At PAX East last week, I spoke (via a translator) to Final Fantasy 15 live services manager Shigefumi Tanaka about FF15's upcoming mod tools, which we were surprised to hear about last year—rarely do games of Final Fantasy 15's size commit to modability. The tools won't give modders total control over FF15, a fact foreshadowed by the inclusion of Denuvo DRM, but cautious as they are, they're far more than I expected back when the Windows Edition was first announced (which was nothing).
The first of the tools, releasing this spring, will allow modders to create weapons and outfits upload them to the Steam Workshop. There will be a set of guidelines for modders to follow, though Square Enix has not yet outlined exactly what those guidelines will be (I've asked and am waiting to hear more).
Below is a brief clip from last Friday's PAX East panel with glimpse of what to expect:
Later this fall, the devs will also release a level editor. "[Players] can create their own little locations, dungeons, things like that, and play around with the assets we provide," says Tanaka. It won't be powerful enough to create "new characters and original stories"—not like Divinity: Original Sin 2's mod tools—though Tanaka says the tools releasing this year aren't necessarily going to be the extent of FF15 modding.
"Ideally, we want to see it take off to the point where we can continue expanding it, and continue providing more tools for people to really enjoy their experience with the game," says Tanaka. "What we're providing with the initial set of the characters and weapons mods and the level editor later on are at the first stages of what we could provide. So once we have a chance to see how people respond to that, we would love to continue expanding that into providing better tools, bigger tools, and really just see how far we can go as far as giving content for players to customize and enjoy."
Below is a clip of the level editor, showing an interface for placing existing assets around an environment, as well a scripting system. At the end of the demonstration there are a couple of more complex-looking mods, including a golfing game.
I suggested that players may want to change the Regalia (the car central to FF15's road trip), and Tanaka said they had thought the same thing. "We have that idea bouncing around internally … It will probably be something people enjoy if we do ever release an official Regalia tool."
For now, the future of Final Fantasy 15 modding depends on the response, just as we previously heard that the future of Final Fantasy modding in general depends on what modders do with it.
"For our team, this is the first time we're putting out an official mod tool for our game," says Tanaka. "We actually don't have any expectations, we're just curious to see what people are going to make. And then maybe we'll get a glimpse of what players wanted to do with this game from the outset—just depending on what we see, we'll see what kind of things they were interested in."
In a separate interview, I also asked Dragon Quest 11 producer Hokuto Okamoto and assistant producer Hikari Kubota if, now that the Final Fantasy 15 team is experimenting with mod tools, they might consider making Dragon Quest moddable. "Looking into the future, there is a potential for us to consider mod support, particularly if this game does well on Steam this time around," they said (their answers translated together). "But obviously this is all hypothetical."
"Is that something you're interested in? Mod support for [Dragon Quest]?" asked Okamoto. I said that PC players enjoy the freedom to make changes if they want, to add characters or modify battle systems, as examples. "I see," said Okamoto, laughing, adding that "it's very difficult" to add mod tools.
My impression from both interviews is that Square Enix's studios are excited to venture into PC-oriented publishing, but are taking careful steps. Modding is probably off the table for Dragon Quest 11, and Final Fantasy's first mod tools will won't be the basis for any total conversions. But PC gamers always find a way to make the best (and often the worst) of what they have, so I look forward to the elaborate, strange, and surprising FF15 add-ons that are sure to populate the Steam Workshop before the end of the year.
Square Enix has released a few sample mods, including a Half-Life costume, to show off what will be possible when the first of the tools release this spring. Though the tools may not initially be powerful enough to do this, I doubt the mod community will rest until it's somehow turned every chocobo into Sonic.
Square Enix will release four new episodes of DLC for Final Fantasy 15 next year, including an alternate ending, it announced at PAX East yesterday.
The four pieces of DLC, detailed in this Resetera thread, will include an episode centered on Ardyn, one focused on the fate of Luna, one smaller side-story about the Starscourge and, in Episode 4, Noctis's "final battle", which will contain the alternate ending to the game.
All four are due in the first half of next year, by which time the game will have already added a level editor, singleplayer character customisation, modding tools and Steam Workshop support, Square Enix said. Later this year, the developer will also start to sell Final Fantasy 15's co-op multiplayer mode, Comrades, as a standalone package, so you can play it without owning the base game. Before that, the mode will be updated to add raid bosses and battle challenges.
The modding tools and Steam Workshop support is due before the summer, while the level editor will arrive in the second half of this year. Players will be able to use it to create quests and simple game modes—Square Enix showed off a golf mini-game and custom Chocobo races.
