It is quite impossible to not know that Rinoa is a sorceress due to the sheer amount of references available everywhere. On a similar note, Edea being Ultimecia due to Late-Arrival Spoiler is another outcome, but this has notably shown how omnipresent Ultimecia really is throughout the game.
The "Orphanage Plot Twist" note the reveal that every party member (except Rinoa) is from the Edea Orphanage but the overusage of GF made them forget. is a infamous example that is very likely to come up during most discussions about the game's plot or the characters.
Americans Hate Tingle: Rinoa is beloved in Japan, but in the American fanbase she is something of a Base-Breaking Character for reasons varying from her personality, her Damsel Scrappy moments through the game or just for Die for Our Ship stupidity. The translation also has its share of blame in this: a lot of Rinoa's dialog that was intended to be cute and childlike, highlighting her innocence compared to the military-trained SeeDs, tended to get replaced with lines that just made her sound like an immature, spoiled brat.
Angst Dissonance: Squall became an introvert as a result of the fact that he grew up as an orphan, the only person he ever connected with left him at a young age, he was never adopted, spent most of his childhood raised in a mercenary academy, and had his memories suppressed by Guardian Forces so he never got to the point where he could come to terms with the trauma of it all. A non-insignificant portion of the fandom however decries him as an emo whiner and hate his Jerkass Façade tendencies. At least part of this is the translation; there are several points in the English script where his dialog is much harsher than in the Japanese version or sometimes where entire lines are replaced with "Whatever," making him come off far colder than he was really supposed to.
Annoying Video Game Helper: Odin can be like this, sometimes. Since there's no way to wave him off, if he appears when you're trying to farm rare items or magic from enemies, he sometimes winds up killing your prey before you can steal/draw what you came for. Players farming Marlboro tentacles may wind up wishing they'd held off on getting Odin until after they got what they needed, for example.
Base-Breaking Character: Squall is either one of Square's coolest characters (even Nojima found him too cool in an interview) or one of the most annoying antisocial characters ever (see Angst Dissonance above).
There is no denying that the game caused a quite bit of a stir with the Final Fantasy fanbase when it first was released; the story and especially the changes to gameplay were, and still remain, somewhat controversial. Everything related to the spell drawing mechanic tends to create debate between players over whether it was an interesting innovation or just really annoying busywork.
The 2013 re-release for Steam includes a "Magic Booster," which gives every character in the party 100 of most low- to mid-level spells. The fanbase is divided between those who see it as a great way to avoid having to repeatedly draw spells, those who don't like how it takes away from the challenge, and those who think that the apparent need for a feature like this reflects badly on the game.
Contested Sequel: This game had a lot to live up to given the success of its predecessor. While commercially it matched VII, critically it scored lower and is easily one of the more fought over entries in the entire series in the franchise's fandom, and to this day is often identified as the moment when Square first began having trouble with script quality and balancing engaging story and gameplay versus graphical presentation. In spite of that, it's also one of the most easily recognizable members of the series, and its popularity has grown and grown over the years after the post-VII backlash subsided.
Damsel Scrappy: Rinoa, at least before she achieves her Game-Breaker status. She consistently makes incredibly stupid and impulsive decisions, leading to her remaining this throughout a good chunk of the game.
Die for Our Ship: Both Squall and Rinoa get hit by this, since they are the Official Couple of the game. The most common shipping for each of them is with either Quistis or Seifer.
Draco in Leather Pants: Seifer. The guy's a Jerkass for most of the game, but the fangirls love him anyway. There is some element of Jerkass Woobie there, once his backstory is revealed, but some of his nastier aspects tend to get downplayed.
Laguna, Ward and Kiros. The interplay between Laguna, Ward and Kiros (which Word of God states was based in the real-life interactions of the Square staff) is particularly endearing (not to mention their normal, adult behaviour is totally in contrast with the main party). Many a gamer has let out shouts of delight when the main party passed out, since it meant that they were going to be treated to Crowning Moments of Awesome and Funny. Not to mention kick-ass battle music.
Raijin and Fujin are Affably Evil and generally hilarious Punch Clock Villains, and they stick with Seifer through thick and thin simply because they're his friends. Fujin even tries to talk Seifer out of his villainy with a heartwarming and tear-jerking speech.
