You've heard the "damsel in distress" arguments. Haters think Rinoa is a weakling who needs to be rescued often. Fans will defend Rinoa's strength and bravery until the bitter end. Looking at the story, why yes, she does get rescued! However, it's not a big deal!
Why? Two reasons: (1) She's not weak, she's just headstrong and reckless. Her dilemmas are mostly a result of her being too proactive against strong opponents, and sometimes just bad luck. (2) Her vulnerable scenes are relatively unsubstantial when considering that everyone gets rescued or messes up in FF8. In the end, it's Rinoa who pulls off the biggest, baddest save of the game.
With that said, let's go over the game events!
Saving Rinoa |Saving Everyone | Rinoa Saves You | Conclusion
#1 Presidential Palace in Deling City
Here, Rinoa attempts to trick Sorceress Edea into wearing a bracelet that would hinder her powers. Edea already knew about this trick, either because Ultimecia already knew of Odine, or she is Rinoa, and summons monsters you'll have to battle. This is one time when I would agree Rinoa really messed up. But hey, she's not a tactician, and there was no way that she could have predicted Edea/Ultimecia's knowledge. If this was a man, you'd call him "a brave but reckless young firecracker who sometimes bites off more than he can chew" or something like that.
#2 Battle of the Gardens 'CLIFF'hanger
An enemy ship attacked, causing the floor under Rinoa to completely collapse. Actually, it's quite amazing how long Rinoa held on. You could have slow roasted a turkey during the time it took Squall to get there. Rinoa held on to the edge of a cliff while Squall checked all perimeters, saved some little kids, regrouped on the main deck, formulated a new plan, and crashed one Garden onto the other. It reminds me of Petra Nemcova's account of holding onto a palm tree for hours in the middle of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. That's not weakness, that is superhuman strength.
#3 Lost in Space ?
Rinoa is possessed by Ultimecia, who then takes Rinoa out into space and releases the lock on Adel's saran-wrapped prison device. Squall foolishly jumps out into space to catch her. Once again, not Rinoa's fault. Her inexperience causes mistakes in the beginning of the game, but by now, she's getting stuck in bad situations due to the sheer bad luck of becoming Ultimecia's puppet.
#4. Sorceress Memorial ?
Does this even count? Rinoa makes the decision to be sealed by Esther in order to control the power within her. Squall does nothing at first, and then later gets his act together by coming back to stop the procedure. Rinoa could go either way, and due to Squall's inaction, she makes the decision herself. This isn't about rescuing a damsel, this is about Squall coming to terms with his feelings for Rinoa and taking a firm position about the sorceress issue.
#5. Lunatic Pandora
Seifer kidnaps Rinoa. Rinoa is then absorbed by sorceress Adel. Most people in your crew would not be able to fight this. Seifer is pretty strong - he slices Odin in two with one strike. Adel is about five times bigger than the average human and the most powerful sorceress in this time era.
#1. Squall at Dollet beach
Despite all leaving the last battle at the same time, Squall is slower than everyone else. He is unable to run to safety from the rampaging robot on the Dollet beach, so his then-instructor Quistis breaks out her machine gun to fantastically bring down the robot in a blaze of kickass.
#2. Ellone at Training Center
Ellone, the girl with no military training, decides that it's a good idea to stroll in the training area - a place where dinosaurs roam around freely so that mercenaries can get some exercise. She gets attacked, you save her, and then White SeeDs take her away.
#3. Squall in D-District Prison
Squall is held in the interrogation room in prison after the whole failed assassination attempt. Using his knowledge of the prison from dream time as Ward, Zell concocts a plan to sneak the other SeeDs out of their cells, regain their weapons, and free Squall. Whoo, you go Zell!
#4. Zell in D-District Prison
His success is short-lived, as Zell is left alone at the top of the prison while Squall, Quistis, and Selphie investigate an escape route. Zell gets attacked. It seems like Zell is going to die until Squall literally flies across the screen, disposing of his attacker. A humorous moment occurs with Zell clutching Squall, thanking him, and Squall hitting the hysterical boy on the head. You get the feeling that Squall is starting to care about his comrades.
#5. More Prison Saving
Squall, Quistis, Selphie, and Zell are then being bombarded with gunfire until... Irvine and Rinoa appear to save them and lead them to the exits. Irvine supplies the cover, but it was Rinoa who convinced Irvine to go through with the jailbreak in the first place.
#6. All of Balamb Garden
Galbadia has launched missiles toward Balamb Garden! Its up to Squall and friends to singlehandedly transform Garden into a flying fortress and save the many students and faculty on board. And after you're done with that, save the town of Balamb from being trampled by your new airship, will ya?
#7. Ellone in Esthar
Ellone is kidnapped by Adel's Esthar forces for her powers. Laguna, Kiros, and Ward go on an extremely long journey to save her. This journey takes up most of the Laguna flashbacks. On this journey, they stay at several cities, recover at Shumi Village, shoot a film in the Trabia mountains, get captured by Esthar and are forced to become prison labor.
#8. Squall Cliffhangers
There are two cliffhanger events where Squall seems to be doomed, and then we cut to a scene where he's perfectly ok with no explanation to gamers about how he survived his previous predicament. It seems reasonable that Rinoa and/or his friends saved him, being as they're right there. First, he's impaled by an icicle during the Deling City parade. Next, he ends up hanging on the edge of D-District Prison as it plummets to the ground. (Squall is a slow runner again. Everyone else got to safety in time.)
In Soviet Russia, PRINCESS RESCUES YOU! ... Okay, really now. In the end, it's really the princess who saves her knight. I thought it was a nice twist in a story that had so many classic fairy tale fantasy motifs. It's especially interesting how Rinoa saves him through willful power (and maybe some sorceress magic), rather than physical power.
Here's the spoiler-riffic scene: It's the end of the game. Ultimecia has been defeated and the crew is caught in a place outside of time. Everyone remembers who they are and what they want, and they're able to return to their time period. Everyone except Squall. Squall, confused and alone, wanders aimlessly in an existentialist purgatory. Amazingly, Rinoa appears, somehow transporting herself back into time limbo, and embraces a Squall on the brink of death. Through her powers, the clouds of this endless desert burst apart and the couple is back in the flower fields of Centra! Rinoa breathes a sigh of relief as Squall comes back to consciousness.
I think it plays into the original moral of the whole game. You can't always do things alone. There will be times where all your muscles, swords, and bullets won't mean squat, because the real weakness is not knowing yourself. When you face those dilemmas, most powerful weapons will be the willpower, affection, and faith that your loved ones gave you. That's how Rinoa saved Squall's life, in many ways.
People make too much of the "rescue a damsel in distress" cliche. Back in the day of silent pictures, it objectified women as helpless prizes to be won. In this game, it's not the same connotations. Final Fantasy VIII is a story about an emotionally-stunted loner who learns how to connect with others, appreciate others, and maybe even love them. Every time Squall saves someone, or someone saves him, it's more than a rescue. It's a demonstration of how he's changing - his external actions convey to us his internal evolution. This makes for a better and more believable experience for the players.