Today Final Fantasy spin-offs are everywhere, but in 1997, the idea of a title bearing the family name that wasn’t part the mainline series was unthinkable. Not only that, but Final Fantasy Tactics, a historical and tactical role-playing game, bears few resemblances to its namesakes, save for a few Chocobos and oversize broadswords.Nevertheless, it emerged not only as one of the best titles in the series, but also of all time. A beautifully balanced and executed turn-based strategy game that matches its grand narrative with deep, rewarding mechanics. Battles take place on three-dimensional isometric fields that are overlaid with a grid. For each unit’s turn, you move a certain number of squares (depending on the character’s class and clothing) before executing an attack on an enemy unit. If your unit is a knight, you will need the target to be in an adjacent square, but if you are controlling an archer or mage, you can use ranged attacks from afar. Every action, from a sword swipe to drinking a potion, earns experience points (to level up your character) and job points (to increase their abilities in their chosen specialization). It is a classic system the likes of which will be familiar to fans of Disgaea et al, but rarely have these mechanics felt as solid and workable as they do here.Despite attracting widespread praise from the video game press for its plot, soundtrack, deep and involving game play and intricate art from Akihiko Yoshida, the game was only a niche hit outside of Japan, not making it to European shores until the superlative PSP re-release, subtitled War of the Lions. For this remake the game’s dialogue underwent a much needed re-translation from the original Japanese and, for this reason, the more recent version is recommended.When it was released, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was unfairly assumed by critics and fans to be inferior to the original Final Fantasy Tactics (and its PSP remake, The War of the Lions). Unfairly because although the two games were ostensibly similar, they excelled in very different ways, and, while the Advance was perhaps too easy, it contained an infinite variety of strategy. This variety is most evident off the battlefield, in the way you nurture and develop your characters to maximize their abilities.Grimoire of the Rift returns to the world of Ivalice, modeling itself on Advance rather than the original Tactics. The battles are still too easy, but, as in the previous game, the real challenge is in how you develop your clan, steering them through the various character classes to pick up skills and combos that expand your tactical horizons. As in so many other games, the point is not so much beating the game, but beating it well, and with style.And visual style is something that is clearly important to the creators of the game. The precise re-creation of Ivalice is one of many delightful touches: The towns and villages and their inhabitants are as breathtaking as the cut scenes in which they are recreated during Final Fantasy XII, for example, and the lush jungle battlefields seem to teem with life. The style of the game, though, is the strategic equivalent of a free-roaming sandbox, giving players the freedom to go anywhere and do anything, choosing to follow the main quest or ignore it in favor of the auction houses or hundreds of subquests. This is nothing less than one of the most interesting realms in Square Enix’s long and illustrious history of world building.