Many people don't like Squall, which to me is nothing more than a testiment to how great a character he was.
Final Fantasy VIII was the much anticipated follow-up to the god that was Final Fantasy VII. I had loved VII so much that I went around playing all the old ones in anticipation for VIII's arrival. In short, VIII blew me away.
VII's graphics were amazing for its time, if not a bit weird, but VIII's graphics were drop-dead gorgeous for their time and a good while afterwards. The FMV's are still impressive today, as countless other companies still can't make the same quality Squaresoft made in 1998. The detail, the animation, and the variety of styles were just jaw-dropping.
VII's characters were impressive, but the level of depth given to VIII's characters wiped the floor with Cloud and crew. Many people don't like Squall, which to me is nothing more than a testiment to how great a character he was. You weren't supposed to like him when he acted like he did. Amazingly, Squall was just like me at the time, if not a little more shy than I was, so I bonded with him. I understood how he felt...much more than your average run-of-the-mill "hero." I could also see myself in Seifer at other times, and it was interesting to see the two sides of myself portrayed in these rivals. To this day, they're two of my favorite characters.
Now, Final Fantasy VII's story was amazing, and this is perhaps the only area where VIII doesn't beat its record-setting predecessor. Nevertheless, VIII's story is equally as impressive, just completely different. It was more about Squall growing up and dealing with his emotions than beating the final boss or leveling up, and I can't thank Squaresoft enough for going down that route. Sure it was a little rocky, being a video game and having to be translated, but it was touching and heartwarming, two adjectives I don't use too often.
Next, the music. What can I say...I have the official soundtrack and the piano collections and I still can't get enough. The music is simply the best of any video game ever, only rivaled by other Final Fantasy tunes. It's beautiful.
Lastly, the Draw system, while widely criticized, fit the game perfectly. This wasn't a world of mages and knights riding on horsebacks...this was a modern...if not post-modern RPG and it made more sense for "spells" to be drawn than for people to have magic powers that they were born with or learned. Spells were like items, and they were treated as such.
This is perhaps my favorite game of all time and more than deserves the 10 rating I give it. It's gameplay was addictive (I've beaten the game more times than I probably should have,) the graphics were and still are impressive for their time, and the music was absolutely beautiful. Final Fantasy VIII is truely a game for the ages.