Introduction. It is not so often that a full-length AGS game gets finished and released. Even more scarcely a full-length game that does not compromise with any of its technical aspects sees the light of day. And one of these rare occasions, doubtless, is the wonderful “A tale of two kingdoms”.
Plot. The game is set in a more or less typical fantasy world, in which you play a mercenary commander called to come to aid to a human kingdom against the goblins. However, things quickly go out of hand when the king is murdered and the protagonist is convicted(falsely, of course) of his murder. While the plot itself is nothing grand or particularly impressive, it is splendidly told and keeps the player going till the end of the game. Another positive thing about is that it is carefully planned – I mean that there are many subplots, which the player may, or may not follow. Each character in the game has their own way and this is also well reflected in the often witty dialogues.
Gameplay. The complex plot is told using a complex gameplay structure, which to a great extent resembles the one used in Gabriel Knight III – certain compulsory actions you have to perform in order to progress further and lots of optional ones for you to explore. “A tale of two kingdoms” also borrows the timeblock structure from Gabriel Knight III, and much to its benefit. Each of the characters performs their own actions and duties, instead of dully standing in one place waiting for you to interact with them. The optional side quests add a lot to the replay value of the game – there are five of them, each consisting of at least a few puzzles. Moreover, there often are alternate solutions to many of the puzzles, and getting a full score is more than a challenging task indeed. The puzzles are logical, for the most part. Even though there has been an obvious effort to avoid pixel hunting, it’s not a complete success – I, for instance, found it particularly hard to find a certain hole in the ground, which was crucial for further progress into the game. The game offers several alternate endings, although there is no non-linearity per se to speak of – at its core, the plot remains the same whatever you do. The endings more or less depend on how many of the side quests you finished successfully. Last but not least, this is a lengthy game – you’ll most probably need 15-20 hours to finish it, and if you want to complete it with full score, you could easily double that time.
Graphics. However, the aspect in which “A tale of two kingdoms” truly shines is the art. The backgrounds are all excellent, drawn in a style similar to the sierra titles of the early nineties. They are smoothly animated, and appropriate effects are also present – for instance in an autumn forest background leaves are softly falling to the ground. Many unnecessary animations have also been put effort into – entering a lake screen you may see an otter swim in it, then get out and leave the background; birds often fly by, sometimes they are also sitting on a branch. All those and many more add to the splendid atmosphere of the game, and I take my hat off to all the artists and animators who have obviously done their best. The character animations are also smooth, and their respective portraits are gorgeous.
Music and sound. A number of musicians worked on the game’s soundtrack, and, frankly, it shows in both its strong points and drawbacks. Most of the music fits the game’s atmosphere quite well. There are some immensely beautiful pieces as well. There were also some which, in my opinion, suffered from unfulfilled potential. And there was the mercenary camp piece, which I found extremely annoying – to the point of skipping the text just to get out of that screen as fast as possible. Appropriate sound effects are also present, although they do not really excel. The game features no voice acting, which is quite understandable, considering the amount of spoken lines there would have been. All in all, the music and sound of “A tale of two kingdoms” add to the atmosphere, and they occasionally stand out.
Conclusion. “A tale of two kingdoms” is easily one of the best AGS games ever, up there with King’s Quest II VGA and Apprentice. It is more than likely to appeal to anyone who liked the King’s Quest or Quest for Glory series, as it captures the best of their atmosphere. It should also be stated that this is the first large-team game I know of that has been released, and all the team members should be congratulated for that. Cheers.