So… armored evolution. I think it’s not gonna be a thing and I think it’s stupid but… what do you think about the rumor? How would you feel if that was implemented?
I wouldn’t rule it out, honestly. For those not following, the place this rumour comes from is a 4chan post from a few days before the announcement of Sword and Shield, which correctly predicted the names of the new games, and that they would be set in a region based on Great Britain, so it’s not wildly improbable that this person had some actual insider information (of course, even if they did, they might have had real information on the names and region, but then just made up other stuff to troll everyone, because… like… it’s 4chan, guys, come on). One of the other predictions made therein is that Sword and Shield will introduce “armoured” evolutions, of Pokémon including Zeraora, Charizard, Flygon and Mewtwo. And, I mean, you know you’ve wanted armoured Mewtwo since 1999, and Nintendo has just filed for the Japanese trademark on “Armoured Mewtwo,” and oh hey, they’re remaking that movie in 3D this year for some goddamn reason, and my respect for the Pokémon Company is just tenuous enough to believe that they would do that solely to plug an “armoured evolution” of Mewtwo. A further prediction from the 4chan post is that Meltan will somehow be involved with all this, which… I mean, honestly, yeah; Meltan should start pulling its fµ¢£ing weight already.
And, well, I’m already on the record as predicting (albeit with great reluctance, because I’m a classicist, not a goddamn astrologer) that generation VIII will not prominently feature mega evolution or Z-moves, but some other new mechanic instead – so y’know, in for a penny, in for the mythic treasure of lost El Dorado. “Armoured” evolution kinda seems like something that could conceivably fill that slot. Besides that, another thing I’m already on the record as predicting is that games called “Sword and Shield” set in a region based on Great Britain will invoke references to Arthurian legend, high mediaeval chivalry, “knights in shining armour” and so on, and armour evolution hypothetically would make a lot of sense in that context. It’s not the only something that could conceivably fill a slot and make a lot of sense, because we have the whole stupendous fµ¢£ing vista of human creativity to choose from, but it’s a something. Nonetheless, it remains for the moment three parts rumour to two parts vain prognostication. Therefore there’s nothing for it but to be my usual curmudgeonly self and remind everyone that none of us knows anything and we’re all morons anyway, especially but not exclusively those of us who aren’t me (Socrates, what is armour evolution?).
How I would feel if it were implemented depends very much on how it was implemented, because I think it’s possible to conceive of a spectrum of good and bad versions of this concept. I will note for the record that it is verrrrrrry Digimon (season 2 literally had “Armour Digivolution”). However, I also like Digimon and suspect many of us would agree that Digimon isn’t bad, and both the aesthetically armoured and Armoured-with-a-capital-A Digimon are in many cases pretty popular ones (WarGreymon, for goodness’ sake) – so I don’t think that has to be a damning criticism? Digimon has a very different aesthetic to Pokémon, but Pokémon is allowed to explore different aesthetic choices in new generations. Mostly my concern is that there is necessary worldbuilding work to be done in order for “armour evolution” to not be bull$#!t. Mega evolution is clearly unfair and clearly bull$#!t, but because there is an “enlightenment” component in being able to use it, it gets away with being bull$#!t. Basically, if you whoop someone’s ass with mega evolution, you still “deserve” to win, because you have to be an amazing trainer in the first place to be able to use it. The same goes for Z-moves. Armour could potentially be problematic because we’re piling a whole bunch of equipment onto a Pokémon before sending it into battle, and that seems like cheating, of a fairly blatant sort. If you want to have a world where some Pokémon are just allowed to jump into the ring covered in bladed steel plating and go ham against other Pokémon who are not thusly armed, there is a certain amount of fairly convincing backstory that you have to create around why that’s okay. I think it’s possible to conceive of that backstory being anything from nonexistent, to handwavy, to downright elegant (and, again assuming an Arthurian theme, this would not be wildly out of place, because the idea of a magical armament that represents your virtue and your divine right to power is… kind of central to that mythos). If nothing else, at least we know that the designers who gave us Alola care about worldbuilding.
Mechanically, I can very easily imagine “armour evolution” being just mega evolution by another name, which seems like a dumb idea, and I have to admit I don’t immediately see an easy way out of this, unless the armour is somehow customisable, which seems like a big job, design- and balance-wise. Jim the Editor wants customisable armour to be a feature of some kind of minigame (parallel to, for instance, Hoenn’s contests or Unova’s film studio) based on Mediaeval tournaments with events like mêlée and jousting, which could be fun, interesting and thematically appropriate, but personally I doubt that so much design effort would go into something that wasn’t going to be part of the main battle system. Still, it’s an angle, and it would sidestep my biggest issues with the concept (distinctiveness from mega evolution, and in-universe “fairness”).