In a rather surprising move, No Name Losers has released a standalone build of the first chapter of minori’s ef – the first tale. One key aspect of this release that makes it different from previous fan translation releases is its rather controversial nature — this is not just a patch with translated script files but is a self-contained package that includes visuals, music and voices from the original game. This brings the release closer to piracy, although the group’s explanation claims otherwise.
The translation project originally started a little over a year ago, but ended with the translator leaving for personal reasons. Since then, they’ve picked up a new translator and finished the translation. There are no plans to continue with the second chapter, as there appears to be a group working on a release of a full translation of the game. Therefore, NNL’s next project is to tackle the first chapter of ef – a latter tale.
In their documentation, they provide their reasons for releasing a standalone build. One reason is that they claim that minori would not profit from a patch release, because “minori is notorious for short print runs” and that the game would become out of print by the time a lot of people would want to buy it. They claim that “ef – the first tale is effectively abandonware because it is no longer possible to obtain a legal copy that will support minori.” Currently, ef – the first tale is still in stock in many Japanese online retailers and there are even copies remaining of the limited edition copies of ef – the latter tale.
NNL then goes on to argue that what they are doing can be compared to The Underdogs, a famous abandonware site, and anime fansubbing. They note that a standalone release is no more illegal than a patch release (both are copyright infringement). However, a standalone release not only violates the derivative works aspect of copyright, but also involves wholesale distribution of unmodified content, and may have a higher chance of invoking a publisher’s ire.
One thing the documentation did not comment on were the difficulties involved in hacking the game engine to support a translation patch. From the description, it appears that they are using a slightly earlier build of the game engine used in the trial version. Therefore, there is no flashback feature to replay scenes, something that was added in the commercial release. The commercial release also added in various copy protection measures as well as a check for whether the user had his/her timezone set to Japanese time. Hence, it looks like they still had issues inserting scripts into the original game, as was stated previously with their project:
Do not purchase ef – the first tale with the intent of applying a patch to it. We are unable to circumvent the numerous copy-protection schemes for this title. Therefore, our current plan is to release a ~1.8 GB standalone. Yes, this goes against the ethics of virtually every other visual novel fansub group. However, this project is not a joint effort with insani, and we are free to do whatever we please.
UPDATE: There is now a more detailed post on No Name Losers’ webpage detailing plans for a more polished upcoming release, various features they’ve added to the current release, and plans for their work on ef – the latter tale. Oh, and according to their post, this news article you’ve just read is anti-piracy propaganda.