Back when gameplay and not pretty particles mattered most there was a not so powerful little quality game shittin’ powerhouse known as the Sony Playstation. Just the sound of the signature swooshy synth start up sound makes me smile.
My pick is Castlevania - Symphony of the Night.
This game had it all for me. It was a 2d side scroller, there were no stages or levels, it was a huge map that you filled in. It was the perfect mix of rpg elements in an action game. You leveled up your character by gaining experience through killing enemies. You could equip weapons and armor to different body parts, which in turn effected your defense, attack, luck etc.
Weapons and items could be obtained from killing items. There were secrets galore that made the replay value almost endless. You found items that changed your character into different animals or substances such as a bat or mist that could pass through certain walls to get to new areas or use sonar in an unlit area full of spikes. Yeah this game was the shit.