Many of these points won’t be new, but here they are:
The Junction-System. Of course, we think of it as easily exploitable, within the first week it came out, this wasn’t common knowledge. What was common knowledge was it was confusing. Plus, if you micromanage the slots yourself to min-max your stats, you had to rack your brains to-do so. Once you found out the trick, the game became easy, and not in a good way.
Drawing. The most innovative ways to grind in a JRPG became the most tedious. Once they realized a battle could take up to an hour to restock all magic, they quit out of boredom. Others quit once they broke the game. The cards were a much more fun way to grind, and that was a side quest!
Unconventional JRPG Elements. No new armor or weapons? How radical.
Enemies that Scaled in Level with You. Those who grind flipped when enemies scaled with Squall in levels. Common sense JRPG strategy says you grind until you get stronger. So when Final Fantasy VIII got tough, many people worked themselves in a corner. Probably rage quit when they realized the uphill battle they had.
The Story. The story was pretty confusing. Sometimes it seems like Edea was originally the main villain. Maybe Square changed their mind during development. It would be dark for orphans to kill the woman who raised them. Rinoa as Ultimecia seems cool and deep. Square Enix shot down the idea, probably to preserve Rinoa’s status as basically good. Then more things came out of left field. A loose, overly subtle story made all interesting fan theories you read about today.
Faux Continuity Issues. People often talk about Final Fantasy VIII riding on the coattails Final Fantasy VII, and for good reason. And many of us expected sequels to carry on the story of the previous game. So who were these stupid teenagers standing in for the adults? Where’s Cloud? Who’s Squall? The graphics hooked me, so I accepted it.
By Final Fantasy IX, most new fans accepted that the sequel evolves from title to title. Older fans got the return they’ve been waiting for, resulting in better nostalgia.
By the way, Final Fantasy VII was my first game. Final Fantasy VIII clarified high school for me. Final Fantasy IX piqued my interest in the old school Final Fantasy.