A six-year wait has come to an end for “Zelda” fans across the world following Nintendo’s release of the long-awaited next instalment of its 40-year-old gaming saga.
The series featuring the exploits of Princess Zelda and the elf-like warrior Link has sold 125 million copies worldwide since its first edition in 1986.
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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.
In Paris, fans who lined up late at night applauded as a shop opened. They streamed in – some clutching Link toys or wearing elfin ears – to snap up the saga’s latest instalment, Tears of the Kingdom.
“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 the AFP news agency 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.”
Clips circulating on the internet racked up millions of views before the release and the game was 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 1980s launch was something of a gamble for a company then best known for Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros.
The first episode, The Legend of Zelda, plunged gamers into an unknown universe largely without instructions.
Creator Shigeru Miyamoto, who also gave life to Mario, was inspired by his childhood explorations of the Japanese countryside to offer a landscape of forests, lakes, caves and mountains.
“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.”
The first Zelda hit the market a few months after Super Mario Bros but the two games were far apart on the gaming spectrum.
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 from the start and for the next 20 years, it pushed the boundaries of game design.
The 1998 edition Ocarina of Time pioneered a system that allowed gamers to aim properly in 3D.
Yet sales of the game had hit the skids by the turn of the 2010s.
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 development team had a sense of crisis,” Katsuhiko Hayashi, a representative for Famitsu Group, which publishes the industry magazine Famitsu, told AFP.
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,” said Hayashi.
Despite its success and the enduring popularity of Nintendo’s other franchises – demonstrated by this year’s smash-hit The Super Mario Bros. Movie – the firm on Tuesday forecast a 21-percent drop in net profit for the year.
Still, Charles-Louis Planade, an analyst at Midcap Partners, reckons Tears of the Kingdom could become “the best-selling game in history”, potentially approaching $1bn in revenue.
In Paris, student Emilie Sastre said she “couldn’t miss the chance to get it” immediately on release.
“I grew up with it. It was the first game I had on my very first console,” the 18-year-old said.
“I’ve been waiting impatiently ever since this sequel was announced.”