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Final Fantasy 14: examining the complete saga - right up to its PS5 debut

A story over ten years in the making.

Final Fantasy 14 is a game with a rich and storied history, spreading back across the generations to the PlayStation 3 era - and before that, to a 2010 PC release. Its status as an MMO separates it from Square-Enix's usual Final Fantasy offerings, but this game is very much worthy of its mainline series entry status. Today, we can play Final Fantasy 14 natively on PlayStation 5, but getting to the point of having a quality play experience on consoles seemed impossible when it first released, to the point where the game was even temporarily taken out of service. All of which brings us on to Digital Foundry video we're presenting today. Yes, you get to learn about Final Fantasy 14 on PS5 - and how it stacks up against PS4 and PS4 Pro offerings - but we go further, revisiting its misguided beginnings, its rebirth and its various expansions over the years.

We're very excited about this Final Fantasy 14 coverage. Marc 'Try4ce' Duddleson works on the excellent My Life in Gaming YouTube channel and occasionally guests on Digital Foundry - and despite not being a huge MMO fan, he absolutely loves Final Fantasy 14, having the authentic voice needed to assess the game as it is today and how it has evolved over the years. And in approaching this project, it's also been fascinating for the DF team to see how an experienced video producer gets to grip with our performance analysis tools and adapts the presentation to suit his vision for the project in hand.

And while the DF core team had little involvement in the production, you get the same level of detail as any of our projects - if not more so thanks to his deep knowledge of the game - which brings us on to the assessment of the PS5 built. Expectations should be kept in check - while FF14 is ever-evolving, it's still fundamentally a video game from 2013 and the engine has never been overhauled since. Even on PlayStation 5, the game retains the very dated FXAA anti-aliasing technique, shadow resolution could stand to be higher, and screen-space effects often fade well within the margins of your TV. Vegetation density and fade-in distance are the same in the PS4 and PS5 versions - and in fact, from what we can see, there are no visual enhancements on PS5 up against running the PS4 Pro version of the game, at least when it comes to comparing the two at the higher detail level.

The complete Final Fantasy 14 saga, including analysis of all the available PlayStation versions currently in service. Watch on YouTube

Yes, perhaps owing to its PC origins, Final Fantasy 14 has a huge range of tweakable options and a quality setting is one of them - PlayStation 5 effectively runs with PS4 Pro's high setting enabled by default, adding to the richness of the presentation with effects such as parallax occlusion maps. Pro received the ability to run at 1080p and 1440p resolutions and this is retained for PlayStation 5, with an added native 2160p function added too. It's nice to see it there, but performance tumbles drastically if you opt for full-fat 4K. On PS5, it seems that 1440p is the sweet spot in terms of balancing image quality and resolution - but there's no boost to the visual feature set over PS4 Pro and in actual fact, there's no locked 60fps either. And beyond that, in many scenarios, it seems to be the case that running the back-compat PS4 Pro version delivers the same and even better performance than the native PlayStation 5 application, while looking nigh-on identical.

One heavily touted feature of the PlayStation 5 version is improved load times and it can be very impressive, easily beating PS4 Pro running from its mechanical hard drive. However, it appears that achieving this sort of speed may have not taken much optimisation effort on the developers' end, seeing there's barely any improvement compared to running the game under backward compatibility. That said, one area where the PS5 version has a clear advantage is in the quality of various icons and HUD elements. According to FF14 Lead Project Manager Shoichi Matsuzawa via the PlayStation Blog, AI upscaling was used to perform this resizing, with various adjustments by hand where needed. The mini-map elements are sharper for sure, and job action icons look way better in the PS5 version, so it'll be interesting to see whether the game's textures will receive any kind of improvement going forward.

The PS5 version of Final Fantasy 15 also supports the DualSense controller's unique features - but with mixed results. As with the PS4 version, left and right clicks on the touchpad cycle through screen HUD elements you may want to interact with and it can also be used as a mouse if you so desire. Adaptive triggers are very occasionally used to give a fun (if unnecessary) click when identifying points of interest during certain story events. The implementation of DualSense force feedback, however, is a bit of a sticking point and could be a dealbreaker for some people. It's used to satisfying effect when riding flying mounts, syncing up to the whooshing sounds of the wind as you fly close to the ground or through archways. However, for the majority of gameplay, the DualSense feedback is actually rather obtrusive since it gives a slight jolt with every single step you make. This sort of haptic feature was cute in Astro's Playroom, but it doesn't really fit well with a game you're going to sink hours upon hours of time into and a toggle to turn it off should be incorporated. Being able to use rumble without feeling every step you make is yet another argument in favour of simply playing the PS4 Pro version on PS5.

Ultimately, the current build of Final Fantasy 14 for PlayStation 5 is in a bit of an odd place. There are some nice improvements for the console - specifically in terms of UI clarity - but there are few visual boosts for the PS5 version over the PS4 Pro equivalent and remarkably, the most consistent performance comes from running the last-gen version under backwards compatibility. But FF14 is a game that has soldiered on across the years and may not have attracted your attention, and it is very definitely a good game worth experiencing. Whether you download the native app or the PS4 Pro version, PlayStation 5 offers the best console experience.

Not only that, but the current open beta offers up an excellent deal: you can play the entirety of A Realm Reborn and the first, excellent Heavensward expansion without paying a penny - it's an excellent jumping on point for seeing what it's all about. And as for the game itself? Final Fantasy 14 is much more inviting to the non-MMO JRPG fan and can mostly be enjoyed as a breezy, non-social, not-so-grindy affair, with each expansion storyline mostly keeping you levelled high enough and equipped well enough if you just want to play through the main quest and move on with your life, re-subscribing at a later point if and when more content arrives - because the FF14 story is far from complete. A fourth expansion, dubbed Endwalker, releases later this year.

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