The Interview can be found in german here.
Thomas Nickel: To get started, what are you doing nowadays? The last big project you were involved with was Skies of Arcadia - at least as far as I am aware of. What did you work on in the past years?
Rieko Kodama: I am developing PSP and NDS titles these days. The games are of the so-called “brain training” and “learning” genre, which are popular in Japan.
Thomas Nickel: What does your work consist of today? Do you still make designs for worlds and characters? Or are you more of a coordinator nowadays?
Rieko Kodama: I work as a producer now. I am in a position close to the actual development workplace because I am involved from game designs to the development.I do not directly draw the pictures myself, but I am of course involved in designing the ingame environments and characters.
Thomas Nickel: What can you tell us about the story behind the development of Phantasy Star 3 - why was it so different, why were different people working on it and what do you think about the game today?
Rieko Kodama: The person who did the game design for Phantasy Star 2 planned Phantasy Star 3. Because we wanted to go into a new direction with PS3, we formed a different team from the one that had created PS 1 and 2. For us, who laid the groundwork for the Phantasy Star series, it is an absolute pleasure that developers of SEGA will create and grow its new titles. In fact, we actually have developers who joined SEGA after they used to play Phantasy Star in their childhood. Those people are now in a position to develop its new titles. I am excited to think that people who played PSO or PSU will create the next generation Phantasy Star in the future.
Thomas Nickel: Your job in the classic Phantasy Star Games was character-design - since these times, the style of rpgs has changed a lot - people want these edgy, angry, angsty teens with lots of belts and zippers. If you started working on a new game, would you take this chance into account or do the designs your way?
Rieko Kodama: Whether the story is set in a medieval-like heroic fantasy or in space, you will naturally bring a part of modern trends or satires in some places of a title. As to the character designs, too, I believe it is important that the player finds the characters attractive, and that he/she wants to look like them or become them. So, it is necessary to introduce and consider characters that people would like to see themselves as.I think it is essential we can incorporate aspects that people can empathize with, into characters the supervisor, character designers and scenario writers themselves want to portray.
Thomas Nickel: The first Phantasy Star was one of the first and is still one of the few RPGs with a female heroine. What do you think, why is that? And was it difficult to put a female heroine in a game in the late 80s?
Rieko Kodama: I think the reason why there are few games that feature female heroines is because the majority of gamers are male. Since the nature of RPG’s lies in the fact that the user enjoys feeling as if he/she were the main character of the story, so it is imperative that there would be a lot of male heroes to satisfy the majority. With Phantasy Star 1, the development team wanted to create something different from existing RPGs at the time, and to try at what no one had done. We attempted to introduce 3D dungeons, which were rare in console RPGs back then, and animated monsters. One such challenge was that we would create a story with a female hero, we felt could realize it. As you mentioned, I suppose there were even fewer female game players in the late ‘80s than they are now, it might be a fairly reckless challenge when I think back!
Thomas Nickel: In the same vein, Phantasy 1, 2 and 4
have very strong female characters who do a lot of fighting and have very strong personalities. Is that your comment on sexism and gender-roles often found in videogames? Afer all, even today, female characters are usually reduced to damsel in distress or the obligatory healer-character.
Rieko Kodama: Throughout the Phantasy Star series, I have included a story of “fellows” with the same purpose, uniting their strength to fight and survive regardless of their sex, whether they are humanoid type or not, whether they are from the earth or from the other space.So, I feel that Phantasy Star should be a world where everyone can bring out their best.
Thomas Nickel: Do you think, the classic RPG with a turn-based battle-system still has it´s place in gaming today? Or is the form nowadays obsolete?
Rieko Kodama: I think it can be used in gaming today if it is a battle-system that has significance in using turn-based. Rather than thinking that it is out of date and getting rid of it, the system should be considered by thinking how we want the users to play the battle.
Thomas Nickel: Did you contribute in any way to Phantasy Star Online and Phantasy Star Universe? What do you think of the games? Do they feel like Phantasy Star to you?
Rieko Kodama: Sorry, I don’t comment on PSO/PSU.
Thomas Nickel: Were you in any way involved in the Sega 3D Ages-Remakes of the first two Phantasy Star Games? There were some changes in the remakes, did you approve them?
Rieko Kodama: I advised on a few things during the development phase. I feel that the creator of remakes should be able to create the game freely as long as they do not damage original version’s heritage…
Thomas Nickel: And a last question: What is the sign of a good game for you? What does the perfect game look like for you?
Rieko Kodama: I think that a “Good” game differs from one person to another, so it is hard to say which element would certainly make the game good.But one thing I always have in mind is that I don’t want to include any elements that would treat women unfairly in my game. It’s not that I create games with a message of discrimination against women or wanting to eliminate gender-role, but I’m careful not to treat them unfairly. A perfect game? Once a perfect game is created, there will not be games to create after that! It is great hearing from people that they enjoyed the game or they’re satisfied, but I think there is no “perfect” for those who create games.
Text Copyright Thomas Nickel 2006
Pictures Copyright Sega