Although the graphics improved and many new elements were added in, the characters just weren't as likable nor the story as engaging as Final Fantasy 8's groundbreaking predecessor. Adding in a card game was an interesting twist for a time when kids were still trading Pokemon cards at recess, providing an extra level of depth for those who spent the time learning its mechanics.
Some of the changes were hit or miss, as the game didn't just completely change the magic system, it even changed the menu system. Letting you swap out which three abilities you wanted was cool in theory, but it was annoying to decide whether you wanted magic or items for the next few battles.
The characters were sometimes amusing and charming... and sometimes just flat out annoying. I'm still split on which side of that divide Laguna lands when he gets a leg cramp while trying to muster the courage to chat up a sexy singer and then somehow gets her back to his hotel room but doesn't make a move.