EarthBound | ending credits

Amazing VGM: Smiles & Tears (EarthBound)

Another years has come to a close, and It is time for me to end this year the same way as I usually do, with a highly emotional ending theme from one of my favorite games of all time. EarthBound holds a near and dear place in my heart, and I can’t help but become super emotional whenever I listen to its music or play it. Hell just speaking about it now makes me want to replay it.

And it is also quite appropriate since 2020 was a highly emotional year. It’s been kind of a meme about how much this year has sucked, but it did end on a positive note with Trump losing re-election. And yes, that doesn’t mean all of our problems are gone, but after four years of this asshole, it’s a relief to see him go the fuck away. And maybe things will start to get at least a little bit better.

This particular track here isn’t “Smiles & Tears.” It’s in-game title is called “Eight Melodies (From Your Deepest Memories)”, though it should not be confused with EarthBound Beginning’s “Eight Melodies”, which I have previously covered in this series. Though both games have you finding eight pieces of a song that you gather over the course of the game, the two games don’t use the same eight melodies. This variation is given the subtitle “From Your Deepest Memories” because that is where it plays.

This version plays during a flashback to when Ness is born and you see a conversation between Ness’s parents. EarthBound is a game based primarily around the concept of maintaining one’s childhood innocence in spite of the cruel world around you. The scene that this plays during occurs right after you defeated Ness’s nightmare, a representation of the past trauma in one’s mind, which one must overcome in order to not get swallowed up by the encroaching darkness of the future, represented by the game’s main antagonist Giygas.

Also it is worth noting the choice of instrumentation. The xylophone used for the main melody sounds almost nursery like, which is fitting for the fact that you literally hear this as Ness is seeing himself as a baby. More instruments are added as the base melody loops, yet the track never quite fully harmonizes, although it comes close. The… whatever instrument it is that plays during the second loop, has a slight sense of disarray, and it almost sounds similar to the sound in the opening theme, only back then, it sounded intimidating and menacing. Now it sounds peaceful and serene. And then the acoustic guitar comes in and completes the track.

It’s notable how simplistic this track is in its composition, yet it’s beautiful and touching. It also feels more whole than the variation of the eight melodies you heard at the Your Sanctuary locations, or when played with the Sound Stone. This is symbolic of Ness’s growth throughout the game, and of one’s own growth throughout their time growing into an adult. The first verse also plays during one of the prayer scenes in the battle against Giygas, when Ness’s mom prays for the safety of her child. Giygas is largely representative of the trauma of adult life, and the loss of innocence. By the time you hear this track in the final battle, it’s when the tides are starting to turn, symbolizing the victory of Ness’s childhood innocence and optimism in the face of sheer terror.

Now for the actual “Smiles & Tears,” playing during the end credits as you see the pictures collected throughout the adventure. Notice how the melody is now harmonized, and is more complete. Considering that it was confirmed that the end credits is of Ness as an adult looking back through the memories of the journey that shaped his life, which is the explanation behind the “I Miss You” clip towards the end, it’s safe to assume this track is representative of how Ness has grown to a fully grown adult, yet has still maintained the innocence of his youth in spite of everything. It’s hard to have a better victory than that.

I put this track at number 1 on my countdown of the most beautiful JRPG ending themes for a reason, and I’m tempted to say it’s my favorite video game song of all time. And I’m not sure what else I could add that I haven’t said there. I’ve stated countless times that EarthBound is my favorite game of all time, and it still is despite how many games I’ve played that are determined to dethrone it. Every other game I’ve played has had at least one point where the game was kinda eh. Even MOTHER 3 had that weird thing with the… sorcerer characters that included an anti-Romani slur in their name, and had some aspects of their character that came across as rather awkward to me as a trans woman. Granted pretty much everything else was superb, but the difference between my GOAT game and my 2nd place is going to come down to some minor things.

There are naturally a few other arrangements of this track. While I don’t feel like giving a full blurb for it, I’d highly suggest giving a listen to the official Mother 2: Gyiyg no Gyakushū soundtrack arrangement. It’s basically the in-game version without the compression and in significantly higher quality, and it’s even more breathtaking than it already was. The only issue is that it is bunched with the pre credits theme “Good Friends, Bad Friends.” Granted that is also an excellent song in an of itself, it’s just a little less convenient if you just want to listen to “Smiles and Tears.”

And there is also the subject of the in game GBA versions of the two tracks and… oh wait, the GBA arrangement of “Smiles & Tears” sounds absolutely fucking awful!

This version here is titled “Smiles & Tears (Demo Track)” that was included in the 2004 re-issue of the soundtrack for EarthBound Beginnings. It is really interesting to see how this early version of the track sounded. One of the most notable differences in the Demo Track compared to the final version, is the drum beat is much more prominent, and you can hear that it sounds strikingly similar the John Lennon song “Mother.”

Not only is that drum beat similar, but most of the instrumentation sounds almost identical, and one can much more clearly notice The Beatles inspiration in this track. It only makes sense seeing as how the series was named after this very song, and how big of a Beatles fan Itoi is. It really is a thing of beauty to see the cycle of amazing works of art inspiring future creators, who in turn create amazing works of art that inspire others. While this variation is missing most of the intro, and the ending isn’t quite as strong, it’s still beautiful in its own right, and I listen to this one frequently.

This version is from the MOTHER 1+2 arrangement album, and is simply titled “Smiles & Tears.” This arrangement is closer to the in-game track than the Demo Track, but it uses real instruments as opposed to the MIDI samples in the MOTHER 2 soundtrack album. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, the same amazing song but in higher quality and real instruments, and it’s as beautiful as always. While I don’t think it’s as good of a remix as the same album’s remix of the MOTHER 1 Ending Theme, it’s still absolutely amazing. And that thirty seconds of running water you hear at the end, I don’t even know if this is its intended purpose, but it makes me strangely nostalgic for my youth, like it must have been the sound of a creek that Itoi lived near or something.

And last but certainly not least, who could forget the arrangement from Super Smash Bros 4? I’m really impressed with this remix, how the fuck did they manage to arrange a slow, reflective track like “Smiles and Tears” into something this energetic and catchy… yet the fucker still makes my eyes well up whenever I hear it?

I mean, it certainly helps how the instrumentation sounds close enough to the original song that it still offers the same feeling of satisfaction and nostalgia, as the original. Remixes of songs that are already amazing are seriously difficult to pull off well, and oftentimes they risk coming across as insulting if done poorly. Yet they not only nailed this one, they went above and beyond to make it absolutely perfect. Hell they even manage to implement the MOTHER 1 Eight Melodies into it.

Well, I think that’s every variation of the song, well except for “16 Melodies” and “Ghosts in Flight,” but I’ll save them for another day. Anyway, I had this ready to go as some sort of sappy feel good “looking forward to a better future” shit that I did the past few years, but it feels odd ending on such a celebratory track after we just barely averted a fascist coup in my home country. But Trump DID lose re-election, and I guess he’s close enough to Giygas that it counts, although he’s definitely a lot stupider… maybe he’s just Porky, I dunno. Maybe trying to connect this shit to politics is a bad idea.

But the idea is that maybe there is still hope for this future despite everything. I can say at the very least that my personal life has gotten better, and that I’ve become a better person over the past few years. I now have three amazing partners who I hope to spend the rest of my life with, and I know fully well that there is a path forward with this site as well. And I know the same is true for all of us as well. I mean, maybe I’m coming across as a bit naive here. You can call me Pollyanna, say I’m crazy as a loon. I believe in silver linings, and that’s why I believe in you!

…I should probably write a piece about that track to.

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