The "Rinoa is Ultimecia" theory, which speculates that Ultimecia is Rinoa, driven mad with power and grief after the (likely all-natural) death of Squall and her other friends and wanting to use Time Compression to see them again and render time-related death meaningless to them. This one was so popular that it eventually had to be shot down by Word of God in the Ultimania guides. And even then, some continue to theorize that it was true at some point during production, but ultimately Nojima, Kitase and the others involved in the scenario writing quietly decided against it being explicitly true (ala the cut love triangle between Squall, Rinoa and Seifer which the Ultimanias do mention) and, much like that example, enough elements of the old plot remained in the game that went to print for the theory to come across as entirely plausible.
The "Squall is Dead" theory, which posits that when Edea used Ice Strike to impale Squall at the end of Disc 1, he died, and the rest of the game is a fantasy playing out in Squall's dying mind as he succumbs to the wound. While this is a common theory in a lot of media (not helped by St. Elsewhere making it broadly plausible in most media), there's enough odd imagery and various plot niggles in the later discs to make people suspicious, along with the awkwardness with which the jump cut and dismissal of the injury at the start of Disc 2 to raise eyebrows. However, this theory was Jossed as well by Yasunori Kitase in an interview.
Bahamut raises quite a few questions regarding his location in the Deep Sea Research Center; why is he there in the first place, what is he talking about regarding why he fears humans, and why doesn't he elaborate any further?
Fair for Its Day: The English translation doesn't hold up particularly well in the modern era of high-quality JP-EN video game translation (Squall, in particular, actually suffers from some characterization problems which makes him seem even colder than intended and is part of why he's so divisive in the Anglosphere), but at the time, compared to the "Blind Idiot" Translation that Final Fantasy VII received, it was a huge step in the right direction. It at least showed that the Woolsey era wasn't a fluke and that good, readable JP-EN translation could be a standard.
Fans tend to imagine Irvine speaking with a Texan accent due to his cowboy hat. Most English fandubs give him that accent. Given how everyone grew up together, though, it's a bit contentious since it's not clear if he'd actually get that kind of accent.
Some fans think of Zell as being gay - as he's the only one of the main characters to not be paired up with someone. Quistis isn't either, but she specifically mentions thinking she was in love with Squall. This does however ignore Zell's little bit of Ship Tease with the pigtailed girl from the library (which consists of optional scenes).
Foe Yay: Numerous doujinshi, fanfics and fanarts are devoted to Seifer having this trope with either Squall or Zell. It should be noted though that the Foe part is heavily downplayed a lot in the doujinshi making it more a case of Ho Yay.
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: In-universe in Disc 2: Selphie and Quistis "volunteering" Zell to stay behind and operate the others' only means of escape is Played for Laughs, but quickly becomes less funny when he winds up knee-deep in it later.
Germans Love David Hasselhoff: While perhaps "love" is a bit strong, this game seemed to be much better received in Europe, where it was only the second Final Fantasy game released (and the first one played by many gamers) and where it wasn't so much encumbered by the reputation of VII or even the series at large.
Harsher in Hindsight: Irvine's freak-out at the end of Disc 1 appears at the time to be him having oversold his abilities and cracked under real job pressure, making him appear a loser and phony. Later in the game he is the only one in the group that knows the identity of his target is also the closest thing he and the rest of the SeeDs had to a mother. He's actually cracking because he can't bring himself to shoot her and won't admit why.
Hilarious in Hindsight: In this 1999 game, Selphie runs an online blog chronicling Laguna's articles, with at least one picture she took of herself in it, and also has an online Diary and gets the other members of the team to write an entry themselves. Fast forward to recent times and social media is all the rage. Also, what do you call a photo you took of yourself? A selfie.
Arguably, Zell clinging to Squall in gratitude after Squall rescues him at the D-District prison.
Also, Kiros with Laguna. There's even one instance when he said that his life lacks excitement without him.
It Was His Sled: Thanks particularly to Dissidia, now everyone knows Ultimecia is The Man Behind the Man. It used to be a late-game spoiler. Furthermore, the re-release of the game on PSN explicitly refers to Ultimecia in the plot summary on its store page.
"How come there's no entry about this until now?" "Whatever."
You can rename GFs in this game, and are always given an option whenever a GF is obtained. Ifrit is the first boss you encounter and is the only one who mentions a fellow GF's name (Shiva) when used against him, uttering "They have Shiva?" One of the most common tales is renaming Shiva to something and making Ifrit utter something else. And it's fine to do so because you can rename summons indefinitely due to an item.
