Squall is not only depressed, but also a Death Seeker. He does some idiotically dangerous things throughout the game, which most view as a result of his sheer determination and instinct towards heroism, but in Disc 3, he basically says he never intended to be a SeeD and he doesn't really like it. There's a very likely chance that in his subconscious he's more than willing to do things like jump down multiple stories to save friends and carry a girl on his back across bridge spanning a body of water the size of the Atlantic Ocean because those actions will very likely result in his death.
As well, the romance between him and Rinoa could be seen not as love but as simple emotional needs the other fulfills. Rinoa is a rebellious teenager who hates her father and is estranged from him; Squall provides a cold, distant, strong, protective authority figure for her to latch onto. Meanwhile come Disc 3 when the romance subplot takes center stage, Squall is in more emotional turmoil than ever because he's used to focusing on his mission and not thinking about his own feelings to avoid dealing with them, but now the mission is apparently over and he's sitting on his hands; thus he turns to helping Rinoa as a coping mechanism and becomes obsessed with her to justify her importance over the sorceresses.
When they first meet at the SeeD graduation ball, Rinoa behaves a bit weird, trying fake hypnotism and dragging him to the dance floor... but if you think about it, her behavior could be due to her trying to cheer up the gloomy kid standing alone after a very rough day. Squall's scar is also pretty fresh at this stage, and Rinoa's first words to him are that he's the best looking guy there.
Thanks to some translation changes and story retcons between Dissidia and Dissidia 012 - does Ultimecia wish to compress time to return to her happy childhood after a miserable life, to become a goddess over an idealized world who will be worshiped and revered because she wants to be loved, to become a goddess over her idealized world to lord over humanity, or is she a pure Omnicidal Maniac seeking to cause a Time Crash?
Julia and Laguna are subject to this. We only see one scene with them together, and it's not known if they saw each other after that and dated for a while. Julia's song is mainly about Laguna watching her from the bar, implying she didn't know him that well. And compare Laguna's interactions with her to Raine; he stutters and gets tongue-tied around Julia, but is fiercely loyal and protective of Raine. It's entirely possible that Julia was just a crush that never went anywhere. Or perhaps, given the subject matter of the song, that the attraction was more on Julia's end than Laguna's.
Americans Hate Tingle: Rinoa is beloved in Japan, but in the American fanbase she is something of a Base-Breaking Character. This is at least partly due to the translation. 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.
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: Rinoa, as by being one half of the Official Couple, she causes some obvious complications with shipping Squall with anyone else in the cast.
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 speculate that Ultimecia is Rinoa, driven mad with power and grief after the death of Squall and her friends and wanting to use Time Compression to see them again. This one was so popular that it eventually had to be shot down by Word of God in the Ultimania guides.
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.
Fair for Its Day: The English translation doesn't hold up particularly well several years after the game's release. 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 there was a possibility for the translations to be good.
"Esthar Death Corps" for the black-and-green Esthar soldiers, so named because you have a chance of rolling soldiers that do nothing but cast Death on your party one by one.
"Grievermecia" for the Ultimecia-junctioned-to-Griever creature in the Final Battle; and "Finalmecia" for the one that comes after that one. Also "Edeamecia" for Edea during the periods in which she's possessed by Ultimecia, and, along similar lines, "Rinoamecia" or "Rinultimecia" for the (Jossed) Epileptic Trees theory that Rinoa will become Ultimecia in the future.
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 kneedeep in it later.
Game Breaker: Tons of them. The battle system is very unbalanced, and a player who knows what they're doing can easily coast through the game.
Junctioning the right spells to your characters' stats can double or triple their values. This, combined with the Dynamic Difficulty, means the majority of the game's enemies will never really threaten you, especially if the player opts to keep their own levels low.
Early on in the game, if you know hownote challenge a high-ranking Triple Triad player, like Zell's mom, and keep winning Abyss Worm cards, then refine those into Windmills, you can get 100 Tornados and junction it to Squall's Strength, sending his Strength shooting up over 100 and making him do over 1000 damage a hit. Even bosses only have a few thousand HP at best. The game pretty much becomes a cakewalk until Disc 3.
Spamming your Summon Magic will see you through almost any random battle, particularly in the earlier stages of the game. A common Self-Imposed Challenge is to avoid using GFs in battles where Fridge Logic dictates that they'd cause too much collateral damage. The careful will also note that GFs aren't always the greatest solution for bosses, either, especially during the final boss, though you can get away with it in the first phase of it. By the way, spamming GFs makes your SeeD ranking go down, which lowers your income... Not that it matters much, since you can make infinite money by buying Tents and refining them into Mega-Potions, which cover the cost of the former along with a profit (and you later get an ability with lets you buy things for less AND sell them for more, driving up this income even further).
Limit Breaks, rather than using a charging meter, go back to their roots as Desperation Attacks by being more likely to become available when a character has low HP. This means you can deliberately keep your characters in the red; heck, the game even rewards you for playing this way by promoting you to higher SeeD rankings. Finally, the late-game "Aura" spell buffs a character with a close-to-100% Limit Break probability no matter what their HP. Furthermore, there also exists a "Crisis Level" which determines how powerful the Limit Break will be, among other things; Aura boosts that too, so not only do they happen more often, they're the more powerful versions too. Combining Aura with low health only makes this more profound.
Squall uses his finishing strikes more often (equal chance of each), and uses longer combos.
