In Red and Blue, Eevee was unique, the only Pokémon in the game with a branching evolution. The introduction of some of Gold and Silver’s new Pokémon, like Slowking, changed that – several others could now evolve in multiple different ways. Tyrogue even had a three-way split, into Hitmonchan, Hitmonlee and Hitmontop. Clearly this would not do, so Gold and Silver also added two more members to Eevee’s family; if she couldn’t be the only Pokémon with multiple evolutions, she could still have more than anyone else. Thus we have Espeon and Umbreon, the evolutions connected with the day and the night – and for today, it falls to us to look at Espeon.
Much as Vaporeon, Jolteon and Flareon each play to a different set of aesthetic preferences, Espeon tries for another still different look; with her aloof, alien countenance, forked tail and intense, flashing eyes, Espeon’s air is one of mysterious, otherworldly power – appropriately enough for a Psychic-type. Espeon is unusual for a Psychic Pokémon in that her most famous ability doesn’t actually result from psychic power at all; she can predict the immediate future with an uncanny degree of accuracy – everything from weather patterns to an opponent’s movements – but does it by reading subtle changes in air currents with her fine, sensitive hairs. I almost suspect this is meant to make us ask whether all psychic power in the Pokémon universe actually has a more mundane explanation… but, then, we’re also told explicitly that Espeon does use “psycho-power” and she has the standard set of telekinetic and telepathic abilities available to all Psychic-types, so maybe I’m giving Game Freak too much credit here. Like many Psychic Pokémon, Espeon is particularly associated with loyalty towards and protection of worthy trainers, which makes sense given the way she evolves. Oddly, she’s also connected with the sun and daylight – oddly, because she has few powers related to it. I imagine this was intended to set her up as an opposite to Umbreon, who is strongly linked with the moon and the night, and I suppose Psychic is the closest thing Pokémon has to a ‘light’ or ‘holy’ type, but I can’t help but think that this could have been done better if Espeon had been created later in the series’ life. She does have Morning Sun as a signature move, and she can learn Sunny Day (along with just about every Pokémon in the game except for Water-types) but doesn’t get much benefit from it; surely it would make sense for her to learn Solarbeam, at least? I don’t know; if I were designing Espeon today I would probably do her totally differently to emphasise the solar aspect, but I guess given the tools that were available in Gold and Silver (no abilities, fewer weather-related effects) what we have is fine.
Gold and Silver are the games that introduced the idea that Eevee’s branching evolution is a result of adaptation to multiple different environments, so it’s odd that the two evolutions introduced in that very generation, Espeon and Umbreon, are the hardest to connect with any particular ecosystem. A possible clue, though, is the stimulus that triggers Espeon’s evolution – close friendship with a trainer – and the suggestion from Ruby and Sapphire that “this Pokémon developed its precognitive powers to protect its trainer from harm.” I suspect that Espeon arose fairly recently (in terms of evolutionary biology), after humans and Pokémon first began working together, and represents the result of a strain of Eevee who became adapted to domestication, the eventual descendents of the first groups of Jolteon and Flareon who took human partners. She has telepathic abilities to allow her to sense the orders of her human trainers, and can predict the future to intercept attacks before they happen. Furthermore, unlike the raw elemental forces wielded by Flareon, Vaporeon and Jolteon, Espeon’s telekinetic attacks are very unlikely to cause ‘friendly fire’ problems; she’s not going to hurt anything she doesn’t fully intend to hurt, making it safer to use her strongest powers around groups of people. Furthermore, I’d suggest that Espeon isn’t a hunter – early domesticated Pokémon, one assumes, would have been involved with hunting like the first domesticated dogs, but a more predatory type like Jolteon seems better suited to that. I think Espeon may be a Pokémon dedicated to the defence of the settled communities that developed later in humanity’s history, which makes some thematic sense given the connection between Psychic-types and more ‘evolved’ or ‘civilised’ states of mind. The other forms are older, and joined with humanity out of convenience; Espeon actually developed with us, changing as we did.
