To make games that crosses several genres must be pretty tough. It's all too easy ending up not doing either of the elements properly, and thus getting what is, overall, a flat game. And since you're mixing up the different elements to make a whole that is new, you forget to put something new into each element. But the biggest danger of all, is that you might forget just exactly the certain element of a genre that makes it work.
This is exactly what happened with Tales of Symphonia.
The plot is as console RPG-ish as they come, and thus being properly fantasy-ish, without actually making much sense when you're taking it under critical examination and making sure to remember the previous parts of the game. The characters are quite as expected, and so, unfortunately, is the voice acting... It's a mystery to me why Final Fantasy X's voice acting is still among the best in this genre, when it wasn't really that good in the first place, and it's getting to be an old game now. But just play that latter game a little after playing this, and you'll come to actually enjoy the understated Yuna, the mostly optmistic Tidus, and even Rikku the (before this game) annoying teenager. I thought that certain things were supposed to get better with time, not worse. And for gods' sakes, someone teach the voice actors to scream properly!
So far, the pure RPG part. The hybrid part comes to life in the combat sequence. Instead of some kind of turn-based batlle-screen, it's all going on in real time, with you controlling directly one of your characters while three others are mainly doing stuff based on some simple "commands" you've given them in the menu. Sort of like a slightly more advanced version of the more action-based game Kingdom Hearts. And it is only slightly more advanced indeed, as you'll invariably end up controlling the main hero (you don't have to, but you'll do it nonetheless) and use three ordinary attacks (a button) and a special attack (b button and possibly direction on analog stick), before waiting a bit until you're ready to strike again.
While it makes sure to seemingly keep things a bit more intense than many RPGs, it also highlights the problem with real-time battles with several characters: Lack of control. I could (after changing their configurations) depend more on Donald and Goofy in Kingdom Hearts than I can depend on the other three characters in this game. I have in fact died several battles that I would otherwise have won with ease if only the three other characters had done what I wanted them to do.
This lack of control is especially manifesting itself when it comes to leveling up. See, you can, by doing lots of different stuff in the battles, earn different titles which will give you extra bonus points to different stats each time you level up. One of these requirements is to gain a 30-hit combo. Which, no matter how I make all my support characters basically act in an "all attack" way, is near to impossible to achieve, because they have no fricking sense of timing. And the title that comes for a 100-attack combo is a pure myth. Well, you can in fact play this game with up to three friends, which is probably making things much easier (assuming they are decent gamers and fans of spending a lot of time doing nothing while I run around in towns), but console RPGs that are mostly meant for single players should be set up that way too.
Besides, as long as the game keeps up an element of true danger, it's not difficult to make it intense in ordinary turn-based style either.
There aren't really any minigames of any kind that stands out as any kind of memorable in any manner. The sidequests are mainly standard, though the one that follows you through the game is actually a bit novel: Learning recipes. In each town there's a hidden chef that teaches you recipes with their ingredients. After each battle, you can then go ahead and prepare the meal with one of the characters. The more often you prepare the meal, the better the character gets in preparing it. Eating the meals will mostly heal you, and sometimes cure you of different status ailments.
It's all nice and stuff, but see, here's the thing: All it does is making some unnecessary complications of the basic combat system. A proper "do it all along the game" minigame/sidequest should be giving you a true break from it. It's not that I mind random battles (just look at the list of the games I own in my profile), but for games of such length, I do prefer getting some proper variety going on.
And that's just not happening here. The combats stay pretty much the same all through the game, as does the plot progression, the exploration of the world (though to be fair, this is less linear than many similar games), and the game in general. Apart from the horrible voice acting, the sound effects are OK, and the music isn't too nerve-grating. The cel-shading is pretty much wasted, as there are hardly any facial expressions (at least not that moves) to -any- of the characters.
So, we have a semi-hybrid between an RPG (75%) and an action adventure game that has filled out almost all the checking boxes for the RPG conventions, but ends up more annoying because the combat system leads to lack of control, and is otherwise not holding up any better than proper turn-based. It's a pity that this was one of the few meagre offerings for the GameCube, but those are the breaks. And thus, the quest for an RPG game with real-time combat goes on without getting any closer to the goal.