Review: Final Fantasy XIV Immerse Gamepack
Not gonna lie, I was excited when I got the code for the Immerse Gamepack. The audio for Final Fantasy XIV is already great, with Soken constantly pumping out new, fabulous tracks and the devs behind the sound engineering always at the top of their game.
It’s important to note, though, that the gamepack does not affect the background music of the game and only modifies certain ambient sounds. The track that plays when you’re around a lot of other players, or that random bird off in the distance, for example, will see no improvements. What you are going to get out of it are player- and NPC-made audio, like weapons striking monsters and their subsequent grunts, the sound of your feet on the ground, or that blacksmith pounding away on their anvil across the aetheryte plaza.
The product itself is made by Embody, (a fairly new company that already has many projects and products offered all across the audio landscape), and retails at $19.99 as a one-time, non-subscription purchase.
So! Now that you know what the product is supposed to do, let’s examine if it manages it!
Installation & Setup
I started my trial out right before the application’s latest 2.0 update and getting to see the difference between the starting process of both really gave the impression that the devs are constantly looking for ways to improve it. Prior to the update, once you’ve completely installed and opened the Gamepack, you’re presented a QR code which starts the process of scanning your ear via your phone. The directions are clear, easy, and the whole thing is quite fast, but here’s where I thought, “Just one ear? What if my ears are different?” The 2.0 update has you scan both. Apparently the ear scan also reads minds.
Once you’ve gotten your ears mapped out, the app translates that into something called an HRTF profile, which tells the audio the correct way to bounce off your ear shapes to give you that “personalized 360 spatial audio” experience which is the point of this product. They give you ten of these profiles total, so up to ten people using your devices could theoretically have their own.
But – and this is where we start to talk about my experience actually using the software – I think it’s more likely they give you ten so that you have ten tries to get your profile right. Even if you delete a previous HRTF Profile, you don’t get one of your chances back. As you can see, I’ve already used five of mine:
Sure is a pretty menu, though, huh? With very evident “Help” and “Email Support” buttons there on the bottom right, which, if your experience is like mine, you will need to use.
After you’ve set your profile and opened up the game, you pull up your Sound Settings in System Configuration, scroll aaaall the way down to the bottom, click on the little check box, and hit “Apply.” Then you’re set. And I hope, I really hope, that’s all you have to do, but I had no such luck.
Does It Work?
I’d done this whole process at my FC house so that I could immediately see what it would sound like to smack a striking dummy with my new, fancy sound settings. So it was with glee that I whipped out my chakrams, gave ’em that whirling Dancer toss… and scrunched up my nose.
It sounded bad — but of course not just simply “bad,” it was more nuanced than that. I could tell the audio was placed like it ought to be, there was an obvious difference between the two spatially, but it was like I was jamming my fingers into my ears. And I wasn’t, I swear! This couldn’t be the way the program was supposed to work. I have friends who use and love it, so I pulled up the trusty FAQ.
What I got out of that is that you need to have your Character Listening Position set to 100, which was something the setup instructions had already told me. Also, having multiple spatial audio and/or surround sound affecting products running simultaneously often means those programs will interfere with one another, but that was not my problem either. I thought maybe the issue was that my ear scan was wonky, so I tried a couple more of those with no result.
So I went to scour the web and found a whole lot more nothing, save for that some people had issues with Hz frequencies being inconsistent. I checked those on my normal headphones (for those curious: Bose SoundLink On-Ear Bluetooth Wireless Headphones) to no avail, so I tried another pair (Logitech G FITS Earbuds) on a different frequency.
Nothin’. I was stumped, which brings us back to those help buttons on that Immerse Menu.
I was put in contact with the Immerse team via a product affiliate, and after a little email hiccup, they got right on it. I did get the initial round of, “Are you tech illiterate and did you forget these obvious things?” questions, but that’s their job, leave no stone unturned, and maybe I had forgotten something obvious.
We quickly moved onto the second round of questions. What headset was I using? Was it wireless? Did being wired make a difference? Was I using any tertiary sound equipment? What sound types were muffled (as I had described it)? After that round, the team sent me a new, modified HRTF profile they’d tweaked themselves.
And you know what? It was actually better. Things were still a little muffled and a bit tinny in quality, but it was leaps and bounds more tolerable than what I’d started with. Here’s a little preview of both so you can decide for yourself:
My contact explained to me that it’s hard to completely avoid any “timbral coloration” during the spatialization process, and that every listener is going to experience it differently. Your experience could absolutely be different than mine, and I encourage interested parties to give the Gamepack’s trial a go before you buy it. And if you end up having the same issues I did, you can hit up the team at [email protected] for some no-nonsense, quick turn-around support.
Unfortunately, the actual quality of the sound is just a bit higher on my priority list than “360 spatial audio,” and Final Fantasy XIV‘s default surround sound is hardly terrible. So, after my journey to get the Immerse Gamepack to a useable state, I ended up deciding to turn that feature off.
That said, my interaction with the team, and what I experienced from the update does make me think that they take pride in their work and gives me hope that they will continue to improve upon it. The next time they release an update, I fully intend to try it out again.
Review code provided by Square Enix. Video captured by the reviewer. Images captured by the reviewer or from the Immerse website. A member of the Gamer Escape team, though not the reviewer, is currently an Immerse affiliate.