When you want to fight with Espeon, many of the same issues arise as we encountered with Vaporeon, Jolteon and Flareon. Espeon has extremely good special attack and speed, which ideally make her a sweeper of some kind, but her special movepool is less than stellar – in Gold and Silver, it was pretty much Psychic, Bite, and Zap Cannon. Her signature move, Morning Sun, provides her with healing, but frankly Espeon is much too frail to be worrying about that. I guess Charm might help her survive a hit or two. Like her brothers and sisters, she can learn Baton Pass as an Eevee, but Gold and Silver didn’t really give her anything to do with it. Ruby and Sapphire changed that. Espeon only gained three things of value in Ruby and Sapphire: Reflect, Light Screen, and Calm Mind. Reflect and Light Screen are great, but nothing to make a fuss about – Calm Mind, which increases both special attack and special defence, is what gives Espeon her niche. Very few Pokémon could learn both Calm Mind and Baton Pass, and Espeon was (indeed, still is) the best of them; her own ability as a special attacker remained limited, but helping others to set up was another story. Diamond and Pearl didn’t much change what Espeon was good at – like many Pokémon, she gained a lot of new attacks, notably Shadow Ball, Grass Knot and, in Platinum, Signal Beam, but, while useful, these new moves aren’t powerful enough to dramatically change her game. Meanwhile, the conversion of Pursuit, along with every other existing Dark-type move, into a physical attack spelled disaster for many Psychic Pokémon whose defensive skills were far weaker on the physical side, including Espeon. For a while there, things looked grim… until Black and White gave Espeon one last trick, the best of all.
The thing about Espeon’s ability, Synchronise, is that while it’s nice to have, it doesn’t really have great strategic implications. If Espeon is poisoned, burned or paralysed by another Pokémon that is vulnerable to the same condition, she causes her attacker to suffer from the same effect. This is a useful defence against a specific kind of attack, but it doesn’t help Espeon much; she’s still poisoned, paralysed or burned as well. Her Dream World ability is something else. Espeon’s Dream World ability is Magic Bounce, a truly absurd power shared only by Xatu, which effectively gives her a permanent Magic Coat – all incoming status moves (basically anything that harms a Pokémon without actually damaging it, from String Shot and Worry Seed to Stealth Rock and Dark Void) are reflected back upon their user. This makes Espeon an utter nightmare for support Pokémon, since she can potentially ruin them just by switching in if you time it right; some moves, like Hypnosis, will potentially take a Pokémon out of the game if you reflect them back. The fact that Magic Bounce also renders Espeon herself immune to all these techniques is nothing to sniff at either. The other thing worth noting is that Espeon also gets a couple of new Psychic attacks for variety – Psyshock is a special attack that does physical damage, allowing Espeon and other Psychic Pokémon to break powerful special walls (i.e. Blissey), while Stored Power, an attack that does more damage for every buff affecting Espeon, synergises well with her normal role of Calm Mind passing. Espeon doesn’t really ‘do’ sweeping – her stats look right for it, but her real talents lie elsewhere. As support Pokémon go, she’s pretty top-notch; kept away from high-powered physical attackers and partnered with your own special sweepers who need a bit more oomph, Espeon is sure to reward you.
As I believe I’ve mentioned, Espeon is actually my favourite Eevee form. This isn’t because of any particular excellence of design, though; it’s just personal preference. I feel Espeon is, all around, reasonably well done, and Game Freak have actually built on her skillset over time to make up for her initial weaknesses – admittedly, this is probably by sheer coincidence, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth (well… unless a Greek warlord is giving it to you). Aside from the recent addition of that absurd Magic Bounce ability (which probably makes her the most powerful member of the family), there’s nothing about Espeon to get really excited over, either mechanically or thematically, but there’s nothing especially wrong with her either, and she has a solid, legitimate place of her own amongst Eevee’s varied evolutions.