Ifrit: They have Bacon?
Narm: The Lunar Cry. While it was horrifying to see at the time (and the idea of a colony of monsters pouring down from the moon is still scary in its own right), the dated graphics makes the event look like the moon has a massive pimple that "pops" once the monsters start falling towards the world.
Narm Charm: The main vocal theme, Eyes on Me. Several lines are incredibly narmy (‘Shall I be the one for you, who pinches you softly, but sure? If frown is shown then, I will know that you are no dreamer...’), but the whole thing becomes incredibly heartwarming when you know the background. Julia based all the lyrics on her interactions with Laguna, with the narm explained by it being her first attempt at songwriting. The song is played during Squall and Rinoa’s romantic scene on board the airship, which signifies Julia and Laguna’s failed romance being played out with their respective children.
Never Live It Down: Squall (although to a lesser degree than Cloud) is typically dismissed by haters as being "Emo" and a "Whiner". In fact, Squall spends most of the game not expressing any emotion he might feel (although we perceive this differently, since we can read what he is thinking) and telling everyone else to deal with their own problems instead of sharing them with him. Although Squall does have emotional trauma due to abandonment at an early age, he typically keeps a lid on it, and only freely expresses such things to Rinoa (who's too comatose to hear most of Squall's confessions to her, anyway).
Porting Disaster: The PC version was buggy as hell. Additionally, the game seemed unable to read more than a few button presses per second, meaning that the Button Mashing Boost skill was next to worthless. On top of that, due to PC specs at the time of the original release, it replaced the game's soundtrack with low-quality MIDIs. This problem carried into the Steam version upon its re-release and still hasn't been fixed by Square. However, the PC version also included "Chocobo World," a minigame which allowed players to build their own Disc-One Nuke (with enough grinding, anyway). The Playstation version only allowed this with the use of an obscure peripheral that never made it to the US. Additionally, it was, at least to some, infinitely better than the port of Final Fantasy VII.
The plot of the game is fairly simple. To wit, Ultimecia knows a "legendary SeeD" is destined to kill her and tries to cast Time Compression, destroying everyone in the world but herself, to stop SeeD. However, as Squall undergoes Time Compression, he wanders back into the past and inadvertently founds SeeD to stop Ultimecia, starting the Stable Time Loop over again. Good luck trying to follow that on your first playthrough, though, because the way it's presented is anything but straightforward. It gradually takes over an entirely different narrative about a pseudo-World War II, very important plot points like the "legendary SeeD" or the mechanics of Time Compression are mentioned briefly in passing, the inciting incident happens during the laser-light show of a finale, the older characters' motivations are presented to the player in non-linear order, and the main plot leans on Ellone's seemingly-unrelated subplot like a crutch for crucial emotional and thematic context. The game is practically made for Rewatch Bonus, as each time through the cryptic hints and brief mentions start to build connections that solidify the fragmented narrative into a whole.
The reason for Irvine's seeming tendency to crack under pressure in Disc 1 takes a different turn when you realize he was lying and was actually cracking under the stress of being asked to shoot the closest thing he had to a mother. And he is the only one that can remember this.
Irvine's Limit Break is the only one that isn't magic-based. As in you need ammo bought in shops to power it. This makes perfect sense since he hasn't junctioned to a GF and lost his memories of growing up in the orphanage.
On the second disc, if you take Rinoa on a tour of Balamb Garden, when you meet Dr. Kadowaki in the infirmary you have the option to say that Rinoa is your girlfriend. Rinoa is left shocked, before Squall says he's joking. A very early sign of him opening up to her and defrosting slightly.
Stoic Woobie: Squall. A great deal of the tension between him and his teammates throughout the game is that he refuses to open up to them about and problems he may be suffering. It does lead to a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when he finally does open up to Rinoa; of course, she was unconscious at time.
Strangled by the Red String: Squall's attachment to Rinoa is a subject of debate among fans. To start with, depending on which party members the player selects during certain plot events and/or sidequests, the Character Development that builds up their relationship may or may not be witnessed during a given playthrough. Even worse, said development may not be enough for the player. For example, the intricacies of Japanese courtship either flew over American players' heads or seem silly from American perspective. Squall and Rinoa don't hold hands, kiss or say "I love you," which makes sense in a country where public displays of affection are a huge no-no, but leaves Americans scratching their heads wondering if these people are really supposed to be in love.
