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Exit music (for a video game): 11 songs worth sitting through the credits

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1. “Ending,” Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 2 introduced elements of a stage-play motif into the series, with a drawn curtain framing its character select screen. Super Mario Bros. 3 went much further. It opens with a curtain rising to reveal Mario and Luigi before the title and various props come crashing down as if they were hanging from unseen rafters above the checkerboard stage. That theatrical setup all but disappears until the ending, though. This track kicks in after Mario thwarts Bowser and is reunited with the Princess. Its sweet echoing chimes—and Peach’s bit of uncharacteristic self-referential humor—load their meeting with more emotion than an NES could normally hope to conjure. With that, the screen fades to black, and the curtain returns to close our story. But right on time, the score changes gears and returns to the energy and reggae flavor of previous themes for the game’s literal curtain call. [Matt Gerardi]

2. “Radical Dreamers ~ Unstolen Jewel ~,” Chrono Cross

Three gigantic Yasunori Mitsuda songs close Chrono Cross, the divisive sequel to the beloved Chrono Trigger. After the sweeping orchestration of the song you perform to beat the final boss—casting spells to play the notes—and listening to the epilogue’s elegiac soundtrack comes “Radical Dreamers.” The plucked guitar played by Tomohiko Kira provides a foundation for Noriko Mitose’s singing. With the wistful sweetness of the best folk songs, it provides an aching intimacy many people accuse Cross of missing. Unlike Trigger’s wonderful ending theme, which is full of forward looking optimism, “Radical Dreamers” has an air of finality. Something has closed. An era is done. It was good, but it’s over, and that’s okay. [Anthony John Agnello]


3. “March Caprice For Piano And Orchestra,” Kingdom Hearts

These days, the Kingdom Hearts series is about as approachable and comprehensible as James Joyce’s oeuvre, but the first game remains a simple story about a boy searching for his missing friends. It ends on a bittersweet note, though, and Yoko Shimomura’s score takes on a much more serious tone to accommodate it. “March Caprice For Piano And Orchestra” injects sadness and sincerity into a soundtrack that, right up until the end credits, mostly consisted of zippy toe-tappers and lightly remixed tunes from classic Disney films. The sudden change in atmosphere amplifies the hard-earned emotional payoff of the final scene, and it paved the way for Kingdom Hearts’ melodramatic future—for better or worse. [Patrick Lee]


4. “Zombies On Your Lawn,” Plants Vs. Zombies

Plants Vs. Zombies was an unmitigated success when it launched in 2009 with its approachable take on tower defense and a heap of irreverent charm. It culminates with a grueling final boss fight, though, and your reward for seeing it through is this tune by Laura Shigihara that channels PVZ’s adorable apocalypse into family-friendly bubblegum pop. The accompanying animation even reappropriates the game’s sprites to make the shuffling zombies boogie. The music video was so delightful, PopCap Games released it as the official promo trailer before the game’s release. [Derrick Sanskrit]

5. “Das Malefitz,” Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3’s climax is about as climactic as a climax can get. It’s an apocalyptic throw down with all the galaxy’s civilized species in one corner and giant crab robots from beyond the stars in the other, and the game’s score matches the scale of its conflict with track after track of blasting horns and screaming violins. When the final blow is dealt and the war is won, though, the soundtrack smartly backs off, going small and quiet instead of pushing for something even more impossibly epic. “Das Malefitz,” by Canadian electronic rock band Faunts (who also provided the credits music for the original Mass Effect), is a slick, groovy mood piece that gives the game’s bombastic ending some much needed space to breathe and a smooth comedown after so much stress and heightened emotion. [Patrick Lee]


6. “Dared To Dream,” Double Dragon Neon

Double Dragon Neon demonstrates that its tongue is placed in its cheek long before the end credits, but “Dared To Dream” blows away any lingering doubts about the production’s wackiness. Things kick off with a chorus swell of “Oooooh, you beat the game!” before arch villain Skullmageddon roars into an ’80s rock-opera ballad explaining the motivations of his evil plot. Follow the bouncing skull and sing along as he describes his dream of living happily ever after with the kidnapped damsel in his secret hiding place (the perfectly vague “outer space”). It’s enough to inspire the hope that any further Double Dragon installments eschew their traditional beat-’em-up trappings in favor of a full-on musical. [Derrick Sanskrit]


7. “Deadman’s Gun,” Red Dead Redemption

It’s rare for a video game to pull out a licensed song—with vocals and everything—at an emotional moment, but Red Dead Redemption does it four times. The last instance, which plays during the credits, is the most impactful. The game’s final stretch sends you on a quest to avenge your father’s death, and when you reach the man responsible, he challenges you to a duel. When you win, your vengeance isn’t met with a heroic fanfare but “Deadman’s Gun” by Ashtar Command, a downer of a song about holding onto what you believe in even when you don’t have the strength to do so. It robs the ending of anything resembling triumph and underlines the idea that Red Dead Redemption isn’t about how cool it is to kill your enemies. It’s about how a life of violence creates nothing but more violence. [Sam Barsanti]


8. “Paper Boats,” Transistor

Transistor is a cyberpunk love story. Beneath the clever combat, stylized visuals, and mysterious narrative, it’s a classic tale of a woman and her boyfriend who happens to be a time-stopping sword. It makes sense, then, that the track playing over the end credits would be a love song. Sung by Ashley Barrett, performing in character as Red, the game’s star, “Paper Boats” is a longing, hopeful ballad set against the dark electronica that defines Transistor’s world. “I’ll always find you,” she sings, “like it’s written in the stars.” In Transistor’s world, Red is a premiere pop star, a digitized Zelda Fitzgerald by way of Hayley Williams. “Paper Boats” sells that identity while also providing a beautiful, thematically resonant ending tune. [Jake Muncy]


9-10. “A Hero’s Return,” Mega Man 7; “End Credits,” Mega Man 8

Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8 may not have ubiquitous approval like Mega Man 2, but they both have awesome closing tracks that conveniently act as a perfect A-side/B-side pairing. “A Hero’s Return” is a blazing metal jam, with a rigid spine of synth drums pounding away beneath a drill of a bass line. When the bridge kicks in, you can feel the flames burning down Dr. Wily’s latest castle. This fiery tune comes after Mega Man 7’s uncharacteristically dark turn wherein the noble robot threatens to kill Dr. Wily. Together, that moment and this song signal a shift that saw the classic series draw as close as it would get to the bleak Mega Man X games. But Mega Man 8’s credits song is a course correction. It soothes the wound left by MM7 with a muted, jazzy melody that taps into the longing heard in the classic credits themes of Mega Man 2 and 3. The drums bop instead of drive, though, and the piano and horns combine for an air of reconciliation. [Anthony John Agnello]


11. “GOD HAND,” God Hand

In 2006, God Hand attempted to do what Demon’s and Dark Souls would accomplish several years later: reinvent a traditional video game structure with an eye toward complex, uncompromising action. The big difference was the choice in structure. The Souls games take the shape of moody Gothic fantasy and have the melancholy atmosphere to match. God Hand was revisiting the mindless arcade beat-’em-ups of yore, and it came packing a boatload of goofy comedy. But the wackiness does little to soften the game’s punishing difficulty. If you manage to make it through, though, you’re treated to this rocking tune. With heady lyrics like “Hand to hand or fist to fist / Kick your nuts or twist your wrist,” any over-the-top ’80s anime worth its salt would be proud to call this its Americanized theme song. [Matt Gerardi]