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Rieko Kodama

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Rieko Kodama
Native name 小玉 理恵子
Born (1963-05-25) May 25, 1963 (age 55)
Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan
Nationality Japanese
Other names Phoenix Rie
Occupation Video game artist, director, and producer
Employer Sega
Notable work Phantasy Star, Skies of Arcadia, 7th Dragon

Rieko Kodama (Japanese: 小玉 理恵子, Hepburn: Kodama Rieko, born May 25, 1963) is a Japanese video game artist, director, and producer employed by Sega. She is one of the first notable female artists in the industry, joining Sega as a graphic designer in 1984. Kodama is primarily known for her work on role-playing games (RPGs) including the original Phantasy Star series, the 7th Dragon series, and Skies of Arcadia (2000). She is also known for her artistic contributions to Master System and Mega Drive games, including Altered Beast (1988) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1991). Although she started as a graphic designer, she eventually rose to the rank of director and then to the rank of producer, a role which she maintains today.

Kodama is often recognized as one of the first successful female video game developers, including by Nintendo Power which dubbed her the "First Lady of RPGs." In this regard, she is often asked for her thoughts on the relationship between women and video games. Kodama believes that more women are gradually taking an interest in gaming culture because they are growing up around them more as young girls. While she does not design games strictly for female audiences, she designs characters that are appealing to both men and women and avoids including elements that treat women unfairly.

Early life and education[edit]

Rieko Kodama was born in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan[1] on May 25, 1963.[2] In high school, Kodama was interested in designing advertising materials.[3] After entering college, she felt indecisive between pursuing studies in art or archaeology, since she carried an interest in Egyptology.[2][4] In her indecisiveness, she failed out of all her classes. She remembered her original interest in advertising and decided to dedicate herself fully to her art passion, enrolling in an advertising design program at a trade school.[4] She soon grew an interest in graphic design and wanted to pursue doing her own work rather than trumpeting works of others as in the advertising business.[3] The video game industry caught her attention as an emerging field. Home game consoles were still new (the Famicom was just released) and most of the industry was still in the arcade field.[4] The industry piqued Kodama's curiosity as she rarely went to the arcades, and felt her unfamiliarity with the medium would make it a good way to challenge herself.[3][4]


Early work[edit]

Kodama was hired by Sega in 1984 through one of her colleagues who was already employed there.[4] She originally thought she was going to be working on advertising and graphic design, but after seeing the game development department, she felt that would be fun as well.[4] She soon learned how to create graphics from Yoshiki Kawasaki, the sprite artist behind Flicky (1984).[5] Her first job was as character designer for the arcade game Champion Boxing (1984).[1] She continued to work on other arcade games such as Sega Ninja (1984). Because development times were short and Sega was low on design staff, Kodama would sometimes work on five to six games at once. She did art for Alex Kidd in Miracle World (1986) for the Master System,[4] was "deeply involved" with the arcade and Master System versions of Quartet (1986),[2] and created art for the Master System port of Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa (1987).[1] Kodama would get small requests to design assets for other projects on a daily basis, such as the dragon from Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord (1987) and an enemy for the SG-1000 port for The Black Onyx (1987).[4] Kodama also served as editor for a Japanese Sega newsletter, Sega Players Enjoy Club (SPEC).[5]

Kodama credited herself as "Phoenix Rie", "Phenix Rie" [sic], or some close variation in many of her early works. This was because at the time, Sega did not allow developers to place their real names in their games. She keeps the meaning of "Phoenix Rie" a secret because "it's so embarrasing."[3]

Phantasy Star[edit]

With the popularity of Enix's Dragon Quest role-playing game (RPG) series on the Famicom in the mid-1980s, Sega formed a team of several people to develop a competing RPG for the Master System, titled Phantasy Star (1987). Kodama served as the main artist for the game, designing the characters, the 2D environments, the battle screen backgrounds, non-playable characters, and other details.[4] Star Wars is one of Rieko Kodama's favorite film series and was a significant inspiration for her when designing artwork for Phantasy Star. She enjoyed the way Star Wars took elements from Japanese and Asian culture and infused it with a science fiction setting. Following this notion, she gave the science fiction world of Phantasy Star a Western folklore feel and gave the characters medieval clothes.[2][4]

One of the key design philosophies for Phantasy Star was to do things differently from existing RPGs, particularly the Dragon Quest series which she believed was too simple and pure of a fantasy world.[4][6] One such challenge to differentiate Phantasy Star was to create a female hero.[6] The female protagonist Alis, and another character, Lutz, were designed by Kodama. Other characters, as well as the game's monsters, were designed by other people.[4] In the original story drafts, Lutz was written as a hermaphrodite, who could become either male or female later in the game. She thought this was interesting, so chose to give Lutz an androgynous appearance in the final game.[5] In this game and later Phantasy Star games, Kodama enjoyed creating a cast of characters uniting for a common purpose, regardless of gender, species, or home planet.[6]