For some reason we have a lot of opinions about every Final Fantasy game at PC Gamer and this sometimes causes argume—er, energetic discussions that we now feel the need to share. It happened with Bioware companions. It happened in weirder form to Sonic, now it's happening to Final Fantasy. Which companions annoyed us? Which companions made us want to wear a cool red cloak and pose on rooftops like Batman? Read on to find out.
Likes...Ignis (Final Fantasy XV)
This was a hard one. I originally picked Auron from Final Fantasy X, because he's a dead guy who clings onto life just so he can save Spira. That's pretty damn cool. On reflection, though, Ignis makes food like the above, and I'll be friends with anyone who can cook me a wonderful dinner. Plus, the ludicrous British accent doesn't hurt things either. I think the more detailed interactions of the FFXV characters means they're easier to like than some of those from the older games.
Hates... Seifer Almasy (Final Fantasy VIII)
There are some really obvious choices for this one: Hope from Final Fantasy XIII, the whiny teenager who, to be fair, loses his mother early in the story, but is super irritating in all ensuing cutscenes. There's also Cait Sith, the one party member I completely ignored in FFVII, and FFVIII's Irvine Kinneas, who makes the terrible error of dressing up as a cowboy. Unfortunately, his limit break is far too cool to put him on this list, and his freakout as he's meant to headshot the Sorceress is one of that game's best character moments, so he doesn't make the cut.
I instead picked Seifer for several reasons. He's technically a member of your party for the Dollet mission at the start of Final Fantasy VIII, and even has his own limit break, so he meets the criteria for this list. After that, he becomes the game's primary antagonist and his dickishness spirals out of control.
His dream of being the Sorceress's knight—a dream based, seemingly, on a bad movie that you as Laguna Loire in flashback get to help create—means he almost destroys time and space by awakening Sorceress Adel. And instead of being punished for that, he cuts Odin in half (which I'm still mad about), then gets a happy ending where he's stood on the docks at Balamb looking pretty pleased with himself. A bad man.
Likes... Red XIII (Final Fantasy VII)
He is a good boy who is my friend. Red is a wise and level-headed doggo when you break him out of the Shinra lab, but he really comes into his own when you visit his home at Cosmo Canyon. The reveal of his father’s fate, which causes him to howl at the moon—because he is a dog and not a cat—is one of the game’s most poignant moments. Also, when he howls in battle during limit breaks he bombards enemies with stars and space lasers.
As much as I like him, he’s not great in combat and I do tend to drop him for other party members. I’m always happy to see him pop up in cutscenes though, because he is one of the few truly heroic characters in Final Fantasy VII’s team of broken misfits.
Hates... Hope (Final Fantasy XIII)
Children in games are almost always annoying because they don’t behave like kids at all. Hope is the perfect example. He is earnest and pure of heart and has an infuriating voice.
He’s a good counterpoint to Lightning’s battle-hardened attitude, at least. I particularly like the bit of the game where she tries to inject some nihilism into his worldview. I hoped she would crush his spirit and knock the shrill weepiness out of him, but in the end he ends up making Lightning a more caring person instead—oh no!
Now I think about it Snow, also from Final Fantasy XIII, might be worse, but he’s so boring I can’t think of anything to say about him, the useless trenchcoated lump. God, why did I spend so many hours of my life playing this game?
Likes... Vincent Valentine (Final Fantasy VII)
Sullen, brooding, and draped in red, Vincent is one of the two optional party members in Final Fantasy VII. Thanks to the genetic meddling of the villainous Professor Hojo, he can transform into powerful monsters including DEATH GIGAS, a weird Frankenstein thing that has a move called GIGADUNK, and HELLMASKER, a chainsaw-wielding dude straight out of an '80s slasher movie with an attack called SPLATTERCOMBO.
Aside from all that wonderful silliness, there's a tragedy to Vincent too. After a series of events involving a woman called Lucrecia that are far too long-winded to go into here, he locks himself in the basement of the Shinra mansion in Nibelheim, spending his days sleeping in a coffin and lamenting his sorry existence. That is until Cloud and the gang free him and he joins them on their quest to save the world.
Vincent is one of the most melodramatic characters in VII, and that's saying a lot in a Final Fantasy game. "Hearing your stories has added upon me yet another sin," he moans after Cloud fills him in on their mission. "More nightmares will come to haunt me now!" Alright, mate. Calm down. But that's why I love Vincent. He's theatrical and bloody miserable, but he can also turn into a daft cartoon monster and chainsaw people to death.
