The Luminous engine blew our mind back when it was teased in 2012, the long-awaited Final Fantasy Versus which later turned out to be Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) was the first game powered by it.
Final Fantasy XV launched on consoles in 2016 followed by a PC release in 2018. Square Enix has poured a significant amount of time and money to develop their Luminous Engine. So it comes as a surprise when their next game, Final Fantasy 7 Remake (FF7) turns out to be powered by Unreal Engine 4. FF7 Remake has a long history of being stuck in development limbo, spanning multiple generations of consoles before finally being released on the PS4.
This isn’t Square Enix’s first rodeo with the Unreal Engine though as they have already made a stunning looking game, Kingdom Hearts 3 using the UE4. Kingdom Hearts 3 benefited heavily from the feature set of the UE4 in crafting its CGI look. And fortunately due to its art style it didn’t require very high-resolution textures. This acts as an Achilles heel as we will see further down in the article.
The guys over at Digital Foundry took an extensive look at the technical aspects and performance of FF7 Remake which can be summarized below.
The Move to Epic’s Unreal Engine 4
The Luminous Engine had a fair share of issues when it debuted with FFXV with motion blur and TAA. Moving to Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) brings a plethora of features like Temporal Anti-Aliasing (TAA), GPU accelerated particles, per-object motion blur. Most of these post-process effects were either absent or not implemented as well as it is on UE4. It has that signature UE4 look to it which is unmissable. For reference, check out Kingdom Hearts 3, another JRPG that uses Unreal Engine 4.
The per-object motion blur can be very effective as seen in titles like Wolfenstein series, combined with the camera motion blur gives a very convincing CGI film look to the cutscenes. These cutscenes also transition to gameplay very smoothly, so much so that it is impossible to know when exactly it happens. Although the cutscenes use both forms of motion blur the gameplay disables camera motion blur which is actually a good choice by the devs.
All the lighting was dynamic with Global illumination and the correct time of day in FFXV. Unlike FFXV some of the lightings like indirect lighting are baked and precalculated shadows are used. This doesn’t affect the world of FF7 much as most battles and scenarios are set during a particular time of the story. This helps in extracting that extra bit of performance which can be used elsewhere.
As a whole, UE4 helps deliver a gorgeous looking game in the way of Final Fantasy 7 remake. Even though FFXV was a beautiful game, to begin with, the post-process effects offered by UE4 elevates this game to a new level.
Solid Performance on Consoles?
Coming to the performance side of things, the PS4 pro runs at a dynamic resolution with an upper bound of 2880*1620 (or 1620p) while going down to 1368p during heavy combat. The good news is this helps in keeping the framerate solidly locked to 30fps. The heavy combat scenarios must hammer the GPU with all the particle effects which aren’t common. So it is a win when it comes to performance for Square.
The base PS4 seems to run at a native 1920*1080 (1080p) without any dynamic resolution. Even though the game seems to be running at 1080p we cannot rule out dynamic resolution entirely. But the PS4 seems to hold up the same resolution even during the scenarios which bogged the PS4 pro down. And the performance also seems to be stable like the PS4 Pro.
Textures Holding Back Greatness
Not everything is as rosy as it might seem, this is especially true with the texture work. While the protagonist and other primary characters are modeled with high detail, some of the environment textures don’t share the same high fidelity/resolution. The high res textures make the low res environmental textures glaringly obvious and give an inconsistent look to the presentation.
At points, it’s so bad that one can mistake it for a graphical bug which it might as well be but there haven’t been any updates addressing it yet. This is especially surprising as the reactor and the subsequent level are expertly crafted. It is only after you enter the slum region that it starts showing up. There is also noticeable texture pop-in when moving swiftly.
Texture pop-in is usually a result of not managing LoD properly and slower read speeds of HDDs. And hence DigitalFoundry did see improvements with pop-ins after switching to an SSD, but the low res textures remained unaffected. This can only mean that the problem is with the design of the game itself and not a technical glitch. We can attribute the low-resolution textures to the bandwidth constraints and lower memory of the PS4.
Hopefully, we can see these issues addressed with the arrival of the next-generation consoles. Sony especially seems to be very keen on addressing streaming, bandwidth and SSD read speed, all of which play into the problems that are being faced by FF7 Remake.