The writing and characterization blew me away! They were better than many other RPGs on the Playstation, which reek of an at-times Engrish and muddled script with tired archetypes. I really dug the well-written back and forth between the characters, made all the better with the realistically done voice direction, which made the characters come alive. The combat is kind of fun. The secret of it is making everyone extremely fast. The atmosphere and art are fantastic!
The only problem is the music. I haven't heard much, which is fine. It aids to the ambience and creep-factor. But (!), the battle music gets extremely grating. Also, it is sometimes hard to tell who's talking between James and Edward, who can sound the same. This could have been alleviated with subtitles, but it's easy enough to deduce after a couple of lines, due to the strong characterization.
The story and premise is great, and surprisingly (and very pleasantly) mature. But, I wish some of the visual horror could have been a bit more "in your face". The rotting corpses of the dead laying and strewn about is pretty cool in its own way. I'm sure it's more of a problem of the lower-res'd pre-rendered backgrounds. They're of low quality compared to other games on the Playstation.
I'm very surprised (and very happy) to be compelled to keep playing this game. JRPGs don't hold me much anymore, even the classics. They feel juvenile.
What more to add . . . I understand the comparisons to survival horror, but it isn't much of one at all. You always have health at your dispense, and weapons given to you like the game wants you to kick its ass. Also, you're not really alone at all. Now, the sole character model adventuring through a spooky setting, collecting items, solving puzzles, and unlocking more rooms are shared between the genres. But that would be a stretch to call the game survival horror at all.
Also, I'm pretty sure this game would have been worse with a Resi combat engine. =[
The head of Sacnoth, Hiroki Kikuta, originally wanted to make this game with Resident Evil style combat. However, his employees pressured him into making something closer to Square's Final Fantasy series. I personally feel that the combat was really the only thing holding this game back. You could break the game if you managed your stats right, and it felt like the grid mechanic was just... there. It really did not have any significant impact on the battles as far as I could see. Also they should have taken more time to optimize the game, those load times were far too frequent,
Anyway, I'm glad that you loved the game! The story and characters are absolutely fantastic, and you can tell that the team really did their homework when they went about developing the game. As is stands now, IMO this game has the BEST voice acting that I have ever heard in a video game. I'm not kidding, no game I've played since then has even come close to the performance of the cast in this.
Btw, you should consider playing the Shadow Hearts series next. Considering that you really liked Koudelka, I think that you will immensely enjoy the first game, the last two could be a toss up though.