Final Thoughts: Eevee

Official art of Eevee, by Ken Sugimori; image copyright by Nintendo, yaaay.All these entries on Vaporeon, Jolteon, Flareon, Espeon, Umbreon, Leafeon, Glaceon… what about little Eevee?  Doesn’t she deserve some love too?  When you think about it, Eevee is actually the most important of the lot.  Without her, all the rest are just generic Pokémon of their own types, for the most part; many of them are well-designed, but they’re not really all that interesting on their own.  To no small extent, the thing that makes them worth thinking about is their common origin – a tiny Normal Pokémon with limitless potential.

Eevee is called “the Evolution Pokémon” – indeed, the word ‘evolution’ is the origin of her name, in both English and Japanese (where she is Eievui).  She pioneered the idea of a branched evolution, a concept that was originally unique to her, with her split into Vaporeon, Jolteon, and Flareon in Red and Blue.  When other branching evolutions were introduced in Gold and Silver, Eevee continued to have more branches than anyone else with the addition of Espeon and Umbreon, and today she has a grand total of seven possible final forms.  Eevee wasn’t just the first Pokémon to have multiple evolved forms, though – I think she actually got the whole idea spectacularly right, to an extent that subsequent Pokémon haven’t.  Split evolutions typically develop different ideas of a single design, and gain their real significance when you view them together, as pairs of Pokémon, but few of them go in radically different directions the way Eevee does, and the differences between their powers and abilities are often minor.  Slowbro and Slowking are probably the worst offenders – Slowbro has better physical defence, Slowking has better special defence and access to a few extra moves, and the opposition in their flavour is basically that Slowking is smart and Slowbro is dumb, because Slowking is high on Shellder venom 24/7 or something.  Bellossom and Vileplume are another pair where the differences are very subtle; Bellossom isn’t a Poison-type, but they have basically the same combat roles, and although thematically they represent an interesting day-night duality, it’s not something that comes through a great deal in their designs (largely because Vileplume was created first and Bellossom added later).  What all of these splits have in common is that, for the younger Pokémon who has the potential to go either way, it’s not a significant design element.  Poliwhirl doesn’t care that he could evolve into either Politoed or Poliwrath.  It doesn’t matter to Clamperl that she could become either a Huntail or a Gorebyss.  It’s just incidental that these Pokémon happen to have a choice.  For Eevee, it’s very different.  For Eevee, the choice is the whole point.

 Another piece by the inimitable Diaris (http://diaris.deviantart.com/), this time of Eevee rolling around in an orchard.

I believe that this is the key to Eevee’s consistent popularity throughout the franchise’s life: she offers something for everyone.  Her multitude of evolved forms represent not just many elements but many ways of appealing to players; whether you like cute Pokémon or tough Pokémon, beautiful Pokémon or mysterious Pokémon, Eevee can make it happen (just about the only aesthetic type missing is a brutish Pokémon).  This is a huge potential strength for the idea of branched evolutions, which most of them don’t fully exploit, and I think future designs could do some wonderful things by building on this model.  One of my pet ideas, which some of you might remember from my wrap-up entry on the starter Pokémon earlier this year, is to have a game with only one choice of starter Pokémon, but to give that Pokémon a branching evolution dependent the way your relationship with it develops.  Storyline-dependent split evolutions would, I think, be a very fun concept to work with and could produce a lot of cool ideas with interesting impacts on the way the games feel… but let’s get back to Eevee.  The point I’m making about the versatility of Eevee’s aesthetic appeal is also at the heart of one of my problems with Leafeon and Glaceon – I think that by the time Game Freak got around to adding Grass and Ice versions of Eevee, most of the possibilities for aesthetic development had already been exhausted.  Leafeon’s wide, alien eyes and foliage-covered body produce an aura of mystery and otherworldliness similar to that cultivated by Espeon, while Glaceon’s sleek, beautiful form shares a great deal with Vaporeon in terms of design goals.  I don’t think adding Leafeon and Glaceon was necessarily a mistake.  They could have been done well.  The problem is that, traditionally, Eeveelutions don’t have a whole lot of variety or detail other than those basic design choices and their elemental affiliations – their powers are typically very standard fare, and most of them don’t have particularly interesting behavioural traits or personalities.  As a result, they’re interesting only within the context of their family, not as independent Pokémon themselves.  Even this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, I should emphasise – because, of course, we always will view them as a part of that family – but it does, in my view, place a limit on how effective any future additions can be.  There are enough of them now that the essential point has been made already.

