The game industry has suffered a devastating loss. Rieko Kodama, the legendary Sega developer also known as Phoenix Rie, has died at 58. Her cause of death has not been specified.
As reported by IGN, Kodama died sometime back in May of this year, but her death wasn’t made public until this week. Rumours began when a memorial message was spotted in the credits of Mega Drive Mini 2, before Sega producer Yosuke Okunari confirmed that she had died earlier this year. “As you understand it,” Okunari replied to a tweet asking if Kodama had died. “We respected her.”
Sega declined to share any further details out of respect for the family, with a translation from IGN Japan reading: “We pray that the deceased will rest in peace, and we offer our gratitude for her enormous contributions to Sega.”
Kodama was a renowned developer at Sega, and a pioneer in the roleplaying game space. She began her career in 1984, getting her start as an artist on iconic classics like Alex Kidd and Fantasy Zone. She later contributed to games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Skies of Arcadia, but is perhaps best known for her work on the Phantasy Star series, working her way up to director by Phantasy Star 4.
As you understand it. We respected her.October 27, 2022
Rieko Kodama passed away on May 9, 2022. I have very fond memories of her because we were Sega colleagues and created Phantasy Star and Sonic together. I wasn’t sure about the funeral pictures, but I wanted everyone to remember her. May she rest in peace. Rieko Kodama, forever. pic.twitter.com/lw9UTxLXbSOctober 27, 2022
Kodama was also widely regarded for being one of the first prolific female developers, earning her the title ‘The First Lady of RPGs.’ Her character designs were vibrant and eclectic, creating heroes designed for everyone. “As a woman myself, when I make games, I try not to just have them be male fantasy figures, as people needing to be rescued,” she once said in an interview. “I like to make female characters people of both genders can relate to. But we are seeing more strong-willed women in games geared towards female audiences.”
Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka paid tribute to Kodama on Twitter. “It has finally been announced that Rieko Kodama has passed away. I have fond memories of working with her on Phantasy Star and Sonic. I went to the wake and funeral and could not believe how sudden it was. I pray for your soul rest in peace.” Fellow Sonic co-creator, Hirokazu Yasuhara, said he was “proud” to have worked with Kodama, adding: “I still can’t believe it, it’s so sad.”
Spelunky designer Derek Yu called her “a pioneering artist and designer of videogames,” while 8-4 creator John Ricciardi said she was “always very kind” and “a true legend in Japanese game dev.” Necrosoft director Brandon Sheffield, who was part of the jury that gave Kodama her Pioneer Award at GDC 2019, said “she was, and remains, one of the greatest,” and recalled her award. “When we gave her a lifetime achievement award at GDC, she couldn’t attend due to illness. I’m glad at least that she received it during her lifetime. Hopefully she knew how much her work meant to everyone worldwide!”