Final Fantasy 14: How to improve the graphics quality?

A guide/tutorial about how to improve the graphics quality with a shader that's not available ingame

Some people use the external shader "Stormshade" to improve the gfx quality of Final Fantasy 14. While this is useful for screenshots, for casual gaming this is mostly counterproductive, because you can only make the already near-perfect ingame colors worse. While you can have a setting that looks good in one zone or at a specific time of the day, it looks bad in another zone or at another time: Too much color, too dark areas and so on.

After playing around with all shaders, there seem to be only three exceptions (at least for me):

  1. HDR/FakeHDR
  2. SMAA
  3. MXAO

While HDR/FakeHDR increases the contrast and enhances small color differences and SMAA has a better anti-aliasing than FF14's standard FXAA filter, the MXAO shader improves the graphics quality a lot, because it introduces ambient occlusion.

Let's see the difference:

Without shaders:
  With MXAO shader:

You can see that the shadows are far more realistic: E.g. the hair blocks the lighting and the face is darker under the hair.

How to install all this?

Step 1 - Install Stormshade

Download: https://github.com/Otakumouse/stormshade (click "Clone or download" and then "Download ZIP")

Install guide: https://stormshade.otakumouse.com/installation-guide/

Step 2 - Install the latest version of qUINT(mxao)

Download: https://github.com/martymcmodding/qUINT (click "Clone or download" and then "Download ZIP")

Unzip the files and copy the files from the "Shaders" folder to your corresponding StormShade shader folder.

Important: You need to edit the "qUINT_mxao.fx" file with an editor (don't use the windows editor! Better use e.g. Notepad++) and change line 35 to:

#define MXAO_SMOOTHNORMALS 1

This will improve the shadow quality, because FF14 has an old rendering engine (game objects have a low amount of polygons - this needs to be compensated with the option above).

Step 3 - Install KeepUI/RestoreUI

All shaders are also applied to all UI elements, which makes them hard to read.
This shader keeps and restores the UI properly:

Download: https://gist.github.com/seri14/50a7697e4616db7654215f738d1d5659

Step 4 - Change the load order of the shaders

  1. FFKeepUI
  2. MXAO
  3. HDR
  4. SMAA
  5. FFRestoreUI

Step 5 - Twiddle the parameters

I spent hours to find the best MXAO parameters for FF14 that will look good in nearly every situation:

Sample quality: 64 (or lower if you have a slow graphics card)
Sample radius: 1.5
Normal bias: 0
Render scale size: 1.0
Ambient occlusion amount: 1.2
Blending mode: 0
Fade out start: 0.3
Fade out end: 0.4

SMAA: To properly use the SMAA shader, you need to disable the ingame FXAA filter.

END OF TUTORIAL.
Written by Tobias Wiersch for Final Fantasy 14 Patch 5.0 (Final Fantasy 14 is a trademark of Square Enix). Last change: 2019-09-11 (V1)

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