I got a summer job and got this game when it originally came out, was so mad it was PlayStation only, I wanted for the Dreamcast!
Experiment with the jewel system (pretty sure that's not what its called) and gear, that levels up with you and you can get some cool quirks such as immunity to poison or increased attack power, you can only use so many at any given time but it can make the game easier, by doing this I was able to do 9999 points of damage with all my party on any attack by the end of the game.
You should've also took some time to grind by the start of the game, like after the ship crashes don't go after Garnet until you're level 5 or higher, there are many places to farm levels easily in the game so its important to explore too.
The Jewel system which I didn't mention before really is great. I love it! The Ogre is OP too Blue but I'd suggest getting the other one to learn that skill (it's unique).
Thanks for the tip on exploration though. World Map seems pretty small but detailed which is good. The swamp was a nice find!