Have you heard about Final Fantasy 14’s grapes? Once upon a time, they were the talk of Eorzea – repurposed crystal shapes with a nice, lush grape texture pasted over the top. Introduced in the Endwalker expansion, these low-poly prolate spheroids quickly became an internet sensation.
Sure, there was an edge of mockery to people’s obsession with the grapes, but it wasn’t all mean-spirited – I think a lot of the overblown fan reaction came down to FF14 players being genuinely impressed at the ingenuity of repainting a crystal. With grapes. It helped save resources elsewhere in the game and allowed FF14 to run butter-smooth. Everyone’s a winner! (Except vitis vinifera enthusiasts, that is).
Square Enix is keen to make amends in Final Fantasy 16, though. The game – as many of you will know if you’ve played the demo – is one of the most polished, well-honed releases we’ve seen in a while. Even the not-so-important assets and areas look incredible, and the way Square Enix Creative Business Unit 3 (that’s the developer) has wrangled the lighting engine to constantly reflect the glint of Clive’s sword and highlight the edges of his handsome face is proper, current-gen magic. So props to the devs.
One area you can really see an improvement in is – yes, you guessed it – the grapes. The asset is used quite a few times throughout the game, but the most common place you’ll clock the grapes is in an area you’ll get to visit fairly early on: the Oribelle Downs. These bucolic little foothills produce the wine you’ll see practically every NPC quaff in almost every scene near the start of the game, and seems to be the pride and joy of the lushes of Valisthea.
But inspect them closely. Get yourself right up to the vines and stick your nose in. Take in the bouquet, ogle the soft-baked light dappled on the luxurious red skin of the fruit. What do you see? Honest to god polygons, so many you can damn near taste them. Boot up Photo Mode (pause, then hit the touchpad on the character screen) and pretend you’re a sommelier – rotate, zoom, appraise. These are some damn good grapes.
It almost feels like Square Enix had a point to prove, here. Final Fantasy 16 represents a bold new step for the franchise, and rewrites and re-examines a lot of the fundamentals that made the series what it is today. I won’t spoil anything here, but the characters in the game often say the quiet parts out loud, and draw some pretty obvious analogies to the impact of legacy, and the importance of breaking away from it.
The grapes represent a visual metaphor for that, really: these aren’t the make-do grapes of Final Fantasy 14, Macgyver’d into the game add a sense of place whilst saving on processing power. These new grapes are a dedicated asset – shown off proudly in an area you’ll come back to over and over. It’s as if Square Enix is saying, ‘look, we know you all had a good laugh at us before, but look. Look! Grapes!’ before holding them right up to your face and practically forcing them into your mouth.
we will miss you, grapes 🍇 you were truly remarkable
— FINAL FANTASY XIV (@FF_XIV_EN) December 21, 2021
The fact these grapes warrant their own story may seem absurd to you – but honestly, Google ‘FF14 grapes’ and you will see how much the world at large loves (or loved) the low-poly grapes that became a symbol of FF14’s journey from failed MMORPG to worldwide megahit.
FF16 made a big song and dance about not needing any patches at launch in order to, y’know, work, (even ifit did need a little optimisation update, in the end) and I can see why: the graphics, the world, and the sense of place is so complete in Valisthea that I spent a good 20 minutes ogling a bloody grape asset. That tells you all you need to know, really.
Our good friends at Digital Foundry were also big fans of the grapes. Not only did they provide us with those lovely grape images above, but they featured grapes in their brilliant technical analysis of Final Fantasy 16, which you can watch below.