Originally, there was Tales of Destiny and Tales of Destiny II in America (known by different names in Japan) before Tales of Symphonia. However, after poor sales in the USA, Tales Studios had yet to release another game in fear that another one of their precious "Tales of" games would fail. However, Nintendo had faith in them, and decided to bring over "Tales of Symphonia" exclusively for the GameCube, though it was recently announced to be released for PlayStation 2 as well.
The story starts you off as a young student named Lloyd. He is a major slacker in school, and always is out-witted by his fellow classmates. He has two friends in this class though: Colette, 'The Chosen' that will supposedly lead this wretched world to regeneration, and Genis, the whiz-kid of the class. The story contains many twists, character developing skits, and is overall, quite an exciting, epic tale. It starts off a bit slow, but give it a chance, it will pick up. The villains are totally sinister, some of which you won't expect to be villains.
Graphically, Tales of Symphonia doesn't disappoint. There is a nice, anime-styled look to all the characters. The character design is top-notch, one of the best I've ever seen. The hundred-plus people that worked on this game should be given mass amounts of money for doing such a great job with the graphics and design, with the exception of the dungeons. The dungeon parts of the game look rather bland, rehashed, and generally lacking inspiration.
Without a doubt, the worst part of Tales of Symhonia is the music. Some of the town music will make your ears bleed. The dungeon music creates an epic feel, but that is ruined by the unoriginal look of them that I explained earlier. The voices are a hit-or-miss, with some voices (Kratos especially) being extremely good, while others...well...are not. The audio is mediocre. Not bad, not good; it's just there.
As for gameplay, the battle system is one of the best I've ever encountered in all of the role-playing games I've ever played, and that includes a lot of RPGs. You'll find yourself purposefully running into enemies on the field and in dungeons. The battle system is mostly action with a few RPG twists to it. All your status factors are there, which is a good thing. You basically target a foe, and run toward him and slash away, using different assigned techniques. Techniques can inter-breed with the other techs you've learned. Hence, Tempest Beast comes from Tempest and Beast. You can learn techniques throughout the various levels you go through.
Another open-ended term of gameplay is Ex-Gems. There are several levels of Ex-Gems and, depending on who you put it on, you can choose different attributes (Dash, Add Combo, Tough, etc). You can try to rack up combos, which give you a higher grade. You can control any of the characters you obtain throughout your quest, which adds a lot of replay to this game. Though some characters are better than others (AKA Lloyd), it's always fun to try using other characters, such as Kratos or Zelos.
You can block, do unison attacks, and just knock your evil enemy on their ass. Another positive regarding the gameplay is that it is not just hack 'n' slash. The battles in this game require a good bit of strategy (knowing who to attack, what techs to use, etc.) The difficulty picks up at points, and then doesn't at others. That's another annoying thing about Symphonia. You'll never really know when you NEED to level up. This brings me to the boss battles. Truly awesome. Some of them actually made me physically sweat because I've come so close to dying. Honestly, they can be VERY easy or very challenging. Depends on your level.
Leveling up isn't tedious, because the battles are just so damn fun. Like most other RPGs, there is a bit of dungeon-crawling. The puzzles mostly consist of using your sorcerer's ring to activate/deactivate things, and pushing blocks, which can become a nuisance eventually. There is also plenty of sidequests to do if you are getting tired of doing the main quest. I won't spoil any, but they range from escort missions to hunting. You can equip Ex-Gems to boost different attributes of your character as well.
Overall, Tales of Symphonia is a great play, but it contains a few flaws that can't really be avoided. The battles make up for these in my own opinion. This is a game you'll want to play again and again (there are things unlocked once you beat it). The dialogue is cheesy, the music is annoying, and the dungeons are a bit tedious, but that doesn't bring it down that much. If you are craving an RPG and you're a Cube owner, pick this title up.