FF8 is great, you just gotta know how to play it. It doesn't hold your hand and that's what I like about it.
In most other RPGs you get new magic spells just for playing the game: You reach a certain level, you get a new magic spell. Not in FF8. In FF8 you have to EARN your magic spells, and even then you have to use them sparingly since there is no MP in FF8, spells are treated more like items.
And THEN the game makes you responsible for boosting your own stats since monsters level up with you. So just level grinding alone isn't going to cut it. You have to apply your magic spells to your stats to boost them, and certain spells have different values for certain stats, so you have to experiment. You can't just put any spell on any stat.
It's a very technical RPG, but that's why I like it I guess. :p
I think FF8 was ahead of its time, mostly because it would fit much better if it were released today than back then.
Go back to 1999, and virtually all RPGs had the same sort of gameplay. FF8 had magic crafting, junctioning, and no MP system - this was very unique at the time, the last RPG I can recall that didn't have a real MP system for magic was Final Fantasy Legend 2 on Gameboy... which had something somewhat similar to FF8 - permanently consumable magic points. The big issue with 8 is that you COULD buy magic like Final Fantasy Legend 2, but it was a little more complex - first you buy the items, and then you craft it to magic.
So when people played, they didn't understand what they were doing and kept grinding/drawing and not understanding why it was taking so long; I think the game messaged magic acquisition in a very bad way as well, as they focused on the draw command, but didn't say a thing about crafting items/drops into magic - I read/heard somewhere that it is likely that the crafting system was probably finalized after they did the Tutorials, or long before, and the QA/production team just overlooked it (because they hate playing Tutorial stuff anyway) and signed off on it as sufficient. So, in other words, the Tutorials probably did more to mislead than to help players play the game as intended - a great many people didn't know what all of those items drops in battle were all about - pretty much anyone who says "You have to draw magic from enemies." when there are 4 other ways to get it (buying items and converting, draw points, crafting enemy dropped items, and card refinement) with at least two of those ways being much easier and more efficient.
If you're a player who likes to tinker with things, FF8 was your dream Final Fantasy in 1999. But RPGs through the last 8 years or so had become very automatic experiences; it was all about grinding levels and money to upgrade to the latest equipment, very very simple stuff compared to older RPGs (like Dragon Quest 3, Final Fantasy 1, Legend 1, and Legend 2, and even Mystic Quest/Seiken Densetsu 1). I think a lot of people who liked FF8 were people who had been with the FF series from the first game, where tinkering was a much bigger thing, so FF8 wasn't exactly weird to them compared to people only familiar with 4-7 and other RPGs in that period.
Today, FF8 would not be weird at all, there are a lot of games with crazy mechanics. Things that FF8 introduced, especially crafting and augmentation, lack of an MP system, are normal and widespread. Tinkering in RPGs is much more common. That's why I think FF8 was ahead of its time in 1999 where it was about the only RPG of its time that really did it to that extent. Even Draw points are common in the Xenoblade franchise (Monolithsoft's Tetsuya Takahashi was a map designer on FF4-6 and 8, so it was likely his design to begin with).