Active Time Lore Is The Best Part Of Final Fantasy 16
I've been excited to play Final Fantasy XVI for ages, but after hearing about Game of Thrones' influence on the game, I was afraid I'd be overwhelmed by dense fantasy lore. While worldbuilding can be as simple as creating fictional characters and cities, some creators dive in deeply, crafting pantheons of gods, hundreds of years of wars and conflict, and even entire languages. While it makes the world more believable, it can be incredibly disorienting for an audience to be thrust headfirst into a sea of unfamiliar proper nouns, especially before they have a chance to get to know the world's characters. Lucky for me, the developers behind Final Fantasy XVI completely anticipated this and introduced a solution: the Active Time Lore mechanic.
During any cutscene in FFXVI, you can hold the touchpad on the DualSense controller to conjure up a glossary of definitions and character bios relevant to that moment in the story. It's perfect for when you forget a character's name or want to refresh your memory of which nation is which. And because it only discusses terms relevant to that moment in the cutscene, it's approachable and digestible, limiting itself to a handful of definitions at any given time.
Active time lore has also allowed me to remember certain details about FFXVI's world of Valisthea by associating them with images. Even though I have no hearing issues, I always have subtitles on because I can process names and places much more easily if I can tell how they're spelled. Active Time Lore takes this one step further by letting you take a look at the fantasy term in question.
For example, country names are presented with an image of their flag, so I've been able to quickly make the association between a few nations and their respective flags' primary colors, even though I'm only a few hours in. And characters are always presented with an image of their face, so people bad at associating names with faces might have an easier time remembering who's who.
The Active Time Lore mechanic would also be useful if you took an extended break from the game. Whether you bounced off or just got busy with other things in your life, whenever you come back, you can refresh your memory on important characters and events much more quickly than previous Final Fantasy titles.
To go even more in-depth and learn about story elements you might have missed during a cutscene, you can visit Harpocrates and his Thousand Tomes in Cid's Hideaway, a hub found early in the game. As you visit him throughout your adventure, you can tell Harpocrates about the things you've seen and the people you've encountered, and he'll update his archives accordingly. Not only does the Thousand Tomes allow you to review any Active Time Lore entry, but it also provides quick suggestions for other entries you might want to brush up on. For example, the entry for "Eikon" might link you to "Dominant," "Magic," and "Crystal."
In theory, you could just Google all the fantasy nouns you need a refresher on, but I'm glad to avoid that. For one, this is just way more convenient. Even if it would only take a few seconds to whip out my phone, I'd much rather have it at the tap of a button, especially when I don't have to guess how to spell made-up words. The internet is also rife with spoilers. Even something as innocuous as typing a character's name into a search engine will often immediately fill in suggestions spoiling death scenes or plot twists. Active Time Lore updates entries as you progress through the story, sometimes even creating entries for characters you don't know the name of yet.
This Active Time Lore system is also, crucially, a completely optional mechanic. If you enjoy being dunked headfirst into Valisthea's pool of countries and characters, more power to you! You never need to use Active Time Lore, but it's always an option just in case you forget which country is a Duchy, which is a Republic, and which is a Kingdom. And while the story is fully comprehensible otherwise, this gives the writing team a little more room to tell the story without massive dumps of exposition.
While it might not be a big deal for some, Active Time Lore is one of my favorite things about Final Fantasy 16 and a great example of why I love experiencing stories through video games. It takes advantage of the interactive nature of the medium to deepen my understanding of the story; it's not just a story I enjoy that also takes place in a video game, but a story I enjoy because it takes place in a video game. Make no mistake – I've enjoyed Final Fantasy 16 a lot more specifically because of this mechanic. Knowing every character’s name and their allegiances really helps me skip past the lore barrier I was afraid of and properly get invested in the plot.
Now I just need to figure out how to convince From Software to add this mechanic to Elden Ring…