Hates... Selphie Tilmitt (Final Fantasy VIII)
I feel a little bad for this, because Selphie is essentially blameless and quite lovely, really. But that's actually why I never bothered including her in my party when I played VIII. She's just too bouncy and eager to please, and almost sickeningly friendly and good-natured. I like my Final Fantasy characters to be sullen and moody, with a bit of an edge, and I never found Selphie's constant squawking and chirping all that endearing.
To be fair, she is responsible for some of the game’s funnier moments, particularly when she's trying to force Squall to crawl out of his impenetrable emo shell. But her cries of "Let's PAAH-TAY!" and chanting "SeeD! SeeeeeD! SeeeeeeD!" when she passes her field exam are just annoying. Although I will admit that it's pretty funny when she annoys cowboy sniper Irvine Kinneas by repeatedly calling him 'Irvy Kinnepoo'.
Selphie is the upbeat, light-hearted Final Fantasy character who gets hit extra hard when something tragic inevitably happens, and I'm generally fine with that archetype. But she has no chance when there are characters like Zell and Quistis to team up with instead, and given the chance, I'll always bench her for someone better. But maybe I'm just being a misery guts and she’s actually the heart and soul of the game. Nah.
Likes... Tifa Lockhart (Final Fantasy VII)
Tifa Lockhart is a badass. Not only is she an expert in martial arts, her slot machine-style, multi-hit Limit Break attack is super powerful. Even if mistimed this move can deal copious amounts of damage. But, if timed right, wow, it's a joy to watch unfold.
Moreover, Tifa's role in pretty much every story branch she features in is interesting. Her tour guide persona in the Nibelheim flashback frames her relationship with Cloud, Sephiroth and Zack. Her place in Avalanche as fighter-cum-gang hideout proprietor depicts her life before the events of FF7. The way she assumes control of the group in Cloud's Mako-induced absence highlights her leadership skills. Escaping a gas chamber before kicking Shinra exec Scarlet’s arse shows her resilience. Even her optional quests are good fun––not least fetching her Premium Heart Ultimate Weapon from the Sector 5 slums, which lets you both revisit an otherwise forgotten area and crack one of the game’s earliest puzzles.
Unlike, say, I dunno, Final Fantasy 10's Wakka, Tifa is crucial to so many parts of her game’s story. And she also carries a real weapon.
Hates... Wakka (Final Fantasy X)
There have been some right duff weapons in Final Fantasy over the years, not least Cait Sith's megaphones, Lulu's dolls and Edward's harps. But who brings a ball to a fight? Don't bother unsheathing that Celestial Caladbolg, mate, Wakka's brought his Mitre Tactic with him. I don't think so. Worse still, Wakka's weapon of choice is a Blitzball—the most tedious fictional sport in the history of videogames, by the way—which are light enough to be kicked and thrown around, yet this guy somehow reckons them more powerful than his counterparts' repertoire of swords, staffs and lances. Even with spikes tacked on, I'm not buying it.To make matters worse, Wakka's rubbish at Blitzball till Tidus turns up. And he appears to dislike the the Al Bhed simply because they follow a different religion. And he's a pain in the arse. Wakka is the worst.
Likes...Yuna (Final Fantasy X/X-2)
This is cheating, right? I'm pretty sure it's cheating. Yuna's character arc is the heart of Final Fantasy X's story. Without her, it's just a game about an obnoxious sports lad and his father who's now a space whale. I mean, that's a perfectly fine basis for a JRPG plot, but Square went the extra mile and made a character who grew and found hope and learned to enjoy life and all of that good stuff. And yet despite that, Yuna's only my favourite because she's also the protagonist of Final Fantasy X-2. (And yes, if you're reading this, chances are you think X-2 is a bad game. You're wrong, but let's not have that argument right now.) X-2 works because it gives Yuna a sense of normalcy. She saved the world in FFX, and was then free to do pretty much whatever she wanted. She chose to hang out in an airship with her cousin and an emo warrior. That's pretty baller, and a well deserved life after the emotional ruin of the first (tenth) game.
Hates...Cait Sith (Final Fantasy VII)
Samuel has this thing where he's almost constantly furious about Winston from Overwatch because of how quirky and naff his character design is. Cait Sith is my version of that. He's a cat, right? But he's on a fat Moogle, yeah? And, get this, both of them are robots remotely controlled by some dude in an office. It's a seemingly random assortment of design traits that amount to a giant trash mess. In-game, the polygonal character model is just a bouncing off-white pile of garbage nothing. On the Final Fantasy wiki, his occupation is listed as “Toysaurus”, which is awful. I was actually glad when he betrayed Cloud and co., because it meant I had a genuine excuse to want him to burn in a big fire. I hate his whole situation, completely and forever.
