon, SoA did further changes without consulting or informing Sonic Team, leading to a lot of tension when they learned of this much later.
      • Similarly, SoA was reported to have attempted to force the team to put soundtracks produced in-house into the games. It tried this with Sonic 2 but was talked out of it after the devs found that the quality of the soundtrack in question was pretty poor. Then it tried again with the American version of Sonic CD and got away with it thanks to the ease of replacing track in CD-based games of the time, allowing it to do it without the devs' input or even permission.note 
      • Sonic 2 and 3 had to be rushed out the door to meet deadlines imposed by SoA, resulting in both games having to be cut in half. The latter is the most famous example, as its second half was released as Sonic & Knuckles after Sonic Team was forced to released the first half early to coincide with a McDonald's promotion.
    • As a result, Yuji Naka himself became quite protective of the team's games when it came to localizations:
      • Voice actress and director Lani Minella didn't want Tails to be voiced by a child actor, but Yuji Naka insisted on being so. Tails was voiced by Kazuki Hayashi (then eight years old) in Sonic Adventure (1998) until Ryō Hirohashi took over as Tails's permanent voice actress in Sonic Heroes (2003), and in English Tails went through three different child voice actors until he was voiced by adult women starting with Shadow the Hedgehog (2005).
      • Lani Minella says that Naka wanted the actors to look like the characters. Ryan Drummond expands on this, with Naka and the staff wanting the actors to act their scenes...but this included making grunts that don't make sense in English, which includes the "Teeeeriah" and "Yoosh" in Sonic Adventure 2. When Minella told him that's not how it works in English, reportedly Naka got furious and this led to the voice actor's replacement with the Sonic X 4Kids staff.
    • Rodea the Sky Soldier was intended to be a Wii exclusive. Unfortunately, due to it coming during the system's twilight years, Kadokawa decided to cancel the Wii version and produce ports for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS instead, making liberal changes to the gameplay and controls without Naka's input. This resulted in said ports getting universally panned, turning Rodea into a Stillborn Franchise. The one silver lining is that a limited edition of the Wii U port was released including the original Wii version, widely considered to be a superior game.

Alternative Title(s): Yu 2