FFVIII has a special place in my heart because it was the first Final Fantasy that I interacted with as a conscious, moral, sentient being (if barely)—I had played bits of IV, VI, and VII before that as a literal child blithering about as if it were a Mario game.
Mechanically, I think it’s among the best because it checks all the boxes I look for in a good RPG battle system. Specifically, it rewards mastery exponentially proportional to your understanding of it. People criticize the Draw system all the time but that’s because they’re using it long past when you’re intended to graduate to far more efficient ways of obtaining spells (e.g. refining from items, Triple Triad cards, and other spells). The stat penalty from casting a spell you have junctioned to one of your stats is heavily exaggerated and by the time it becomes noticeable, you’ll have advanced to another tier of spell to junction anyway. The only change I’d make is to increase the amount of spells you can draw from “weaker” enemies so that it takes slightly less time to farm up a stack, according to how much stronger you are in comparison.
Cameron, as always, gives a good summary of why the story and themes aren’t trash, but I couldn’t really appreciate the story for itself at the time, or even when I replayed in as a dumbass teen for that matter. I’d definitely like to go back to it. As I understand it, the reason a better more modern port hasn’t been made is because the source code has been practically completely lost at this point. The PC version released in 2000 was even based on non-final code that had to be spruced up by the porting house and therefore contains bugs that aren’t present in the shipping PS1 version.