Twitch has spent the last several months incentivising its premium Prime service by offering its members free stuff. Monthly games, Fortnite cosmetics and now Final Fantasy 15 goodies can be claimed—the latter of which includes a new ride and some in-game cash.
The Kooky Bundle comes with a bright purple-coloured bird of the same name, and 10,000 gil. In this blog post, Twitch marketing person Joveth Gonzalez says the streaming platform is "just getting started" and that we should "be on the lookout for more rewards in the coming months." I assume this is in reference to Final Fantasy 15 itself, and not the games Twitch supports in general.
Here's a brief look at Kooky in motion:
Which reminds me of Final Fantasy 7's breeding system—whereby players breed yellow, blue, green, black, and golden variants, each with its own specific skills. It doesn't look like Kooky breeds bring anything to the table beyond a striking shade of purple, but if anyone's taken one for a spin do let me know in the comments south of here.
And since we're talking FF7, let me link to Samuel's words on why the superboss remains one of Final Fantasy's most exciting traditions. I unearthed some deep-seated, long-forgotten stressors when recounting the shit-tonne of times I died at the hands of Emerald and Ruby Weapon. Be warned if that applies to you.
Final Fantasy's hardest bosses are usually hiding somewhere, waiting to wipe out your party immediately. For Final Fantasy 15's PC release, the developers added a big spider robot called Omega, which is buried in a part of the Insomnia city map near the close of the game. It's described as a weapon forged to fell the gods—and when I ran past it on my way to another objective, it wiped out a party member's health in one hit.
I haven't beaten Omega, and I'm not sure I ever will. Final Fantasy 15's combat doesn't demand enough strategy to make for interesting boss fights, only long ones—exemplified by the slog that is the battle with mountain-turned-angry-turtle, Adamantoise—but in some ways the effect of knowing it's there is the best thing about Omega. That part of the city is no longer safe. It's ready to kill me.
This has always been the case with the 'Weapons' and superbosses from Final Fantasy games of the past: they're usually giant horror creatures, representing the game's ultimate challenge. It's not the idea of a long boss fight that's exciting to me—it's how they're presented.
Final Fantasy 10 was the first entry I played, back in 2002—I've since played them all. I'd gotten pretty good at the game's complex progression system and learned how to take down every boss quickly. It's not a hard game, as long as you don't skip random battles and keep your characters developing—but then I returned to Besaid Island, one of the game's opening areas, and met my first Final Fantasy superboss. You can see the scene play out above: the sky changes colour, a bald man screams 'infidel!' and a dark version of one of your summoned allies arrives to demolish your party. It's actually a bit spooky. Or at least, it seemed that way when I was 14.
That almost horror movie-like reveal technique is used in a few other Final Fantasy games, too. One of the most memorable for me is Ultima Weapon in Final Fantasy 8. You fly to an area known as the 'Deep Sea Facility', mysteriously placed in the middle of the ocean as a secret dungeon for the player to find. Once you reach the bottom of the facility, things get more bizarre: an alarm goes off, the rocks resonate and this thing suddenly attacks. The build up to the boss and the eerie sense of place is what makes it a great boss fight—not the fight itself, which is pretty easy if you've got Squall levelled up appropriately. Check out Bizkit047's video below to see what I mean (note: Squall has been renamed 'Kevin').
Go, Kevin, go! This is why I'm a big fan of Final Fantasy's superbosses. They're endgame content, not tied into the main story, so they offer value to keep playing after you've seen the credits—but the developers clearly think hard about the way such enemies are introduced, and what kind of atmosphere their presence creates. Omega is just the latest in a long line, and I love the way it's explained as a god killer, created by man. I can't be bothered to fight the thing, sure, but it's a cool explanation for why it exists.
Final Fantasy 7 has arguably the spookiest superboss of all: Emerald Weapon. Even though the game's dated visuals mean the creature doesn't have the same impact that it used to, this thing swims around the world's dark oceans, and can only be encountered in the submarine you obtain deep into the game. Sometimes it'll just hover right in front of you, and its location will be revealed by little bursts of air coming out of its sides, emerging from the dark. Like most Final Fantasy superbosses, it'll pretty much kill you in moments unless you've mastered the game's combat and progression systems.
