Phantasy Star IV Disarmed

It recently came to light that Rieko “Phoenix Rie” Kodama passed away in May of this year. Kodama was a pioneer among women in the game industry as well as an incredibly talented designer, artist, and director. Just about all of her games, from early Sega arcade titles to the more recent 7th Dragon series, are well work playing. If you’re unfamiliar with her work and want to start at the pinnacle, however, I’ll point to Phantasy Star IV as the best game that involved Kodama—and perhaps Sega itself. 

Phantasy Star IV is a sci-fantasy RPG of rich of constant spectacle, a quest that spans a star system and rarely lacks for some cool new discovery. There are spaceships, sandworms, mutant conspiracies, tragic deaths, monstrous forces lurking behind other monstrous forces, and vast tributes to the previous Phantasy Stars. An even if you go in completely unfamiliar with the series, it’s easy to get caught up in the well-paced storyline and the case of bounty hunters, androids, aliens, sorcerers, and other oddities for the player to recruit.

One standout party member is Rika, a genetically engineered bestial Numan with an upbeat, mostly innocent worldview and big pointy ears. She’s also the subject of a little false advertising.

The back cover of Phantasy Star IV’s Japanese release shows Rika front and center with a giant mechanical arm. It’s something that would fit right into the game’s particular vision of space opera, where wizards and swordfighters could easily join up with a beast-girl armed with an unwieldy bionic appendage. 


Rika’s mecha-limb also appears prominently in the game’s brief commercial for Japanese television. 


It appears to be a practical effect, meaning that someone put an incredible amount of work into building all the wires, flanges, and fingers for a prop arm that’s visible on screen for about two milliseconds. That’s some dedication for a sight that the average TV viewer would miss simply by taking a sip of Mountain Dew or Pocari Sweat.

And here's the surprise: Rika doesn’t actually have that huge metal arm in the game. She gains a ninja’s share of quick attacks and equips “claws,” but they’re mere pointy gloves instead of a massive mechanical gauntlet nearly larger than she is. The device doesn’t appear in any other character art that I can find, so I can assume it was embellished by cover artist Hitoshi Yoneda and adopted by the commercial’s production team. 

I wonder if purchasers of Phantasy Star IV in Japan came away just a little disappointed with Rika’s in-game weapons. We’re all used to cover art blatantly lying about a game, but given how accurate the rest of Phantasy Star IV’s cover is, it’s understandable if someone expected Rika to lug around an impractically large cyber-claw.

Phantasy Star IV’s American buyers faced no such deceit. Boris Vallejo’s cover art ditched any big robotic attachments for Rika, although it suggests she’s now a Romulan. And that Chaz, our sword-wielding hero, now has a more substantial batch. 

Rika’s oversized mecha-hand is the sort of thing that could appear in a remake or even a sequel, but Phantasy Star IV seems unlikely to get either. It doesn't need them. The original game stands proud, and its finale is such an all-encompassing farewell to the series that any follow-up would be an unnecessary burden. Kodama and her fellow Sega staffers realized this, and for all that’s been done with the Phantasy Star name in the decades since, they never exploited Phantasy Star IV for extra mileage.

The closest thing to a sequel was purely speculative sketchwork by character designer Toru Yoshida, who imagined an older Rika and the son she had with Chaz (who’s apparently deceased in this hypothetical scenario). In simpler times a few Western fans mistook these for actual Phantasy Star V production art, but now we know better. 

You know, I stand firm in the belief that Phantasy Star IV doesn’t need any continuation. But an RPG about a single bounty-hunter mom hopping across a star system with her kids in tow, perhaps hoping to find out if their father is still alive? That’s a great hook. 

Anyway, if you’ve never played Phantasy Star IV it’s waiting in many forms, including the first Sega Genesis Mini, the Switch Online service, and too many Genesis game compilations to count. Even if there aren't any cumbersome but cool cybernetic arms, you won't be disappointed in the rest of the game.

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