Phantasy Star was a critical and commercial success and a benchmark title for both the industry and the RPG genre. In later years, Kodama continued her work on the Phantasy Star series. She again led the graphic design for Phantasy Star II (1989) and later directed Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium (1993).[1][2] She helped during the planning stages of Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (1990).[3] She also supervised the development of two Phantasy Star Collection compilations as well as remakes of Phantasy Star and Phantasy Star II for the PlayStation 2.[3]

Later work[edit]

Beyond working on the Phantasy Star series during the Mega Drive years, Kodama created artwork for other Sega games including Mega Drive versions of SpellCaster (1988), Altered Beast (1988), Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (1989), Mystic Defender (1989), Sorcerian (1987), Shadow Dancer (1989), Sonic the Hedgehog (1991), and Sonic 2 (1992).[1] After her success in directing Phantasy Star IV, she directed Magic Knight Rayearth (1995), an RPG for the Sega Saturn based on the manga series of the same name.[1][2]

Kodama soon became a producer at Sega's Overworks division and led the development of Skies of Arcadia, a critically acclaimed RPG released for the Dreamcast in 2000.[7] As her first 3D RPG, Kodama felt her freedom of expression had expanded. The project began because her team wanted to create a completely 3D RPG for the Sega Saturn. The project was moved to the Dreamcast when the content became too large for the Saturn to process.[8] According to Kodama, a defining element during development was to not rely on advanced graphics and particularly the CGI movies that were popular in games at the time, which Kodama felt took control away from the player.[2][7] Kodama has stated that Skies of Arcadia along with the Phantasy Star series were her favorite projects she worked on.[2][3]

In the mid-2000s, Kodama served as producer on "brain training" edutainment games for the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable.[6] Most recently, she has led production of the 7th Dragon series.[2] The series includes 7th Dragon for the Nintendo DS,[9] 7th Dragon 2020, and 7th Dragon 2020-II for the PlayStation Portable,[10][11] and 7th Dragon III Code: VFD for the Nintendo 3DS.[12] She is now the lead producer of the Sega Ages series.[13]

On women and video games[edit]

Rieko Kodama has garnered recognition as one of the first female video game developers. The Next Level called her one of the first female video game artists, and Nintendo Power dubbed her the "First Lady of RPGs".[2][3] Because of this recognition, she is often asked for her opinion about the role of women as video game developers and consumers, and the representation of women in video games.[2][3][6]

Kodama believes that women are gradually taking a greater interest in gaming.[3] She has observed that more girls are growing up around games, and thus are more willing to purchase them or enter the industry when older.[2] In particular, she believes girls that enjoy RPGs will have a greater desire to work in the industry. She also thinks it's more common for Japanese women to enter the field than other women because young girls enjoy games there more than in other countries.[3] In 2010, she felt that were more female gamers in Japan due to the increase in games centered around cooking and fashion.[2]

While Kodama does not design her games strictly for a female audience, she avoids including elements that treat women unfairly.[3][6] She claims that many games glorify violence and war which attracts male players overwhelmingly, so companies should be mindful and include elements that appeal to both genders if they want a larger female player base.[2][3] Over time, she has found that there are more strong-willed women in games for female audiences. When making female characters herself, she desires to make characters both genders can relate to.[3] However, since the majority of gamers are still male, and the nature of RPGs is to make the player feel as if they are the character, she understands why many companies gravitate to male heroes.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Although Kodama no longer draws art assets directly for her games, she does paint and make handcrafts and accessories in her free time. She is also a fan of Dungeons & Dragons and the character Raistlin Majere from the Dragonlance series. She plays the D&D table-top games and reads the novels. She enjoys the way dragons are portrayed with different personalities in western fantasy, which is different from dragons in Japanese culture.[2]


As graphic designer[edit]

Year Title Platform
1984 Champion Boxing[5] Arcade
Sega Ninja[1]
1986 Alex Kidd in Miracle World[5] Master System
1987 The Black Onyx[1] SG-1000
Quartet[2] Arcade, Master System
Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa[5]
Phantasy Star[5] Master System
1988 Hoshi wo Sagashite...[5]
Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord[5]
1989 SpellCaster[1]
Poseidon Wars 3-D[14]
Altered Beast[5] Sega Genesis
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle[1]
Mystic Defender[1]
Phantasy Star II[5]
1990 Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi[5]
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse[15]
1991 Sonic the Hedgehog[5]
Advanced Daisenryaku[16]
1992 Ayrton Senna's Super Monaco GP II[17]
Sonic the Hedgehog 2[1]

As director[edit]

Year Title Platform
1993 Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium[5] Sega Genesis
1995 Magic Knight Rayearth[2] Sega Saturn

As producer[edit]

Year Title Platform
1998 Deep Fear[18] Sega Saturn
2000 Skies of Arcadia[7] Dreamcast
2002 Skies of Arcadia Legends[7] GameCube
2005 Project Altered Beast[1] PlayStation 2
2006 Mind Quiz[1] Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable
2009 7th Dragon[2] Nintendo DS
2011 7th Dragon 2020[11] PlayStation Portable
2013 7th Dragon 2020-II[10]
2015 7th Dragon III Code: VFD[12] Nintendo 3DS

Minor roles[edit]

Includes supervisory, support, and "special thanks" roles.

