The game industry suffered a gigantic loss. Rieko Kodama, the legendary Sega programmer 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 was not made public until this week. Rumors started when a memory message was spotted in the credits of Mega Drive Mini 2, before Sega producer Yosuke Okunari confirmed her death earlier this year. “How do you understand,” Okunari replied to a tweet asking if Kodama was dead. “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 rest in peace, and we offer our gratitude for her enormous contributions to Sega.”
Kodama was a famous programmer at Sega, and a pioneer in the RPG space. She began her career in 1984, beginning as an artist on iconic classics such as 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 of Phantasy Star 4.
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 programmers, 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 only to have them be male fantasy, because people need to be saved,” she once said in an interview. (opens in a new tab). “I like to make female characters that people of both sexes can relate to. But we’re seeing more strong-willed women in games aimed at female audiences.”
Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka paid tribute to Kodama on Twitter. “Finally it was 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 couldn’t believe how sudden it was. I pray your soul rests in peace. ” Co-creator of Sonic, Hirokazu Yasuhara, he said (opens in a new tab) was “proud” to have worked with Kodama, adding: “I still can’t believe it, it’s so sad.”
Spelunky designer Derek Yu he calledr “pioneering video game artist and designer”, while 8-4 creator John Ricciardi said (opens in a new tab)she was “always very polite” and “a true legend in Japanese game dev.” Necrosoft director Brandon Sheffield, who was part of the jury that gave Kodama its Pioneer Award at GDC 2019, said (opens in a new tab) “she was, and remains, one of the greatest”, and recalled her award. “When we gave her a lifetime achievement award at GDC, she was unable to attend due to illness. I’m glad at least she got it in her lifetime. I hope she knew how much her work meant to everyone worldwide!”