A long reply for a long post... Some agreement and some disagreement.
Koudelka – This game is mediocrity redefined. How did a game as ambitious as this turn out to be such a goddamned mess? The man responsible for Secret of Mana’s music on board for directing and composing duties backed by former members of the team behind FF7 should’ve resulted in something legendary, but instead a compromised product was foisted upon us. Investigation reveals that Kikuta wanted something closer to Resident Evil, but the team wanted to do a traditional RPG. I place the blame on the stubborn team Kikuta had to direct; this game would’ve worked wonderfully as a survival horror title in my opinion. It’s too bad the game is only barely good enough to see through to completion. I beat it in 15 hours, and that was WITH grinding. Sad, tragic even.
Agreed. Koudelka had some good ideas and a lot of promise, but the end result turned out more painful than fun. Still, it did have it's moments, and its one of those games I put in the category "I'm glad I slogged through this even if it was kinda disappointing, because the curiosity would've killed me otherwise".
Well, at least we can be thankful to Koudelka for one thing: there wouldn't have been a Shadow Hearts trilogy without it (Koudelka being the prequel to Shadow Hearts 1)!
Parasite Eve II –I have no idea what happened here or if the writing and directing were handled by a different team entirely, but it's the only reason I can think of to explain why PE2 is such a drastically different, and in my opinion inferior product. Writing was pretty bad; between Aya acting out of character for most of the game and Kyle's last minute complete 360 in allegiance everything felt horribly conceived. The elements that defined Parasite Eve are there, to be sure, such as customizable weapons and armor and cool parasite abilities, but that’s where the similarities tragically end. Everything else came off to me as poor, lackluster and lazy. The soundtrack was perhaps the biggest disappointment, as it eschewed much of the masterful compositions and melodies of the original in favor of a completely generic, droning, ambient soundscape.
Now this, I don't agree with, at all. PE1 to me was one of those awkward games that couldn't make up it's damn mind if it wanted to be RPG or survival horror (many of the objections you had about Koudelka I consider applicable to PE1 as well). PE2 gets a lot of a crap since it's a straight-up horror game that had the deep un-fortune to land smack in the middle of Square's hysterical RPG-fanboy masses. Since almost everyone who tried it was much more a traditional RPG fan than a horror fan, it was deemed by the majority to be "not as good as the first". Well, poo on that, I say. It's only fault is that its a bit slow, otherwise its a damn fine game with great atmosphere. Dryfield, that small town out in the desert? Loved it. Felt so much more authentic than most survival horror settings usually do. Also, I'm not sure we could say that Aya acted "out of character" in PE2, she didn't have that much of an established character in PE1 to begin with. Its more appropriate to say we got to see more shades to her character here (I love all the small comments she offers when you investigate stuff in PE2).
And as for the soundtrack, sorry bro, but you're just plain wrong. You might say "I don't like dark ambient music, that's why I dislike this", and I'd be fine with that. But generic for being ambient...? Talk to the hand! *holds up hand a looks the other way* Hook it up to a great sound-system and play tracks like "Dark Field", "Abandoned Mine", or "Hold Your Breath", then you'll see. That the score fits the game like a glove to a degree that few other games/soundtracks can dream of is also a major plus. Apart from the ambient tracks, the tracks done in other genres are great and full of personality (how come no one with a negative opinion of this soundtrack ever brings them up when discussing it?). The country piece "Ghost Town" (the main Dryfield theme) is so annoyingly addicting that every time I hear it, it doesn't leave my brain for like a week afterward. The alt. rock piece "Vagrants" that plays on the jukebox in the game is damn cool, the boss theme "Crawling Waste Emperor" is pure industrial-techno mayhem, and the ending theme "Gentle Rays" blows most of the stuff from PE1 out of the water. Yes, unless you noticed by now, I'll defend this OST to death against anything and anyone!
As for PE1's OST, I loved it when it first came out, but its aged badly, IMO. Whereas PE2 OST has gone up in my esteem with time, the trend is the reverse for PE1 OST. I used to place it above Legend of Mana OST as Shimomura's best, but that has since changed.
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment –I initially balked at P2’s slow pace in story and gameplay, but much like a good novel, it needs to be given the chance to pick up the pace. The storyline is dark and mature, even coming off as a little bit creepy at times and I really love the music. Honestly, I’m not crazy about the gameplay; negotiating with demons for tarot cards is boring to me, but everything else is getting really good. Speaking as someone who played P3 and 4 first, no S Links is both good and bad; I no longer have to deal with losers like Kaz and Kenji (Persona 3), but I will miss the teammate interaction that the system afforded us in Persona 4.
I'm glad you're warming up to it. P2 is my favourite in the series. I forgot to tell you (I think you're already aware), but Eternal Punishment is actually only half of the game, the second half. You're essentially jumping into the action midway through the story. If your PS1 can handle burned CDs, I STRONGLY suggest you either track down a copy of the Japanese Innocent Sin or download it, and then patch the ISO with the English translation patch that's available. The translation is top-notch and IS is every bit as great as EP. Playing the first part will enrich your experience of the second, and together they form the best RPG ever made, in my opinion.
I have no idea how someone who begun with the newer Personas would experience the older ones, but when I went back to the P2s last summer, I found they still trumped P3 and P4. The story, characters, and music is just sharper and more hardcore and mature, its obvious when you compare them that Atlus went for more of a casual-gamer mass audience with the later games (and they did after all succeed, considering how popular the series has now become). About the gameplay, I don't think its that much slower than the new ones, I suspect you had to deal with a beginner's learning curve and adjustment. I like how P2 holds your hands a lot less than the new ones, no dumb and pointless Social Link scenarios to suffer through, full control in battle (compared to P3), fully customizable personas on all characters, not just the main character (one thing I HATED about P3 and P4 is how only the main character gets to change personas, while the other guys are stuck with their boring old ones throughout most of the game... what's up with that?), etc....
As for negotiating with demons, you do know that this is more the norm than not in Megaten games? P3 and P4 are more like exceptions in this regard. And demon negotiations are pretty light in P2 compared to the earlier games. I'm currently slogging through Shin Megami Tensei 1, and those £@£$@#%&!!! bastards are just constantly cock-blocking, taking my money then running way.
Silent Hill – A clunky, flimsy gameplay experience made up for by the fact that there seems to be good story telling at work. From what I heard, it isn’t as good as Silent Hill 2, but also is a completely different flavour; I’m about an hour in and don’t really know what to expect. I really love the dark imagery, though.
As for the comparison to Silent Hill 2, that depends on who you ask. Most would say SH2 is better, I prefer SH1 (we've had this discussion many times). SH2 is beautiful, but SH1's darkness is something that will never leave me. Actually, the difference reminds me of what I wrote about old Persona vs. new Persona above: SH1 is not as technically advanced or prettily "presentable" as the later titles, but damn if it isn't more hardcore and true to what it sets out to achieve!