Final Fantasy has many obvious traditions: chocobos, cactuars and a guy called Cid all spring to mind. But this is probably my favourite. I love the idea that mastery is hard fought in Final Fantasy, and that there's always the chance there's something else out there in the world, waiting to murder your party.
The wait for Final Fantasy 15 on PC has been long, following lots of talk about optimisation, mod support and nicer-looking hair. If you've waited fifteen months to play this roadtrip-themed action RPG, though, it looks fantastic, and arrives in a more complete form than it did on consoles.
Final Fantasy 15 represents a big transformation for the series. While previous entries are better-known for turn-based combat, or real-time with a complex strategic layer in the case of FF12, this is a pure action RPG—and a pretty simple one, at that. Your character, Noctis, rides around in a car with his three friends for most of the game. You can take on sidequests, hunts for specific creatures and tackle dungeons that unlock new weapons. The second half of the game is more linear, which doesn't play to the game's strengths as much. FF15 is at its best when it's focused on the idea of a road trip between four friends.
As well as including all of the updates from consoles, the Windows Edition arrives with all of the DLC released so far (the three character-centric standalone episodes Gladiolus, Prompto and Ignis, plus the multiplayer update Comrades) and many graphical upgrades. You also get a more embellished finale than the other platforms originally did, making what was a rushed closing chapter into a more satisfying (if still slightly incoherent) climax.
What Final Fantasy 15 is particularly good at is creating a spectacle. Fights feel grand and often earth-shattering, with battles against enormous creatures backed by operatic music that really heightens the sense of drama. Summons return to the series in their most extraordinary form yet—they're powerful giants that'll lay waste to most opponents in the game, even if you're not really in control of them. The graphical upgrades for PC only accentuate this strength of the game, with improved visual details and resolution options.
The world is gorgeous, and fun to explore. The four main characters do most of their travelling in the Regalia, their royal car. From the scenic and chilled out Galdin Quay, to the desert wastes of Hammerhead, or the the bustling town of Lestallum, the boys drive up and down across the map, chatting and admiring the scenery as they coast down the near-empty roads.
Cruising around is one of the best parts of the game in terms of low-key characterisation and world building. Rather than being a segment where you'll want to alt-tab away—although there’s something to be said for alt-tabbing during a ten-minute-long drive to a sidequest destination—the journey is a crucial part of the experience, even if the actual driving part is guided and pretty hands-off (though you can take the Regalia off-road at a certain point). It allows you to see little animations and smaller interactions between the crew as they ride along. They emphasise this feeling of a road trip, of a camaraderie between friends.
That said, it remains the simplest Final Fantasy game there’s ever been, and a weak open world RPG compared to the likes of The Witcher 3. Sidequests rarely amount to more than ‘collect this item or kill this thing for me’, and pretty much all of the supporting characters are forgettable.
The RPG part of Final Fantasy has been streamlined, here. Completing main quests gives you more than enough experience to keep up with the story’s level expectations. The Ascension Grid, FF15's progression system, provides little more than simple upgrades. Grinding is a thing of the past thanks to these changes, but it means there’s little incentive to deviate from the major story quests when your other options aren't particularly interesting.
Conversation choices don’t offer much aside from a little flavour, and there’s no real strategy in fights except stabbing enemies in their weak points and calling your buddies to do their special moves. It's not much of an RPG, really—not in the traditional sense.
Final Fantasy 15 lacks the depth a turn-based system arguably allows, but the level of spectacle does compensate for this on some level. Characters will team up for chain attacks that are beautifully animated, and your party's special moves let the combat to change pace. It's usually the longer fights where the lack of depth is highlighted, and you're mashing the same buttons over and over again.
There are just a couple of attack commands. While you can swap weapons out mid-fight for faster or slower attacks, the complex strategies you could pull off with status effects and the strengths of different party members in previous Final Fantasy games just aren’t here. The game’s one primary attack button can, pretty much, be held down to constantly attack. You can get through most of the basic fights in the game this way. There is Wait Mode, which pauses time if you stop moving, attacking, or doing anything, and acts as a way to assess a situation strategically, but it also breaks the flow of real-time combat unnecessarily.
The magic (referred to as Elemancy) is just as simple. You have to absorb Fire, Ice, or Lightning elements found around the world, crafting spells with elements and special catalysts that can improve the effects. The limitations creep in when you run out of elements, though, and you’ve got to run across the map to find a new resource point to replenish stocks. They’re few and far between, meaning Elemancy isn’t a viable way to fight every battle. It’s nigh-on impossible to turn Noctis into a Black Mage.
