Great narrative and brilliant characters make Tales of Symphonia a lengthy RPG that most people will simply adore.
You play as Lloyd Irving, an orphan who is a friend of Colette and lives in the same town as her. Joining you on your adventure at first is your friend Genis Sage, and his older sister Raine. After a while, a mysterious mercenary named Kratos Aurion, who may just be too badass for his own good, accompanies you and guides you in your journey. You'll also be joined by a number of other characters throughout the game that will join your party and all have their own unique back-story and fighting style.
The main plot of the game may come off as somewhat mundane at first, but within a few hours it really picks up with countless numbers of twists that'll keep you on your toes. The story keeps a good pace throughout the 50-hour quest, and you'll rarely get bored because there isn't much grinding involved. The writing is expertly done and supports the story strongly. Some situations touch on serious themes, such as exile and racism. For example, Genis and Rain are half-elves, and in Sylvarant elves and half-elves are treated with much disrespect. This really helps bring the world to life and make it a tad more realistic, in an emotional sense. The characters all have great personalities and emotions, and you'll most likely connect with them on a good level. They all have traits that help to make them believable. The voice acting is top notch, although there's a few instances where some lines will come off as cheesy and cliché, but it's not that big of a problem. There are also a number of text only skits in the game. They're triggered by pressing the Z button when you see the title of the skit appear in the corner of the screen, and are usually just a few lines of dialogue between characters to show their emotions and to clear up some iffy parts of the story. Every now and then you'll get to watch an anime style cut-scene. These look good and are usually pretty interesting, but there's not many of them and there aren't any until towards the halfway point of the game.
The game is quite lengthy. The main quest will run you anywhere from 50-60 hours, but there's loads of extra content to fool around with. You can complete side quests, play a few mini games, do some cooking, watch all the skits, collect all the costumes, or try to master every ability there is to master. There's also number of bonus items you can obtain after you've completed your first play through. The world map is enormous. It starts off big, but you'll find out that it gets even bigger. There are a huge number of towns, cities, dungeons, and landmarks to discover. With such a massive amount of content, the game spans over two whole discs, which is pretty rare nowadays. In traditional RPG fashion, you'll run around fighting monsters and exploring mysterious dungeons. There's quite a big bestiary, with tons of enemies and boss characters to learn about. Every foe you'll encounter has their own weakness and strength, so you'll have to think of what spells and abilities you'll need to use against them. Most of the normal enemies you see are kind of generic and unoriginal, albeit a few gems. The bosses, on the other hand, are splendid. They're very interesting and fun to look at. They have some attacks that are, simply put, quite awesome. All the AI is great, and bosses will sometimes require a bit of planning before heading into combat them.
The dungeons are pretty inventive and have some great concepts behind them. Most of them are designed well, but there are a few that look very similar. The puzzles are fun and can sometimes require a bit of though. Again, most of them are great but there's a few that are your typical "move the crate to reach the ledge" puzzles. You'll explore the basic caves, water dungeons, and fire dungeons, but you'll also have to go through more interesting ones, such as a lab where one of the antagonistic groups takes the souls from people and places them into little jewels that give the wearer greater strength.
This game is also very pretty. The graphics are in a cell-shaded style, which fits the characters perfectly. The characters, locations, and enemies all look very nice and are designed quite well, for the most part. The game runs pretty smoothly throughout the game, but there are a few hitches in the frame rate while traversing the over world.
The sound in the game gives mixed impressions. The music is decent. A lot of it fits the mood of the situations, but a few of the tracks feel kind of bland and uninspired. The sound effects are good, and add another small level of realism to the game. As mentioned before, the voice acting is great, but there are some awkward lines.
There are no random battles in the game. You'll see all the enemies before you fight them. Once you touch it, you are placed in the battlefield, which is always quite big, and you'll proceed to defeat the monsters. While you're running around dungeons and such, you'll kind of see what the monsters look like before you fight them, but while on the world map they appear as shadowy figures and you'll have no idea of what you're about to fight. Sometimes enemies will appear out of nowhere and ambush you, but this isn't very frequent.
The battle system in Tales of Symphonia is one of its strong points. It uses the Linear Motion Battle System seen in previous Tales games, but it adds some nice tweaks and features to the mix. You run around on a 3D plain while locked on to an enemy in real time. You can only run left and right, though. Sometimes the camera angle will adjust a few inches, and you'll able to run to different spots while still in a linear motion. This makes it so that all the combatants will be in different spots on the field, but they can only run in two directions. Sometimes it feels a little claustrophobic because it's hard to get away if you're stuck in between two other enemies. You can also play with 2-4 players, but only during the battle sequences.
There's a huge arsenal of weapons and armor for you to obtain, which will increase your stats and give you different bonuses, although you'll only see the different weapons during battles and cut scenes. There's a massive amount of abilities to learn, each with their own attributes and animations. Every character has moves only available to them, while multiple characters can use some. You have your standard attacks, but the special abilities come in a variety of flavors, such as physical attacks, elemental magic, and healing magic. You can also do special combo moves called "Unison attacks" where, once your meter fills up, each character will do a preset attack on the targeted enemy for heavy damage. If two characters do attacks that correspond with each other, they'll do a bonus move at the end of the sequence for even greater damage. Plus, the whole event looks pretty damn cool.
There's also a bunch of different ways to customize the way you fight. You can change the formation of your party, what types of moves they use, how much TP (Technical points, kind of like your magic points) they use up, or when to use items. The character you play as will be on Manual mode, where you control them, and you have 4 different preset special moves that are triggered by pressing a direction on the analog stick in unison with the B button. The rest of your party will be on Automatic mode, unless you're playing multiplayer, where they will use special moves at the AI's will, but still following your preset guidelines.
All of these elements come together to make an epic adventure with great narrative and a colorful cast of characters. While, a few RPG clichés are apparent, the core of Tales of Symphonia is deep and intriguing. Overall, Tales of Symphonia will leave you with a warm lasting impression that will carry over to your next play through the game.