They don't go so well together.
Okay, let me flesh that out a bit. I skimmed through a copy of EGM at a bookstore one day (did you know that EGM still exists in dead tree format? Also, I guess I'm part of the problem). There was an article about the upcoming Soul Calibur V and one of the things that caught my eye aside from the usual PR-speak was the news about Critical Finishers making a return to the game.
For those of you unaware or who don't remember what they were, here's a reel of the various Critical Finishers.
A Critical Finsher was essentially an "I Win" button to punish people who blocked all the time. It had three components: a piece of the enemy's armor had to be broken (doesn't matter which), their Soul Gauge (little glowing ball next to their health bar) had to be blinking red, and then you had to press some shoulder button to trigger it. Honestly, I think it was a bad choice (among others) to put in Soul Calibur IV, but for the most part it was useless outside of a few special battles because you would never get those conditions just right before you were struck down the old-fashioned way, by which I mean a cheap ring out.
Back to the article though. The developer said that Project Soul had received a lot of feedback about the game and the problems with the Critical Finishers were an example. As shown in the E3 trailer, they will be returning in some form to the fifth game. But now they are trying to find a way to make people use them more, yet not turn them into an instant "I Win" button.
Even though there is very little chance that of the people working on SCV are reading this right now, I still feel the need to put down a small list of what I think could be done to fix the problem with these Critical Finishers. Even if this is only for posterity's sake, at least I'll have something to point to "what went wrong" when the game comes out if the Critical Finisher system was barely changed.
Solution #1: Make them Super or Ultra, but not Critical!
Look at the many, many 2D fighting games on the market. They have various systems where any character can call upon a special attack after beating the stuffing out of the opponent, or as a way to make a comeback when half your health disappears. And even then, not all special attacks are alike: some of them require the opponent to be in close range. Others work from far away to punish projectile-firing opponents. Some work as a highly-damaging counter attack when timed properly. And unlike Critical Finishers, they are not simply "I Win" buttons. You actually have to time it so that the opponent won't smack you out of your special attack, dodge, or block it and accept the chip damage.
What I'm saying is that if you're going to include these things, put them in so that they do not instantly kill the opponent. Put them in as a reward for good gameplay, or a handicap for those finding themselves behind (the Super/Ultra attacks in SSF4 work for both). Use it to make the game more exciting and to add a new layer of strategy to the thing, not to immediately shut down the momentum of the round. That way, more people will use them, and they won't have to be worried about one-hit KOs if they have a decent amount of health left.
Solution #2: Be dramatic, be cool, but show some blood!
Okay, I understand if you want a lower rating and you don't want the extreme blood and guts of the Mortal Kombat fatalities.
But look how lame some of those critical finishers are in the reel above! Yoda uses his lightsaber to deliver a stern talking-to to our ol' buddy Starkiller. Cassandra queefs giant pink hearts from her nether-regions (you think I'm joking? Watch the clip!). Astaroth slams his battle axe down and gingerly drags the enemy around before throwing him off-screen. Now I'm not an expert in weaponry but when you slam a giant axe into someone they shouldn't be just lying there with a pained expression on their face. Then again, that's more of a poke against the series as a whole, that the weapons have no feel of danger to them and you might as well be fighting with Nerf Bats the whole time.
So fine, leave the ambiguous ouchies for the normal moves, but if you're going to have Critical Finishers that kill the opponent dead Once And For All, then show someone's head getting cut from their body. Show limbs being cut off. Show just a teeny bit of blood after a character gets stabbed by 50 consecutive sword thrusts. You know much more powerful and awe-inspiring Yoshimitsu's finisher would be if Mitsurugi's head got chopped off? Instead, after a flash of light the samurais just lying on the ground, taking a nap while his spirit is sent to the Next Dimension. While I would prefer Solution #1 (and this could still work in tandem with it), if it is not feasible, then put in a little more realistic violence for the finisher to make it worth seeking out by skilled players.
Also, don't play the cinematic at the start unless the opponent is caught by the initial strike. When you take away the opponent's ability to dodge or block a Critical Finisher, that is just poor gameplay mechanics.
Solution #3: You know what? Just burn it down. If neither of those are viable solutions, then just rip out the Critical Finishers. Use whatever excuse you want. But look at the Tekken series: they don't have any Ultra Combos or super-fancy Distortion Drives and the game is possibly the best 3D fighter around by simply improving the core gameplay. They have 40 different characters with 40 different martial-arts styles that are loosely based off actual fighting techniques (Leo's baijiquan, Hwoarang's taekwando, Miguel's drunken barfighting). You've got people with about 20 different types of weapons, you've got more leeway on this one to make the gameplay better. You don't need to spruce it up with cinematic finishers that players will rarely even use.
Remember how good Soul Calibur II was? Return to those roots, back before you had "create-a-character" modes that was really just putting the most hideous fashions possible on characters that ultimately were just clones and palette-swaps of already-existing characters. Even the ones that were designed by anime artists (I liked Shura, but c'mon, she was exactly like Cervantes with slightly better range). You didn't worry about stupid things like Critical Finishers back then, but you had good gameplay and a challenging story mode. Do that instead. Focus on your roots. A revival of the franchise saved the newest Mortal Kombat, it can save your franchise too, though I expect SCV will have to crash and burn before you learn that lesson.
As I said at the top, I don't expect anyone of consequence will read this, but these are my thoughts on Soul Calibur and Critical Finishers. Also, EGM's dead-tree format was revived somewhat, so those of you who were fans might want to check it out.