Zell gets more time to Duel
Irvine gets more time to Shoot
Rinoa increases the likelihood of the better Angelo moves being used (Invincible Moon and Wishing Star) Angel Wing isn't affected.
Quistis it depends on the ability, but the result is better regardless.
Selphie gets multicasts of the top spells more often, and the spells unique to her come more often.
Some of the Limit Breaks themselves fall into this. Zell has his infamous "Duel->Armageddon Fist" strategynote Zell's best Duel move is to simply chain together the two starter moves as fast as he can, trading flashy animations and complicated button entries for more hits and thus more overall damage, Quistis' Degenerator is a guaranteed instant kill on any non-boss opponent and is available relatively early, and Selphie's "The End" can kill anything, including bosses, provided they aren't undead (although it has a non-trivial miss chance). With the Slots cheat, if the disc cover is open while you're choosing what spell to use, the enemy can't attack you, so you can cycle until you hit the spell you want and close the cover, making it even more broken. However, if you don't use the Slots cheat, it becomes Awesome, but Impractical as the odds of it appearing are very low.
It is possible to get items that either makes one character or the whole team temporarily invincible. Through the use of the "Chocobo World" Mini-Game (requires either the PC port or the PocketStation accessory) or an investment of time into Triple Triad, it is possible for the player to obtain 100 each of these items.
With enough determination, some luck with random drops, and a lot of card games, you can acquire the Infinity+1 Sword on Disc 1, which also gives Squall his ultimate Finishing Move. And did we mention that combining that with the junctioning stats above and the ease of activating Limit Breaks means you now have a main character that can smack a single enemy up to fifteen times (and that's just for the finisher) in one turn for 9999 damage each? Goodbye difficulty!
The item refinement system is the biggest of all to the truly patient, since it's possible to make a huge profit off refining tents into mega-potions and then buy the ingredients for stat+ items, allowing a player with a high resistance to boredom or macros to easily end up with perfect stats and tons of room for the neat junction abilities like auto-haste. It does take an eternity though, although it's not a concern with macros.
Combining the Junction system, refining, and limit breaks can allow Irvine to do 9999 damage per hit of his limit break, hitting 4-6 times per turn. On disc 2, the second you get him. (AP ammo (which ignores target defense) is refinable from Chef's knives, which are easily obtained from fairly common Tonberry cards, and STR boosting spells are easy to refine from common card items, so it's pretty easy to send Irvine's STR into the Stratosphere.)
Holy War. Refine ten of them off of one card. Go kill Omega.
Eden. Get a foe in Vitality 0 status via Meltdown or Doomtrain, then boost up the Eden Summon to Max. You can potentially do around 50,000 HP worth of damage in one shot.
Laguna's card. Refines into 100 Hero potions, which makes your party members invincible. Combine with the Aura spell and Squall's Lionheart Limit Break and most bosses become pushovers.
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.
Irvine's freakout 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: Final Fantasy VIII was the first game in the series to introduce social media and it was used by non other then Selphie.
Ho Yay: 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.
Jossed: The fan theory that Ultimecia is Rinoa from a Bad Future is directly contradicted by the officially published Ultimania guide that states Sorceresses have normal life spans.
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.
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 MID Is. 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 See D" is destined to kill her and tries to cast Time Compression, destroying everyone in the world but herself, to stop See D. However, as Squall undergoes Time Compression, he wanders back into the past and inadvertently founds See D 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 See D" 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 disk if you take Rinoa on a tour of Balamb, 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.
The Junction System has the steepest learning curve of any equipment system in a Final Fantasy title. The drab visual design of the menus does not help.
The Draw System is easily exploitable, and grinding for spells is slow and painful. There's a Magic Booster system in the 2013 PC release that gives you 100 of most low and mid level spells, but while many fans either like it or think it takes away from the challenge, others believe that its addition proves that the Draw System was poorly designed to begin with.
Triple Triad has a few rules which are disliked for various reasons. Since rules change and spread depending on where in the world you play, many players find themselves pulling their hair out dealing with scrappy rules catching on, or else going to great lengths to stop rules from spreading at all.
There's the Random rule, which automatically selects 5 random cards for your hand, instead of allowing you to select cards manually. The problem can be mitigated considerably by Card Modding or throwing away any weak cards that come into your hand, but it's still irritating, especially if you're trying to complete the Queen of Cards sidequest (which requires you to lose specific unique cards to her).
The Same and Plus rules increase the complexity of the game greatly, and can allow either player to turn their opponent's overwhelming advantage into a crushing defeat at the last second. Then again, there are people who love these rules for those exact reasons.
The Final Boss selects your party for you at random. Not even Squall is immune from this. And given how easy it is to swap Junctions from character to character, you probably don't have six characters' worth of spells stocked up, much less proper GF coverage. It's possible to change your layout by killing your own members and waiting until they're "absorbed into time" and replaced with someone you want to use, but if that happens to your favorite party members, they're gone forever.
Sequelitis: As part of its Contested Sequel status noted above, a number of wider series fans and critics consider VIII to be the moment where Sequelitis really started to set in; the philosophy of emphasis on presentation over plot and gameplay that informed this game's development would go on to bedevil a number of its successors over the proceeding decade.
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.
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.
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 Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: 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.
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 sabotaging her own career.
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 seems them plotting to assassinate the woman who ran the orphanage.
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.
The "hot dogs" Zell lusts after were originally filled breads, which is why that pile of hot dogs at the end have no visible wieners. As that's a food more exclusive to Japan, hot dogs make a more logical cultural translation.