Final Fantasy XIV has been running with largely the same engine since its relaunch as A Realm Reborn in 2013. That’s nearly a decade of operation. In that time, we’ve moved on from the PlayStation 3 and the old video cards to the PlayStation 5 and Nvidia RTX cards. That’s a huge jump in graphical potential that FFXIV hasn’t really tapped into.
During tonight’s Live Letter From the Producer, FFXIV creative director and lead producer Naoki Yoshida announced the first major graphical update for the game! The update is coming in Patch 7.0 and beyond, so it’s a ways off, but the team at Square Enix has begun testing some of the new visuals.
Yoshida said that the team wanted to address the “overall picture” of FFXIV, improving graphics while not changing the game’s current aesthetic. He also wanted players to know that “the new graphics will not be comparable to standalone titles,” for those expecting FFXIV to look like first-party single-player games like Horizon Forbidden West (which was mentioned by name).
The system requirements for PC will be updated with the changes, but support for the PS4 version will remain. In fact, Yoshida said the team will be optimizing the PS4 version. It will also receive new graphical options, like the frame rate or resolution priority modes from the PS5 port.
After a fake tease showing the standard Hyur with realistic lighting and skin, Yoshida said realism isn’t the focus of the updates. The changes are mostly aimed at textures, lighting, and shaders, allowing the team to make existing models and environments look much better.
Yoshida then showed off some early screenshots. Examples included closeups of the standard male Hyur, another with stubble, a female Miqo’te, a male Roegadyn, and a female Lalafell, all with higher resolution textures and shaders. The difference is striking, especially considering that the models remained the same. Yoshida said self-cast shadows were one key point here, allowing the shadows from hair and facial features to be rendered in higher quality.
The graphical update isn’t just for characters though. There will be higher resolution textures coming to gear as well, better shaders to mimic materials like metal, cloth, and leather, and improved lighting across the board. These changes aren’t coming to all gear immediately; Square Enix will focus on popular glamour first and then gradually roll out further updates in 7.x patches.
Some of these graphical improvements are also aimed at the game’s environments. Yoshida showed before-and-after shots of the Studium, Titania, and one area in Thavnair. The Studium and Titania scenes sported improved shadow, realistic lighting, and additional light sources, while the Thavnair scene showcases the gleaming gold capable with better material shaders and textures.
Another set of changes are based on the optimization of the game’s engine. Yoshida noted that the team is addressing how memory is used by animations and rendering. Animations will see a great deal of improvement, and Yoshida said that further changes in memory use may also allow for longer emotes. There was also a scene in Thavnair’s port town of Yedlihmad, showing off how improvements in optimization will allow the team to add more objects in the environment. The dock in the second image adds far more variation, detail, and object density.
The most stunning improvement is in the grass, which is currently automatically-generated by the engine. Yoshida noted that the grass in FFXIV has bothered him for some time; he mentioned a cutscene in Elpis where the pixelated grass ruined the mood and he asked the team to remove it to preserve the scene. The grass is simply amazing, looking far more realistic. Imagine this new grass spreading across Etheirys!
Square Enix is also experimenting with other graphical improvements like fog and ambient occlusion. All of these improvements are currently being tested, but Square Enix isn’t looking to force players to upgrade their PCs. These will all be options and the artists are being consulted to make sure any changes won’t ruin current content.
Regardless, this is the first step toward the future of FFXIV. If the game is going to survive another decade, then it needs to push its graphical prowess so it stands alongside more modern games. We’re excited to see where the developers land with all of their graphical improvements.