When I interviewed Final Fantasy XIV director Naoki Yoshida in May, I asked him about the community’s enduring enthusiasm over the concept of NPC dating. It’s a request he gets often, so it’s something he’s thought much about and won’t completely rule out. However, he shared just how tricky it would be to implement the feature for the critically-acclaimed MMORPG.
Even without his detailed explanation, the fans who have wished for such a feature have been understanding. Like many other fandoms, over the years they have used fanart and fanfiction to express their love for the game’s charming cast of characters. One fan recently gained attention for going the extra mile and creating a full romance mod for Emet-Selch, Shadowbringers’ exceptional main villain, in Stardew Valley.
Replacing the village’s Wizard, Rasmodius, it contains seven new heart events, eight different portraits, a custom spouse room, and over 150 lines of dialogue. The modded Emet-Selch has his own schedule of leaving his tower, with likes and dislikes that affect his friendship level. There’s exclusive background art and even a planned music piece. Best of all, its sole creator, Kriiva, worked to implement Emet-Selch’s lore from the MMORPG in the farming simulator as gracefully as possible.
hi! i am proud to announce the official release of my first Stardew Valley mod that replaces the Wizard NPC with Emet-Selch! he can be your spouse as well! the link to the mod page is in the replies! if you have any issues, please submit a bug on the mod page! enjoy!! #EmetSelch pic.twitter.com/7lqJYJxhx9
— ????K r i i v a???? (@pumpkyraptor) July 24, 2021
Kriiva tells me this is actually his first functioning mod ever. Despite loving Stardew Valley, they don’t normally play it much. “I have trouble keeping a focus on things due to ADHD symptoms,” he says. “Within the past year though, I’ve had a kick to actually finish games I start.” In order to entice himself to play it more, he got the idea of putting his favorite Final Fantasy XIV character into the game as a joke.
“The joke, of course, evolved into me looking into the Stardew modding community and the process it takes to make mods and, with Content Patcher, I realized it was extremely doable for me,” he continues. “I started the joke of making a mock-up of an Emet portrait for Stardew, which is now his actual (neutral) expression! Now that the mod is finished, I’ve been actively playing Stardew since.”
The process wasn’t too intense of an undertaking, so they chose to do it. Modding Emet-Selch into the game required them to dump all the files in the original game, comb through them for various references to the Wizard NPC, and adjust them in a giant text file used by Content Patcher to patch all the changes over the base game. When starting out, they knew they had to make roughly five to six expressions, a few different overworld sprites, secret one-off sprites related to Emet-Selch’s heart events, and a piece of music that is still a work in progress. It all spanned to about three months of work.
The most challenging part of creating the mod for Kriiva was writing Emet-Selch’s dialogue and heart events. “He has so much dialogue after you marry him, and it was really hard to sit at my computer by myself and try to fill in over 100 blank entries with random stuff Emet would talk about while still remaining in character,” he says. It’s not the most fun of tasks, either, so it took up the bulk of the work on the mod. While being an on-off roleplayer has given Kriiva familiarity with portraying canon characters, he isn’t a professional writer. “There was a lot of back and forth and asking for advice from other friends who understand Emet’s character.”
As a villain who does everything in his power to thwart the hero of a sprawling, story-heavy RPG, Emet-Selch’s character is a stark contrast to the low-stakes atmosphere and essence of Stardew Valley. But this is actually what drew Kriiva to the idea of modding him into the farming game. While there are also technical reasons, such as Stardew Valley being a relatively easy game to mod through the use of SMAPI, it felt like the most fitting way to execute Kriiva’s vision.
“It’s honestly a really relaxed avenue to insert a nice little domestic relationship that just makes you happy,” they say. “Any other game I’m familiar with lacks various qualities or is too hard to make a mod for. I like to play somewhat sandbox-y games, or games that give you a lot of freedom, but none of them would’ve been able to really capture the emotion and nuance of the moment to moment without a massive workload (like a dating sim, for example) like Stardew could.”
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Speaking of dating sims, Kriiva would love to see a Final Fantasy XIV dating sim spin-off game built on the same model and cutscenes engine as the main game someday. While they’d like to see NPC dating in the MMORPG itself, they feel it’d be too difficult for the team to implement. They’d rather take a game where canon concerns can be tossed aside in favor of creating as much fan service as possible for your Warrior of Light. And you know what? Same.
For Kriiva, the most rewarding part of making this Emet-Selch romance mod has been finishing it and seeing the response. “I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I released it,” they say, “but I’m just really happy that everyone’s enjoying it so much.” They’re particularly keen to know people’s reactions to the 14th heart event, which contains a character appearance that Shadowbringers fans will appreciate.
“A lot of people, friends and strangers alike, have come to me saying my mod has inspired them to pick up Stardew again (or even just flat out buy the game) just to try my mod! It’s so flattering,” they share. “I’m glad my mod has inspired others to do the same thing I am trying to inspire myself to do, which is to have another lovely game under my 100% completion belt.”
As for future updates to the mod, Kriiva is looking to commission the music piece he wanted to implement since he doesn’t have experience with mastering music. He’s looking for ways to improve the mod following the community’s feedback, like including a more platonic variant where Emet-Selch is just your friend and roommate. He also wants to look into supporting Stardew Valley Expanded, but it’s a task that will require more time and research. And, while he’s gotten many requests for a similar mod featuring other fan-favorite characters like Aymeric de Borel or G’raha Tia, he says he’d like to focus on the one he has right now.
“I really encourage everyone to try their best to go out and make these mods themselves if you have the ability, time, or resources to try,” he says. “It’s honestly one of the more user-friendly modding experiences I’ve seen, as someone who finds coding daunting. This is a good introduction to some of the basic concepts in most coding languages without looking like pure gibberish.”
“In the same vein, I also would want to encourage people to make their own patches or additions to the mod if they’d like to,” he continues. “I know there are Emet likers all over the world, and I think Content Patcher makes it easy to make translation patches, so I’d be happy to work with translators if they’re interested.”
As one of those Emet-Selch fans, I’m grateful for people like Kriiva, the artists of my favorite Emet-Selch fanart, and the writers of the excellent Emet-Selch fanfiction I spend my days reading. Even when I’m not playing Final Fantasy XIV, I’m engaging with it thanks to their creative efforts, which ultimately exist to express and share that passion amongst the community. I’ll be elated if the development team gets to implement NPC dating or create a spin-off dating simulator someday. But, if that never happens, I clearly have plenty of ways to keep myself happy.