If the scale of A Tale of Two Kingdoms is its greatest strength, it does come with some weakness. There are oodles of descriptions offered by examining the background details, plenty of animations, lots of things to see, find, and do. But with such a vast amount to cover, the testing missed quite a few minor things and there are little niggles everywhere. An obvious example is that many times when you examine objects or talk to people, your character does so from the other side of the screen. "Examining the window closely, you find a piece of cloth" doesn't seem right when Maeldun is standing yards away from said window. Having written games in AGS myself, I know it can be a pain to code these things, but it takes the shine off the polish of this otherwise professional-looking game.
There are also a few pixel hunts, unfortunately, particularly when you don't know what you are looking for. One example requires finding a small hole in the ground, which looks more like a rock than a hole, while there are other instances of shiny things being found on the ground: they sparkle occasionally, but you really need to keep your eyes peeled for them and it helps a lot if you know that they are going to be there.
The more serious problem is that the many things that can be solved in different ways and different orders sometimes cause the logic of a situation to break down. I found that because I happened to get some holy water quite early on, I was unable to use my bottle on lots of other things I wanted to try it on, and I was unable to empty it as the game called it a waste, even when I wanted to pour the water back where I found it. Because of this, I couldn't get money very easily, which meant that I didn't get a non-player character to do something for me until very late in the game. This appeared to trigger a whole load of events that would have been more appropriate earlier on in the story and didn't quite add up. The final problem in the logic of the game is that of finding the identity of the murderer: I have found all the clues, seen most of the relevant cutscenes and read the walkthrough, and I still don't find the evidence convincing. It seems that the land of Theylinn doesn't hold to the principle of reasonable, or even vast, doubt.
It may seem that I'm dwelling on negatives, but that is mainly because they stand out against the otherwise high quality of the game. Indeed, there is much more to delight in within the realm of Theylinn. Fairies and giants, scarecrows and druids, wizards and jewels and furries and quests are all to be found in this rich fantasy world. It is also a place full of easter eggs that actually turn out to be integral parts of the game. Search every corner of every screen at every opportunity, because there are precious moments and stories hidden away and only the observant will enjoy all there is to find.
The graphics of A Tale of Two Kingdoms are also excellent. There is plenty of animation and the beautiful backgrounds are of the same standard as that of the King's Quest remakes. The many characters all have nice sprites and close-ups. The incidental characters and human and animal extras are varied and detailed. One visual blemish is a badly implemented wall-climbing animation that you see many times in the course of the game. It just looks a bit thrown together for such an oft-used animation and jars with the quality of the rest of the graphics. But such things are minor niggles that never overshadow the amount of high-quality drawing in this game.
The music is something that is excellent throughout. Nikolas Sideris has contributed to a quite a few amateur projects as a composer and his high quality work has always been fascinating. You can even play music yourself, if you acquire a flute. This is not only well done, but you can use the music in various different places for different purposes. Sound effects are not a big part of the game, though they are functional when present, and there is no voice acting, which is certainly understandable in an Underground project of this scale.
Overall, A Tale of Two Kingdoms is an impressive effort from an unpaid team and probably the largest original Underground graphical adventure game ever. If you can avoid the temptation of a walkthough, you can quite happily wander around discovering new things and examining everything in detail for hours, and the five different endings give it bucketloads of replayability. I can easily recommend that everyone give the game a try, even those less accustomed to Sierra-style games. It is free and fun and can keep you contentedly occupied. It has its share of foibles along the way, but it does far more things right than it does wrong, and I suspect that it will long be recognised as one of the must-play AGS adventures.
The 96 MB download of A Tale of Two Kingdoms and a 22 MB patch can be found at the Crystal Shard website.