The characters of Final Fantasy VIII have received praise by reviewers. The Gaming Age reviewer was originally concerned with the shift to consistently realistically proportioned characters, but he ultimately found them more appealing. Moreover, the review stated that the character designs and graphical quality allowed the characters to "convey emotions much more dramatically". Game Revolution cited similar praise, agreeing that the change "really makes the graphics impressive". Jeff Lundigran of IGN commented that the "low-polygon characters of Final Fantasy VII are gone, replaced with sometimes surprisingly realistic high-polygon models that only look better the closer they get". GameSpot agreed with the transition, claiming that "involving, personal, and emotional stories are far more believable when they come from, well, people, not short, bizarrely shaped cartoon characters".
The cast itself has received criticism from reviews. Lundigran criticized the manner in which romantic interactions play out, stating that "considering that the love story is so integral to everything that happens—not to mention forming the central image of the box art—it's incomprehensible why no one says 'I love you' to anyone, ever". With Squall, he felt that "FFVIII does break one cardinal rule: when your story is character centered, you'd better center it on a character the audience can care about. Squall, unfortunately, just doesn't fit the bill". However, GameSpot felt that Final Fantasy VIII shifts the story from the "epic" concepts of Final Fantasy VII to the "personal", in that "the characters and their relationships are all extremely believable and complex; moreover, the core romance holds up even under the most pessimistic scrutiny". A later editorial by IGN's Ryan Clements echoed this sentiment, appreciating that Squall and Rinoa's single kiss during the finale serves "one of the player's main rewards for hours of dedication". Although the reviewer at Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine acknowledged possible fears over a romantic storyline, he stated that "it's only later in the game, once you are really attached to all the distinct and complex characters, that the more emotional themes are gradually introduced".