Fans from Paris to Tokyo lined up for the latest iteration of the "Zelda" series

Tokyo (AFP) - A six-year wait came to an end for “Zelda” fans across the world on Friday as Nintendo released the long-awaited next instalment of its 40-year-old gaming saga.

Gamers began lining up outside a shop in Paris well before midnight, determined to get their hands on “Tears of the Kingdom” the minute it became available.

“I’m going crazy actually, because it’s been six years that we’ve been waiting for this game,” 19-year-old Taylor Meguira told AFP as he waited in line.

“When ‘Breath of the Wild’ came out, it was a real revolution in the world of games,” he added, referring to the 2017 instalment of the saga.

“Knowing that there is a sequel, which is coming out in an hour or a little less, it’s just incredible, it just makes me so happy.”

The game featuring the exploits of Princess Zelda and the elf-like warrior Link has sold 125 million copies worldwide since its first edition in 1986.

It helped forge “open world” games where the player is free to roam in virtual landscapes – an idea later taken up by games ranging from “Grand Theft Auto” to “Skyrim”.

But its main challenge this year will be to boost earnings for the Japanese gaming giant and prolong the life of its Switch console, which experts say is in its dotage after seven years on the shelves.

Clips circulating on the internet racked up millions of views before the release and the game is expected to be “by far the biggest contributor to Nintendo’s sales this year”, said Serkan Toto, an analyst at Kantan Games.

Yet the franchise’s 1980’s launch was something of a gamble for a company then best known for “Donkey Kong” and “Super Mario Bros.”

-‘A pioneer’-

The long-running "Legend of Zelda" game series has been a linchpin of Nintendo's success

The first edition, “The Legend of Zelda”, plunged gamers into an unknown universe largely without instructions.

“The scale of the game was huge at a time when most games were finished in an hour or two,” said Kiyoshi Tane, an author specialising in the history of video games.

“It was something of a pioneer of what open-world games would become.”

Zelda hit the market a few months after “Super Mario Bros”.

But while Mario runs from left to right through various platforms, Zelda “encouraged the player to explore, discover and map its world and take on its challenges”, said Mark Brown, who analyses game design on his YouTube channel.

It was a smash hit and pushed the boundaries of game design for the next two decades.

By the turn of the 2010s, however, the franchise was struggling.

Nintendo wanted to expand the game’s appeal but only managed to create editions that satisfied nobody. Hardcore fans drifted away and its popularity waned.

The designers rethought the basics of the game, eventually creating 2017’s “Breath of the Wild”, which launched alongside the Switch and has since become the best-selling edition of Zelda.

“This game set a high bar for the open-world action-adventure genre, and Zelda is still at the top,” Katsuhiko Hayashi, representative for Famitsu Group, which publishes industry magazine Famitsu, told AFP.

-‘So excited’-

Nintendo has issued a gloomy forecast for the year ahead, but Charles-Louis Planade, an analyst at Midcap Partners, reckons “Tears of the Kingdom” could become “the best-selling game in history,” potentially approaching $1 billion in revenue.

In Tokyo, Yutaka Hirai said the seemingly endless scale of previous Zelda games helped draw him in.

“The world was so big, much bigger than I imagined… I played it for over 100 hours,” the 30-year-old told AFP

Daniel Olivo, a tourist from Mexico, even took time out from sightseeing to pick up the game in Tokyo.

“I’m so excited, because since I was about five years old, I know this game,” the 33-year-old told AFP.

“In the end, I got the collector’s edition, so it was amazing,” he added with a broad smile.