I got this by getting the lionheart. Squalls best weapon pretty much before even attempting Deling city’s story. Thanks to Tony Garsow’s guide, Here’s how I did it:
Step 0: Keep your party’s levels below 20 until you obtain Lion Heart
This step is critical as an item we’ll need to obtain can only drop from Grendel enemies if your party’s levels are below 20. Don’t fret too much about low levels - Final Fantasy VIII’s encounters are scaled with your party’s level, so you shouldn’t be too overmatched if your levels are on the low side. A decent stock of magic, junctioned or otherwise, is enough to pull you through.
If you find yourself close to Level 20 but need to have GF learn key abilities necessary to forge Lion Heart, you can use Quezacotl’s ‘Card’ ability to defeat enemies without gaining experience points (EXP) while still gaining ability points (AP).
Also, you won’t need the weapons monthly magazine item featuring the weapon to forge Lion Heart, just having the requisite items in your inventory will allow it to appear in the Junk Shop menu.
Step 1: Acquire the ‘Quezacotl’ GF and learn ‘Card’ and ‘Card Mod’
In the opening hour of the game, Squall will find himself in class, seated in front of his station’s computer. By accessing it, you can download the Quezacotl and Shiva GF to Junction. Otherwise, they'll be gifted to you as part of your training with Quistis.
Open your party menu and navigate to ‘GF’ then select Quezacotl. From the list of abilities to prioritize learning, select ‘Card,’ which needs 40 AP to learn. Once that’s done, prioritize ‘Card Mod’ which needs 80 AP to learn.
Card is ability that you can add to your command menu in battle that will attempt to transform enemies into Triple Triad cards. The chance for success grows the lower your enemy’s HP is, similar to catching a Pokemon. Just take care not to finish your foes off before you can Card them.
Card Mod will allow us to transform your stock of Triple Triad cards into useful items, particularly ones we’ll need to bring to a Junk Shop to forge Lion Heart. While we’re here, it’s worth mentioning that Card Mod is an insanely useful ability to obtain rare items to refine magic and weapon materials from cards, so it’s good to keep an eye on what you can mod as you amass cards. Card Mod is one of many reasons why you might want to make sure you grab all of the rare and missable Triple Triad cards, in fact.
It’s probably a good idea not to grind these abilities out right away, as it may put you uncomfortably closer to the Level 20 threshold we don’t want to hit before we farm Grendels. Remember, enemies defeated with the Card ability only grant AP, no EXP, so you can use this ability to squeeze in more AP without leveling up.
If you plan to grind for the Card ability (but read on before you decide to do this), your best option is to do so on the Fasticolon fish enemies found on the beach near Balamb Garden and Balamb Town. These enemies deliver little EXP, but still enough AP to get you 'Card'. After that, you can use the Card skill to defeat enemies without earning more EXP.
Step 2: Get acquainted with ‘Triple Triad’
For the uninitiated, Triple Triad is Final Fantasy VIII’s optional card game that many of the world’s NPC’s play religiously. The setup is simple: you and an opponent place four-sided cards on a 3x3 grid. Each side has a certain power level that’s matched against the adjacent card’s power level. If your card’s power is higher, you’ll “flip” the opponent’s card to your side. Once all nine spaces on the grid have been filled, a winner is decided based on the plays they’ve made. What takes the game to another level is the assorted rules that add various levels of strategy in your card selection and placement.
The earliest you can start Triple Triad is right after you leave your classroom in Balamb Garden. After the short cutscene with Selphie in the hallway, proceed towards the elevator. The lone man standing in the hallway will give you a starter deck, after which you can freely challenge NPCs with the press of a button.
We’ll need ‘Elnoyle’ cards to forge Lion Heart, and the NPCs that have these cards will require us to have beefier cards than the ones in your starter deck. Luckily, Balamb Garden and the town nearby have ample opportunities to collect stronger cards. We’ll worry about that in a bit. In fact, there are a lot of powerful cards that you can get very early in the game.
Step 3: Acquire the ‘Ifrit’ Guardian Force and ‘Ifrit’ card
Your trip to the Fire Cavern and showdown with Ifrit will also yield the GF’s card, which is a good first step on your path to collecting a broader deck.
The important thing to know here is that Ifrit ability set won’t have ‘Ammo-RF’, a key ability we need to forge Lion Heart, available to learn until the GF is Level 10. We want to be mindful not to grind levels early due to your need to keep them below 20.