Someone asked me a few days ago which of the remaining ten elements I would most like to see used for a new Eeveelution.  Honestly this is one of those times where I have to begin my answer with “actually, I wouldn’t, but since you ask…”  After Leafeon and Glaceon, I think that continuing to add more would be rather labouring the point.  Eevee has more evolutions than any other Pokémon in the game, allowing her to express interesting themes of adaptability and diversity.  Most of the evolutions themselves are not especially interesting in isolation, and are more valuable for being part of that wider idea.  Why add more?  Only if you can do something different, something that casts a whole new light on the themes established by the existing members of the family.  Let’s talk about those themes for a bit because they’re important.  Evolution, as defined in the Pokémon universe, is of course a very different thing from the kind of evolution we talk about in modern biology, but in Eevee the two are fortuitously united.  Real evolution, of the kind first outlined in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, is the barely perceptible change of species (not – and this is important – individuals) over the course of generations in response to environmental pressures.  It does not aim in any direction.  It doesn’t make species stronger or faster or smarter.  It only makes them better suited to specific sets of environmental conditions.  The contrast with Pokémon evolution, which operates within an individual’s lifetime and (with a few notable exceptions) normally does make them stronger, faster, smarter and (again, with a few notable exceptions) larger, is obvious.  Eevee acknowledges the real-world concepts of evolution with her great spread of possible evolved forms – none of them superior or inferior (well, yes, okay, we all know Flareon is rubbish and Espeon is ridiculous, but it doesn’t seem like the designers intended for things to work out that way), merely different, and better adapted to different roles and different lifestyles.  At the same time, though, Eevee is still ‘evolving’ like a Pokémon, changing within her own lifetime to reflect the environment around her (this is actually more similar to the alternative, now discredited, model of evolution once proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and I am becoming convinced that species of Pokémon actually develop by Lamarckian evolution – Google it; it’s fascinating stuff).  This creates a fascinating contrast, which is why I’ve been so interested in probing the environmental conditions that lead to each of Eevee’s evolved forms, and why I think this is the aspect of the design that Game Freak should be focusing on in the future – it doesn’t just have the potential to tell us some fascinating things about all Pokémon, it could even be educational too!

 A more realistic take on Eevee by RacieB (http://racieb.deviantart.com/).

The problem – and it’s one I’ve been trying to work around as I go – is that the designers’ level of commitment to this concept doesn’t seem to have been constant all the way through.  In particular, their use of the theme of environmental adaptation is rather haphazard.  As I mentioned in Glaceon’s entry, it makes sense to us on a certain level that Pokémon in hot places should fight with fire, and Pokémon in cold places should fight with ice, and Pokémon that live in forests should act like plants, and so on, because we expect them to take on the traits of the things around them.  When you think of it from an ecological standpoint, though, it starts to get quite odd.  It makes sense for Glaceon to resist cold, because she lives in cold places, but does it make sense for her to use the cold, when everything around her will resist cold as well?  Conversely, it makes sense for Leafeon to be able to use the plants around him, since he’s a jungle Pokémon, but does it make sense for him to adopt a lifestyle that leads him into direct competition with all those plants?  This is the reason I don’t place Flareon in a volcanic environment, even though this is something of a standard choice for Fire Pokémon – of course the fire-based creatures that live there already, like Slugma or Magmar, would innately be able to use fire, but if you were a Normal-type moving into a place like that, what survival advantage would be conferred by gaining fire abilities?  In the end, of course, a complete ecology of the Pokémon world is a long way off – if there’s even any possibility it will ever happen at all – but I think looking at Eevee in a more critical light might be a good place for any such project to start.

 Before today, you all had to trudge through the endless dreariness of your dull and unfulfilling lives without the awesomeness that is an Eeveelution rock band.  Now, thanks to Tinysnail (http://tinysnail.deviantart.com/), you no longer have to!

Let’s return to that question I was supposed to be answering.  What else could you evolve Eevee into?  Ground, Rock, or Fighting?  They would be obvious choices for filling that one remaining aesthetic niche, but I’m not sure the idea of a brutish Eevee is necessarily one that would achieve any particular appeal.  Poison?  What thematic aims would be served by creating a poisonous Eevee?  Flying, Bug or Dragon would be… odd, put it that way.  They would make our new Eeveelution very much an odd one out in the Field egg group, since those three types are some of those that map most closely onto corresponding breeding groups, and they also raise some concerns about what environmental stimulus, exactly, would prompt Eevee to sprout wings or additional legs.  Ghost could potentially bring up some points about Eevee’s interaction with humans, but I’m not convinced you could do anything with it that Espeon and Umbreon didn’t.  I’d prefer to leave Steel out of it, because that’s getting perilously close to drawing human modification into things, which I worry would rather miss the point.  In fact I think there’s really only one type you could do anything interesting with if you wanted to make an eighth evolved form for Eevee.  It’s Normal.  All the other forms focus on shedding Eevee’s flexibility in exchange for becoming supremely well-adapted to a particular environment; a Normal-type evolution could instead look at the idea of retaining that adaptability; instead of having the narrow movepools that signify the specialisation of the other forms, she could use a wide selection of moves to act as a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ type character (something like, say, Clefable or Mesprit, except that it would be the whole point of the design rather than an unintended result).  I might abandon the traditional Eeveelution stat spread as well, and give it flat average stats across the board, just to ram the point home.  This is a Pokémon that travels widely and can live anywhere.  It can’t settle down and really force other species out of their permanent niches, but it can get by in just about any environment.  As a result, it’s both adventurous and capricious, preferring not to stay in one place for too long, and, like humans, prizes wide knowledge and varied experiences.  The unfortunate weakness to this design is that I really have no idea where I would take its art – all my concerns about retreading old ground still stand, and I’m not especially wild about the obvious route of just creating a bigger, fluffier Eevee either.

The point I am by slow degrees trying to make here is that Eevee, in my opinion, is a fascinating Pokémon, who can provide some interesting lessons in design that haven’t really been appreciated or explored, even by her own more recent family members.  Her massive popularity (and that of her older siblings) isn’t just a question of cuteness, because of course Eevee is cute, but there’s nothing really to recommend her over the legions of other cute Pokémon out there.  She succeeds because she can be many things to many people.  If you love your Eevee, she will grow with you, reflecting your own ambitions and your own choices – and that, when it comes right down to it, is what Pokémon is all about.

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