On a story level, at least, it feels more like a traditional Final Fantasy game—there's just not that much of it in the game. Noctis becoming a king and freeing the world from darkness take a distant second place to the relationship between him and his best friends. That friendship is conveyed in so many interesting and effective ways: through the high fives they perform after a successful battle, their in-game conversations or their commentary on the photos that document each in-game day. It's hard not to be won over by the earnestness of it.
The visual improvements here show that the Windows Edition is the definitive version of Final Fantasy 15: it has never looked better, and mod support suggests an exciting future ahead for the game. It's a shame that FF15 doesn't recapture the depth of the series’ past entries, and games like The Witcher 3 and Divinity: Original Sin 2 really highlight the weaknesses in the sidequests here. This road trip, though, is still well worth taking.
Final Fantasy 15 released to PC last week, and if you're looking for a performance bump from your Radeon hardware, AMD promises to oblige with its latest Adrenalin 18.3.2 driver release.
According to AMD's internal benchmarking, the new GPU driver package delivers up to 4 percent better performance in Final Fantasy 15 when using a Radeon RX Vega 64 and playing at 1920x1080. If you're running a Radeon RX 580 graphics card at the same resolution, AMD says you can expect up to 7 percent faster performance.
This is the second driver release from AMD that contains optimizations for Final Fantasy 15. Unlike the previous one, however, the 18.3.2 release also contains a bug fix to eliminate "minor stutter during some particle effects" in the game.
There are still a handful of known issues that need addressed. They include:
Follow this link to download the new driver release.
Peter "Durante" Thoman is a PC modder known for the Dark Souls mod DSFix. He's previously written about what optimization really means in games and recently helped develop Xseed's PC port of Trails of Cold Steel 2.
Final Fantasy 15 was released on PC this week, and there are many facets of this release to celebrate: it includes all the standard features expected of a PC game, a wealth of PC-exclusive graphical effects and assets, and even some official modding support. It's clearly a high-effort production. Still, a large part of the conversation online has centered on Final Fantasy 15's use of Denuvo DRM, and a workaround that let people play (and pirate) the game early.
Whenever a game uses Denuvo, some people claim the DRM has a negative performance impact. Others disagree. For me, this conflict invites a more detailed examination. And Final Fantasy 15 provides a great opportunity for that: its free demo executable does not use Denuvo and can run some of the exact same scenes and assets as the full game.
After hours of testing, I found no obvious measurable impact of Denuvo on performance in Final Fantasy 15—but that's not quite the full story.
From what is commonly understood about how Denuvo (or any DRM) works, it is exceedingly unlikely for it to affect GPU performance in any way. So to isolate and maximize its potential effects, I chose the settings for all benchmarks that would minimize GPU load while producing the maximum possible CPU load. This was achieved by putting all options at their highest setting, but rendering at 50% of 1280x720 resolution—basically as low as I could go. Nvidia Gameworks settings other than Turf Effects were disabled, as they primarily cause GPU load. This resulted in the test system (an i7 5820k with a GTX1080) being CPU-bound across the board.
Note that this setup inherently creates a worst-case scenario for Denuvo: in a more realistic setup, in most modern games, most gaming PCs are far more likely to be partially or entirely GPU-bound rather than CPU-bound when it comes to performance. This worst-case selection is intentional, as we want to determine the most dramatic possible effect Denuvo might have.
A common, reasonable guess about DRM is that it takes a heavier performance toll on slower CPUs than faster ones. To test this as well, all benchmarks were performed with the game having access to 12, 6, 4, 2 and 1 hardware threads, and at 4.1 GHz as well as 3.1 GHz. Of course, both versions of the game were installed to the same SSD.
Determining reproducible testing locations proved a challenge, as game saves are not portable between the final retail and the demo version. As such, I had to resort to manually recreating the exact location, camera angle, and time of day of each of the three testing scenes in both the retail game and the demo version. The screenshot above shows me manually aligning one of the locations. The performance numbers in that screenshot are meaningless—obviously I did not run two instances of the game concurrently for actual benchmarking.
I ended up testing three scenes:
Without further ado, let’s look at the numbers that were the reward for all this set-up work.
In the first benchmark scene—which was also the most consistently reproducible—there were absolutely no differences in performance between the release and demo version that can be classified as statistically meaningful. This was the case regardless of the number of cores accessible to the game, and also regardless of CPU clock speed (not pictured, see the full results here).
