#3 Ico played on PS2, released 2001
This game is something special. Ico offers the total immersive package for me. The whole game plays out in one continuous interconnected location. You'll see the castle from many different angles. At many points you can see where you have been before and where you might go next. It is a beautiful place to explore. The whole place is shrouded in mystery and wonder. All the different camera angles do a great job to show off the imense scale of the castle.
There is no hud to get in the way and the save system is brilliantly integrated in the environment. Sound design is spot on. It really feels like you are there. The intriguing language only adds to the mystery. The music is beautiful yet keeps a respectful distance. Immersion is complete.
The puzzles are cleverly integrated in the environment and never get repetitive. The story is masterfully presented and, like all the best stories, keeps you hungry for more while leaving plenty of room for your imagination to fill out the rest.
The essence of the game is your relation with Yorda. Holding hands is done really well. I don't think I've ever cared more for a companion character. Every time you have to leave her behind for a bit you feel a great urgency to get back as soon as possible. When you finally do get separated you feel a great loss and find yourself completely alone in this huge empty place.
The character animation is excellent with lots of little human touches. Running around together while holding hands looks very natural. I love the hesitations from Yorda when you ask her to do a difficult jump or when she startles when you accidentally hit the wall with your sword.
Every time the end credits roll my eyes tear up and I sit there listening to the music while reflecting on the greatness I just witnessed. Ico should be required study material in any game design school, this is how you put emotion into a game. I'm going to start another play through of the excellent HD conversion right now.