Step 4: After you return from Fire Cavern, get collecting
Before challenging stronger NPCs, it’s a good idea to manually save the game, just in case you lose a precious card. A soft reset and reload will put you back in the saddle, albeit after a trudge back to the NPC’s location. Bless the 3X speed function...
After acquiring Ifrit’s card, I like to challenge Dr. Kadowaki in Balamb Garden’s infirmary to start. It’s up to you how much you want to build out your deck, just know that it’s easier with a greater variety of cards to pull off successive victories. Other NPCs to bother include the child doing laps in Garden’s main hall who owns a ‘Mini-Mog’ card. ‘Trepie #1’ in Balamb Garden’s cafeteria has a ‘Quistis’ card. You may need a few mid-range cards from other NPCs to help you take them down, so settle in for a gauntlet of matches.
You can still work on your decks after returning from the Dollet mission. Zell’s mother in Balamb town has her son’s card and Headmaster Cid can be challenged for a ‘Seifer’ card. It might take several attempts to win these cards, but having a stronger deck may save you more time in the long run.
Step 5: Amass 20 ‘Elnoyle’ cards and Card Mod them into 2 Energy Crystals
Several NPCs can use ‘Elnoyle’ cards, but they may not appear in every match. Headmaster Cid, Zell’s mother, the inn owner in Balamb and so on all use ‘Elnoyle’ cards somewhat frequently. The best luck I’ve had is with Trepie #1 in Balamb Garden’s cafeteria.
The challenge with this guy is that, should you lose a match, it’s a bit of a hike back from a save point, whereas Zell’s mother is one screen transition away. Perhaps, if only to lift the tedium of this task, you may want to consider rotating targets.
Once you’ve collected 20 Elnoyle cards, use the Card Mod ability in the party menu’s ‘Ability’ section to refine them into 2 Energy Crystals, which is your first key material for getting the Lion Heart..
Step 6: After leaving Timber, head north to hunt Grendels for 4 Dragon Fangs
There will be some time between Step 5 and 6 in the story, so keep your levels in mind during the Timber mission. Once you’ve completed the dream sequence segment with Laguna, head north on the world map to the area shown in the video above. This is a forest near Timber - it's actually the forest area where the first Laguna dream sequence begins, where the party first pass out. In this wooded area, you’ll need to run left alongside the cliff face in order to trigger a random encounter with Grendel enemies.
Keep in mind that if you use Diablos’s ‘Mug’ ability, you’ll only get ‘Dragon Fin’ items. We want them to drop after battle without using Mug. We’ll need 4 total. If you’re precariously close to leveling up to 20 at this point, you can use Quezacotl’s ‘Card’ ability on Grendels which won’t affect the drop table, provided you don’t Mug them.
Once you complete this step, you won’t have to worry about level restrictions, so once you get your four Dragon Fangs, you can level Ifrit to 10 and begin learning the ‘Ammo-RF’ ability which requires 30 AP to complete. Once you learn Ammo-RF, refine your 2 Energy Crystals into 12 Pulse Ammo.
Step 7: Mod ‘Adamantine’ from ‘Minotaur’ card or farm from Adamantoises
Later in the story, you’ll fight the Brothers Guardian Force in the Tomb of the Unknown King. In doing so you’ll obtain both the ‘Minotaur’ and ‘Sacred’ cards. The Minotaur card can be modded into 10 Adamantines, nine more than we actually need. However...
If you don’t want to sacrifice the Minotaur card, travel to the beach between Deling City and the tomb to farm Adamantoises. Keep in mind that if your party’s level is between 20 and 29, the Adamantine has a (roughly) 4% drop rate. If it’s above 30, the drop rate should be 100%. Remember to avoid using Mug here as it pulls from a different drop table.
Step 8: Head to a Junk Shop to forge Lion Heart
We should have 12 Pulse Ammo, refined from 2 Energy Crystals that we modded from your hard-won 20 Elnoyle cards. We should also have 4 Dragon Fangs we farmed from Grendels. Lastly, we should have at least 1 Adamantine that we modded from the Minotaur card or farmed from Adamantoises.
The closest Junk Shop should be right in Deling City, and you’ll need a sum of 2000 gil to forge the Lion Heart.
Voilà! Squall’s ultimate weapon and ultimate limit break technique are yours to command. It’s interesting to find the many different items, magic, and weapons you can collect at early points in the game by transforming monsters into cards and cards into items. In fact, the most enjoyable parts of Final Fantasy VIII are in exploring it’s systems.