Scenes 2 and 3 look somewhat more interesting:
In scene 2, the release version is 3.5% slower in the geometric mean across core counts, while in scene 3 the release version is 5.6% faster in the same metric. While these differences are still small, they are sufficiently large and repeatable to qualify as more than measurement errors.
Does this mean that Denuvo slows down the game in scene 2, but then turns around and speeds up scene 3? I very highly doubt it. It seems far more likely that—due to the open world nature of the game and the lack of direct save portability—the benchmark situations are simply not exactly equivalent.
Overall, these results paint a rather clear picture: Denuvo does not affect in-game performance negatively in Final Fantasy 15.
From what is publicly known about the implementation of Denuvo, its integration likely requires game developers to select a subset of functions to be protected. If this is done well, as it appears to be in Final Fantasy XV, then nothing that is called often during a normal gameplay frame will be affected. What, then, about a commonly CPU-bound, far less frequent, but still fundamental operation—loading?
For these experiments I had to implement a rather exhaustive testing scheme to make them truly repeatable: I always load the same sequence of areas, warm up caches with an initial loading phase, and repeated each measurement at least 3 times (more if there was an outlier). The number I report is the median time it takes from clicking “yes” on the loading prompt until the game is fully faded in at the loaded location.
The chart above shows the loading times with 2, 4 and 6 cores available to the game in the release and demo versions. There is a measurable, though small, difference, and this difference persists across multiple measurements and game restarts. It also occurs similarly in both other scenes, and overall the demo version shows a 6.7% geometric mean improvement in loading times compared to the final release.
Does this mean that Denuvo slows down loading in FFXV? Not necessarily. While both executables are using the same asset base, there might be another code difference. However, unlike the in-game performance analysis, these results do show a consistent albeit minor difference across the tested scenes and hardware configurations.
Given all this data, it would be a shame not to have a quick look at the CPU performance of the game independently of Denuvo. It’s clear that, at its highest settings, Final Fantasy 15 is a rather demanding game CPU-wise—though not so demanding that it will be noticeable in most normal setups given the degree to which it can put GPU resources to good use. Even at the highest settings, the results show that a modern quad-core CPU is sufficient to maintain 60 fps, and 2 fast cores seem to still be enough to remain above the 30 fps mark. Do note though that I haven’t done enough experiments to see whether this holds for minimum frame rates, or for streaming during fast traversal of the map.
What appears clear beyond any reasonable doubt in all the results is that FF15 has very good parallel scaling. In all tested scenes, its performance scales linearly from 1 to 2 cores, almost linearly to 4, and still rather well to 6 cores. It does not appear to benefit from hardware multithreading, but this is generally true of most games.
I am personally against DRM, since I consider both the preservation and the moddability of games to be incredibly important, particularly on PC. And I have been fortunate to collaborate with a publisher that allows all games I have worked on to be released completely DRM free, so I can put my money where my mouth is.
That said, whether we consider DRM counter-productive or stupid does not have any bearing on a performance assessment. And for FF15, the results of such an assessment—performed as scientifically as possible under the circumstances—are these:
Given that Denuvo comes in many different flavours, with continuously updated versions, and that its actual integration process depends on a number of developer decisions, these results do not necessarily hold true with all other games. Nonetheless, I consider it confirmed by this study that a competent implementation of current Denuvo on a high-end game can be used without any meaningful in-game performance impact.
Does that mean you should use it or approve of its use? No, I don't think so, but not because of performance reasons.
Final Fantasy XV has its first mod, and while it's slightly disappointing that Sonic isn't involved, I think we can all agree that it's wise to start where all good mods should: with performance enhancements. This one's the work of Kaldaien, who, among other things, helped make Nier: Automata play a bit nicer on PC.
Of course, XV hasn't had anywhere near the severity of issues Nier: Automata did, but if you've noticed long load times and "hitches during heavy texture streaming", it's probably to do with the SteamAPI rather than Denuvo, according to Kaldaien in his notes.
"It has come to my attention that the game loads input icons synchronously any time it sees input on keyboard/mouse or gamepad," Kaldaien writes. "This means if you are using a gamepad generally but you hit a button on your keyboard [you experience a] hitch. If you use keyboard/mouse but hit the analog stick [another] hitch."My own mod framework (Special K) is capable of working around this by preventing the game from seeing input events on devices of your choosing."
Check out the mod over here.
