Having not played Final Fantasy VIII since 1999, I'm hazy on many aspects of the love-it-or-meh-it game today, but one thing I’ll never forget is my battle against Ultimecia, the biggest, baddest sorceress this side of Esthar. She has a nasty move that can remove KO'd party members from battle permanently if you don't revive them quickly. My battle with her was going well enough: while I'd lost some party members to this ability, I was at a point where I had Squall, whose Lion Heart limit break was likely to win the day. He took an unlucky hit, but that was okay, I had at least one or two rounds to revive him.
...except that Ultimecia removed him from battle immediately. A bug? I still don't know. All I knew then was that without Squall, I didn't have a party member that could do the damage needed to win. I used whatever abilities could deal damage and hope for the best, but it wasn't looking good. Rinoa got her limit break, the completely stupid Angelo Cannon, where she literally "fires" her dog Angelo like a rocket launcher. It's not very powerful — it hits once, compared to Lion Heart's 25 hits — but it was all I had.
And I won. That ridiculous, underpowered limit break was all the damage I needed to defeat Ultimecia, and Rinoa's pup is forever my hero for saving the day.
Final Fantasy VIII is the kind of game I shouldn't like. Its systems are needlessly complicated and occasionally muddled, while its awkwardly written romance plot is contrived, confused, and elicits little emotion. And yet, it's probably my favorite Final Fantasy game.
My reasoning is pretty shallow, admittedly: I can take or leave the cast and the mechanics, but that architecture is really something else. The world of Final Fantasy VIII is an aesthetically-pleasing blend of cyberpunk, fantasy, and late 20th century Europe. It's something of a crossed-the-pond counterpart to Final Fantasy XV's homage to the American highway system, and a type of setting we don't see very often. As limited a simulation as it was, walking through Deling City's mashup of Paris' Champs-Élysées with London's Strand evokes a feeling in me that few other titles have matched. And then there's Fisherman's Horizon, a micronation of scrap metal that floats alone in the sea, deceptively peaceful in its twisted decay.
There's a lot that I wish Final Fantasy VIII would and could do that it doesn't, like a meaningful look at why SeeD is inherently a terrible thing, for example, but I'll settle for the chance to explore its striking, lived-in locations. That is what keeps me coming back to Final Fantasy VIII over and over again.
And hey, Triple Triad, best mini game ever? Best mini game ever.