Ultima Weapon, as well as Edea in the second fight against her, both have a Level 5 Death Spell that can take out the party in one shot. Mobile Type 8 in the Lunatic Pandora has an attack called "Corona" which reduces the entire party to one hit point apiece.
Omega Weapon has Those Two Attacks, one which deals exactly 9998 damage (which means a character must have the highest possible HP to survive — and then they're left with 1 HP) and another, which will kill everyone unless they have invincibility or the "Defend" command.
They Changed It, Now It Sucks: The traditional magic system was replaced with the Draw System, equipment was eschewed in favor of Junctioning spells directly to a character's statistics, and enemies leveled upwith the party. Meanwhile, the characters were more realistically proportioned, and the world took on a more sci-fi feel.
They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Adel was a ruthless tyrant back in her day, and was so evil that she had to be outsmarted and sealed away in space. Outside of her boss battle, she only has three lines in the game and appears minimally - functioning as an offscreen Sealed Evil in a Can. Much more could have been done with her character - or at least showing more of the resistance against her (which is glossed over by Laguna's narration).
The game leaves a lot of the motivations of its villains implied at best rather than exploring them in depth; Seifer's "romantic dream" of being the knight to a sorceress, though mentioned on several occasions and presented as the main means by which Ultimecia manipulates him, isn't described in detail, and Ultimecia's reasons for wanting to compress time are left almost entirely up to the player's interpretation of a few lines delivered at the end of the final boss fight.
Also, Ultimecia's Bad Future, in which she has devastated most of the world is sadly left almost entirely to the player's imagination, since the party immediately arrives at Ultimecia's doorstep to fight her. The game could have easily made a parallel with Final Fantasy VI by allowing the player to fully explore the Bad Future as a sort of Dark World, being able to visit all the locations they've previously seen throughout the game ravaged and twisted by Ultimecia's influence.
Toy Ship: Young Irvine and young Selphie during the orphanage flashback.
Values Dissonance: As noted under Strangled by the Red String, Rinoa and Squall's courtship seems rather unromantic to American gamers. The characters do not say "I love you" or do anything remotely couple-y (although they do kiss in the final scene) - which is in keeping with Japanese attitudes to public displays of affection.
During Disc 2, it's revealed that with the exception of Rinoa, the entire party (and Seifer) were not only orphans, but grew up in the same orphanage. And none of them, bar Irvine, remember this because using the GF causes the user to gradually lose their memories. Whilst the idea of forgetting your childhood friends is upsetting, the three who get it the worst are Squall, Seifer, and Irvine.
Squall and Seifer were never adopted, and were simply enlisted at Balamb Garden instead of getting to grow up with a loving family. And on top of that, Squall is forcibly separated from Ellone and becomes the self-reliant recluse we first meet at the start of the game because he didn't want to lose anyone close to him again.
Quistis just can't win. Despite the fact she's a child prodigy, her emotional state is actually very fragile. You learn later that it's at least partially because she was torn away from Squall and the other orphans she tried to care for and because of this, she never got along with her new adopted family. She came to SeeD to start over, rose through the ranks, and then thanks to GF induced memory loss, forgot Squall but still felt so attached to him she ended up inadvertently sabotaging her own career. It isn't until after the orphanage revelation that she realizes her romantic affection for Squall was actually the love of an older sister.
When Irvine joins the party, he recognizes his old childhood friends, but quickly realizes none of them remember any of their time at the orphanage, and can only watch as he sees them plotting to assassinate the woman whom all of them once saw as their mother. He's then asked to be the trigger-man.
General Caraway if you think about it. It's said that he became Julia's Second Love after she thought Laguna died. They were married for a while and had a daughter, but then Julia suddenly died in a car crash. Relations between him and his daughter have been strained ever since.
This was the first video game that was translated to non-English European languages internally by Square Enix, motivated by the localization debacle that was Final Fantasy VII. The results were spectacular, specially in languages like Spanish, where they included all sorts of different accents for the characters that made the game even more memorable.
In the English version, Zell is obsessed with obtaining hot dogs from Balamb Garden's cafeteria. In the original Japanese script, it was 'pan' i.e. sweet bread. It is considered an exotic treat in Japan (introduced when they began trading with Portugal in the 16th century) and comes in flavors such as apple, curry, and melon. It was changed to hot dogs in the English version simply because the pan shown in the ending FMV vaguely resembles hot dog buns, though without wieners.