What's cool about seeing my PC Gamer colleagues pick up Final Fantasy 15 now is how they talk about the things I loved about the game 15 months ago, when I first played it on console. That is, the damn tasty-looking food that always makes my stomach roar with hunger, which Tyler wrote about yesterday, and the in-game photography feature, which provides you with snapshots of the characters' journey that they'll comment on at the end of each day. Both are elements that were new to Final Fantasy with the fifteenth entry—but they got people talking about the game more than anything else, by being laser-targeted at players who love to share screenshots online.
Both features speak to the game's earnest and goofy charm. Final Fantasy 15 is not the best RPG in the series—not in any traditional sense, when it comes to combat, progression, and that sort of thing. But the actual journey through its world is among the series' most enjoyable. It dials in on that specific feeling of travelling with a party in an RPG and makes that the entire game. In older FFs, you mostly walked silently through gorgeous surroundings with your party off-screen, and the sense of journey would be conveyed through cutscenes and occasional in-battle dialogue. Here, all four members of your party are on-screen at all times, and they constantly interact with each other—it makes a hell of an impact.
"There were three key words we had on the board when we started out development of the game: comrades, car, journey," FF15's game development manager Kenichi Shida told me in London a few weeks ago. It shows. I couldn't tell you much about the main story of Final Fantasy 15—the kingdom of Lucis falls, Noctis is getting married to someone you see about four times in the whole game, a seemingly immortal guy called Ardyn is the villain—but that's because the game is bad at traditional RPG save-the-world stuff. Anything that isn't about the four main characters is incoherent and rarely that interesting.
I don't think Final Fantasy necessarily needed saving (FF14's loyal playerbase can attest to that), but Square Enix did need to figure out what a modern version of a singleplayer FF looked like. A friend of mine teaches English to young children in Tokyo. Over lunch at Christmas, he told me that his students love Nintendo's Splatoon and various mobile games, but regard Final Fantasy as their 'parents' game'. This was just anecdotal, and I'm not saying it's evidence of anything, obviously, but it did remind me of something that FF15 director Hajime Tabata said to Game Informer back in 2016. "The gravest situation of all was that, at the time we were starting Final Fantasy 15, we didn't see an increase in new fans of the franchise."
When I grew up, Final Fantasy was still in what I would loosely term a golden age, which began during the '90s and arguably ended with Final Fantasy 12 in 2006. If you're 15 now, which is the age I was during my peak interest in the series, singleplayer Final Fantasy has never been world class in the time you've been playing games. I get the caution that led to FF15 being an action RPG set in an open world: it's not impossible for entire genres to fall out of favour.
Final Fantasy XV brings the series into the era of games like The Witcher 3 and Skyrim, but with a tone that's still in line with the series' best entries. It feels modern, and Square Enix hasn't achieved that since FF12, even if I don't totally buy the narrative that the FF13 trilogy was a giant misstep (it still brought great combat systems and interesting experiments with structure).
What it lost in the transition was depth. Final Fantasy 15 is pretty simple by the series' standards. It's structured in a way that'll feel familiar to anyone who's played an open world game, but for a series that has an impressive history of complex progression systems that are easy to grasp, this game does not have that. There's the Ascension Grid, which offers a progression path, but it's so simple compared to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy 10 or junctioning magic in Final Fantasy VIII.
One of 15's post-game battles is with Adamantoise, a mountain that turns into a giant angry tortoise, and beating that on PS4 was simply a matter of spamming buttons and repeated use of buffs. You have a few options to use your party's abilities in combat, but there aren't loads of enemies that can't just be defeated by hitting them repeatedly. The flipside is, the spectacle of battles is often extraordinary, helped by lavish animations, often gigantic enemies and excellent battle themes, which the series has always been good at.
Even though I find arguments about what counts as an RPG deeply tedious, I don't think Final Fantasy needed to jettison as much as it did to stand up as a modern open world game. Not that I found it particularly hard to find reasons to stay in that world—I played 114 hours on PS4, and if a mod scene takes off on PC, I'll play many more hours on top of that. But in-depth combat and progression systems are as much a part of the series' DNA as spiky-haired teenagers, cactuars and chocobos. Perhaps future entries will develop that side of things more, but I can't see the series prioritising turn-based combat again after FFXV sold 6.6 million copies. Non-linear games seem to represent the future of singleplayer for major publishers.
Final Fantasy 15 excels in other areas, however. That journey, unfinished as it feels in its second half, as you only get snapshots of a world you can't fully explore, succeeds in conveying a real sense of journey for these four characters. This friendship is presented so earnestly, with none of the cynicism or wariness that you expect from modern media, and that makes it easy to celebrate even when it falls short as a traditional RPG.