Word on the street is Yuji Naka may leave Sega to start his own company. Naka is Sega’s most well known employee primarily because he was behind the success of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. His programming wizardry combined with Naoto Oshima edgy and xtreme character design and Hirokazu Yasuhara’s excellent level design (hold right to win) created a game that arguably made Sega what it is today. Naka also programmed Phantasy Star, a technical marvel for an 8-bit console and the first game to include an enemy who vomits on you.
Perhaps the most beloved game Naka produced is NiGHTS into Dreams, which was both one of the Saturn’s best game’s and an admission that the system could not pull off 3D like its competitors. Other games in his portfolio include cult hit Burning Rangers (would have made a great DC game) and his first creation, Girl’s Garden, which, after emulating, I would say is not worth buying an SG-1000 from eBay to play (of course you could only legally emulate it if you’d already bought the SG-1000).
Recently, Naka has produced Phantasy Star Online, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, and some 3D Sonic games. The new Sonic games have disappointed a lot of fans ever since they debuted on the Dreamcast. The Sonic Adventure series is respectable, but Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic Riders fail to impress most but the most loyal/stupid Sega fans. Billy Hatcher was a decent game but was not successful enough to become a series (we hope).
Phantasy Star Online is extremely successful and is the one thing Naka has done recently that justifies anyone besides his wife knowing his name. But this series is good in a utilitarian sense, it is by no stretch a work of art. Level grinding and item collection is fun but simply lacks the magic and awe a game like NiGHTS is loved for.
Should anyone care if Naka leaves Sega? No, because most of the games he has produced in the last five years have been mediocre. Anyone could take over the Sonic series. It’s so broken I doubt a single person would miss Naka’s involvement or even notice his absence. And a game like PSO does not need an artist with a vision behind it. It needs lots of crap to collect to justify players paying monthly for the privileged of collecting crap. The loss of the name Yuji Naka will be the biggest blow to Sega. Besides the public’s reaction, I think little will change for the company.
Naka is a talented man, but there is no doubt he gets more attention than he deserves. His best work was done as a programmer, not a producer and he has even said in interviews that he longs to go back to programming. Perhaps he is aware of his real strengths. Naka is Sega’s only household name so the company has tried to keep him in the lime light, but he is a far cry from a Miyamoto. Perhaps his departure from Sega will allow for more attention to their other talented staff (before they all leave).
A new company is a risky undertaking. For every Tetsuya Mizuguchi (who left Sega’s United Game Artists after they were forced to merge with Sonic Team and formed Q Entertainment) there is a Naoto Oshima (who helped form the not so successful Artoon). Naka is risking a lot by leaving his very high position in Sega, but perhaps it will allow him to do what he really wants without any restrictions on his creativity. Or maybe put him in a desperate situation. Remember Sega made the first Sonic game out of desperation. Either way, I’m hoping for a Girl’s Garden 2: Revenge of the Azaleas.