In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
I’ve always wondered what the pitch at Sunsoft was like for Hard Edge a.k.a. T.R.A.G.
Probably not nearly enough to write a satirical dialogue exchange between the nameless, stereotypical, developers though. You know the kind; clichéd jokes about how rubbish they are at making games or how consumers will ‘buy anything these days’. Honestly, people who write those ‘hilarious’ sketches should be lined up and shot or at least be forced to play the entirety of Hard Edge.
Still, the pitch itself must have been great, right?
I’d love to believe that they sat there, delved through the serious business of survival horror games’ sales figures (which were at their peak around the time of development), while an over-enthusiastic nameless drone explained how they should combine the cyber punk elements of A.D. Police, Patlabor and the usual suspects with tense Western thrillers like Die Hard. Then, of course, name-checked a spiritual contemporary like Resident Evil and talked about how its structure would be a perfect match for their melting pot of ideas.
Hell, even I’d shit bricks and give it the green light if someone pitched me a game like that.
Well, I’d like to think all that happened, but I suspect someone just turned up at a half-arsed pitch and suggested that they jump the survival horror bandwagon for the least amount of overhead costs. Then some executives nonchalantly shrugged and gave it the go ahead, provided they saw some profit at the end of the day. Even if it flopped, they all probably agreed to sell it overseas, since they knew there was an international market devoted to the kind of exotic crap that not even the Japanese would touch with a shitty stick.
Thus, Hard Edge was born.
As was name T.R.A.G.; mainly so nobody could connect the negative US and UK reviews of what was actually the same game but with different names.
I stumbled upon Hard Edge a little while after its release, way back in ‘00. There used to be a local DVD rental store that also specialised in games and I’d always find an obscurity or two that nobody rented. Back then, I would collect anything remotely survival horror and even if it was cheap and nasty, I’d still get a kick out of what people did with the genre (especially forgotten gems like Hellnight). At the time, I didn’t think that Hard Edge was all that bad.
Amazing what a purchase on eBay will do to a grown man’s, rose-tinted, perspective ten years down the line.
The plot to Hard Edge can be summed up as Die Hard: The Anime. From the off, you’re part of an anime future-SWAT team that has to defuse a hostage situation in the Nakatomi Plaza. Sorry, I mean Togusa Building. Only things go wrong and with everybody dead, you’re one cop against many. Soon enough, you’re running around the skyscraper, collecting keys, solving puzzles, reading notes, rationing supplies, shooting robot-mutant-things and listening to inane dialogue spoken by people too rushed to read their lines properly; basically, you’re engaged in the usual tried and tested formula of survival horror. That said, it’s hard to know if the plot was meant to be taken seriously or not since Hard Edge jarringly flounders with its mix of the fantasy sci-fi narrative and the gritty survival gameplay.
Even though it has its fair share of problems, there are a few ideas here that did justify my fondness the first time around. At the beginning, you chose between two protagonists (Alex and Michelle) and each has their own combat style; complete with special combo moves. Alex is a character who prefers to use guns, while Michelle opts to use that old anime cliché – the Vibro-Blade. Each has their own stats, but they also have strategic strengths and weakness. Alex can fight from afar and not risk injury, but his guns are weak compared to Michelle’s melee weapons. After a while, you find a strong brawler (Burns Byford) with devastating physical attacks and an annoying little school girl (Rachel), who is a weak character but quick to use.
With your gang, you can swap characters around on the fly and save your rations while strategically fighting bosses with different skills and combos. At certain points, you also need to solve puzzles by swapping between character locations. I think it’s safe to give Sunsoft credit for implementing a crude version of ‘character zapping’ long before Resident Evil: Zero took the limelight.
Hard Edge is also unique in the way Sunsoft tried to make a game with an ‘old school’ anime aesthetic. It very much feels like you’re taking part in those old, post-Akira slew of Manga (the company) releases like Cyber City Odeo 808, Bubblegum Crisis and Dominion Tank Police. I can’t think of many games that try that approach without it being a tie-in to an existing franchise or a straight-up shooter.
Sadly, even as it pays homage to those serials, Hard Edge goes completely off the rails with its (annoyingly re-spawning) mutant/robotic antagonists. For example, the boss fight with an improbably large, robot scorpion completely goes against the hyper-realist, pre-rendered backgrounds. It’s never explained who or what you’re fighting against; especially when it comes to fighting the obligatory terrorist bosses.
One camp, big-breasted secretary turns into a dominatrix that creates black holes and equally razor-fingered clones. In another scenario, some guy is blue and stretchy for no reason at all. It’s all really vague and antagonists talk about past encounters to beef up their 2D personalities, which end up confusing the situation even more. Throughout the game, you’ll be forgiving the developers for the clichéd super-lab hidden in the basement, while cursing them for an implausible robot-gorilla with Super Saiyan powers.
Ultimately, Hard Edge is a terrible obscurity because it’s just so boring. You can tick off all the survival horror tropes in no surprising order – you gradually open up more areas of the map while fighting enemies and collecting keys, then initiate some FMV movie, before fighting a boss, etc, etc. It’s just so boring to remember it and even when you do, all that’s been burned into your brain is the Nazi-level of awfulness that is spoken by the protagonists.
Apparently, I got the bad ending to this game where a laser satellite blows up part of Tokyo, but to be honest, I thought it was the best thing that happened after six hours of play time and saw it as my reward for putting up with such annoying characters.
Hey guys, don’t be sad, you deserved it.
Nostalgia sure is a funny thing though. I sneakily out-bid someone on eBay for this game; an anonymous person who’s nostalgic dreams I crushed at last minute in favour of fulfilling my own. Though if I’m honest, they should drop me an email and thank me for taking a virtual bullet for them, like Clint Eastwood in the finale of In The Line of Fire.