about the game
Tales of Phantasia was first released in 1995 on the Super Famicom (the Japanese SNES). This put it at the end of the console's lifecycle, and it shows: it featured a fully voiced opening theme, voiced characters, and incredibly detailed backgrounds, some of the best ever seen on the Famicom. It's something of an action RPG; the player controls one character in battle while the rest of the party follows AI the player sets. The player-controlled character can use various skills and button combos against enemies.
The story is pretty standard RPG fare: the hero leaves his hometown for all of five minutes, and it gets burned down. Setting off on a journey to figure out what the hell happened gets him embroiled in a plot to save the world from the evil demon king Dhaos, with a twist: he gets sent back to the past to find help. Everything's better with time travel, and Tales of Phantasia's story jumps all over the place as they fight to rid the evil from their world — and from themselves.
Of course, it never came out in the US. Back in the day, a translation group called DeJap translated the SNES version and made it available for the English-speaking world; while this translation did have a couple questionable parts, it did at least bring the game over here, and was released in 2001. You can find the patch here.
In 1998, Tales of Phantasia was remade on the original Playstation. This version completely revamped the graphics, added a new optional playable character, Suzu, included an anime opening sequence (and a few cutscenes), and added skits throughout the game between the party members. A huge improvement over the original, this version also failed to release outside of Japan.
In 2003, once again, Tales of Phantasia was remade, this time for the Gameboy Advance. This version was watered down, and was essentially a fusion of the SNES and PS versions, though lacking the best qualities of each (so no skits). Of course, this is the version that finally made it overseas and got released internationally in the US and Europe in 2006. Thanks, Namco. Really feeling the love here.
What, you thought we were done? Not even close. Tales of Phantasia was rereleased twice on the PSP. The first version, released in 2006 and subtitled ~Full Voice Edition~, features, well, a fully voiced game. The entire game is now voice acted, and the port is of the Playstation version, so skits are back. It also has a Grade Shop (a feature of later Tales games that's used for New Game + runs).
Last but not least, 2010's Tales of Phantasia X: Narikiri Dungeon for the PSP is a complete remake of the Gameboy Color sequel to ToP alongside yet another remake of Phantasia, and includes a brand-new party member. Absolute Zero is working on a patch of this version.
While neither PSP release made it overseas, Namco did manage to screw its fans over one last time: it put out an iOS port of the Full Voice Edition in 2013 for Japan, and 2014 for the US. Instead of charging for the game, they went the free to play route, and of course charged for healing items and disabled save points before bosses. Of all the ways you could have brought the game overseas, Namco, you had to go the screw you route. (Not to mention that it's an action RPG and completely unsuited to touch controls???) Both versions also require a constant internet connection, and have since been discontinued, so they can't even be played anymore.
so what should i play?
If you've never played the game before, play the Playstation version. It's the best version of the game out there for English-speaking fans. The GBA version is awful and features some really atrocious errors. The SNES version was great for its time, but it pales in comparison to the later versions of the game. Otherwise, if the language barrier isn't an issue for you, play Tales of Phantasia X; it's by far the best version of the game.
about the OVA
Between 2004 and 2006, a four-episode OVA of Tales of Phantasia was released. It greatly condenses and edits the game's plot, given the time constraints, but it does an excellent job of it, focusing on the party's fight against Dhaos as they travel through time. Somehow, it managed to be dubbed and released in the US on DVD by Geneon; it's now unfortunately out of print.