Year Title Platform
1990 Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom[3] Sega Genesis
Riddle Wired[19]
1992 Tōgi Ō: King Colossus[20]
1993 Sonic CD[21] Sega CD
1994 The Hybrid Front[22] Sega Genesis
1998 Phantasy Star Collection[3] Sega Saturn
2002 Game Boy Advance
2003 Phantasy Star Generation 1[3] PlayStation 2
2005 Phantasy Star Generation 2[3]
2008 Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 32: Phantasy Star Complete Collection[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Horowitz, Ken (August 6, 2004). "Sega Stars: Rieko Kodama". Sega-16. Archived from the original on June 10, 2017. Retrieved March 4, 2018. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Power Profiles: Rieko Kodama". Nintendo Power. No. 251. February 2010. pp. 80–82. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Ali Almaci, Hasan; Kemps, Heidi (December 13, 2004). "Interview: Rieko Kodama Feature". The Next Level. Archived from the original on September 16, 2017. Retrieved March 4, 2018. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "名作アルバム -『ファンタシースター』". Sega. April 4, 2003. Archived from the original on April 7, 2016. Retrieved March 4, 2018.  (Translation, archived)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o The World Of Phantasy Star / ファンタシースターの世界 ~ファンタシースターを作った人たち~. 1993.  (Translation, archived)
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Nickel, Thomas (2006). "Interview with Rieko Kodama". G Wie Gorilla. Archived from the original on December 12, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d Padilla, Raymond (September 21, 2002). "Flying the Friendly Skies to the GameCube". GameSpy. Archived from the original on June 27, 2008. 
  8. ^ Szczepaniak, John (2018). The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Vol. 3. SMG Szczepaniak. pp. 338–339. 
  9. ^ "RPG好きの,RPG好きによる,RPG好きのためのRPG。NDS「セブンスドラゴン」を完成させた二人のRPG好き,小玉理恵子氏と新納一哉氏にインタビュー". 4gamer (in Japanese). April 3, 2009. Archived from the original on February 8, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2018. 
  10. ^ a b "セガ、RPG「セブンスドラゴン2020-II」を発売--主題歌は初音ミクが歌唱". CNET Japan (in Japanese). April 18, 2013. Archived from the original on March 10, 2018. Retrieved March 10, 2018. 
  11. ^ a b "セガ、PSP「セブンスドラゴン2020」開発者インタビュー 小玉理恵子プロデューサー、新納一哉ディレクターに聞く本作の魅力!!". Game Watch (in Japanese). November 28, 2011. Archived from the original on December 16, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2018. 
  12. ^ a b Oxford, Nadia (February 2, 2016). "7th Dragon III Code: VFD's Official Localization is Great News for JRPG Fans". USgamer. Archived from the original on October 25, 2016. Retrieved March 10, 2018. 
  13. ^ "ニンドリ9月号:SEGA AGESシリーズに込められた"想い"を追いかける連載スタート!". Nintendo Dream Web (in Japanese). July 16, 2018. Retrieved August 20, 2018. 
  14. ^ Sega (1989). Poseidon Wars 3-D. Level/area: Credits. Graphic Design: La-Rie 
  15. ^ Sega (1990). Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. Level/area: Credits. Artists: La-Rie 
  16. ^ Sega (1991). Advanced Daisenryaku: Doitsu Dengeki Sakusen. Level/area: Credits. Model Maker: Phenix Rie 
  17. ^ Sega (1992). Ayrton Senna's Super Monaco GP II. Level/area: Credits. Designer: Phenix Rie 
  18. ^ Sega (1998). Deep Fear. Level/area: Credits. Producers: Rieko Kodama 
  19. ^ Sega (1991). Riddle Wired: Quiz Dokusen Kigyō no Hōkai. Level/area: Credits. Special Thanks: Phenix-Rie 
  20. ^ Sega (1992). Tougi Ou King Colossus. Level/area: Credits. Special Thanks: Phenix Rie 
  21. ^ Sega (1993). Sonic CD. Level/area: Credits. Special Thanks: Phenix Rie 
  22. ^ Sega (1994). The Hybrid Front. Level/area: Credits. Development Support: Phoenix Rie 
  23. ^ Sega (2008). Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 32: Phantasy Star Complete Collection. Level/area: Credits. Special Thanks: Rieko Kodama 

External links[edit]