RandomAccess asks:

I recently found out that in Sword and Shield, they retconned some evolution methods, specifically the ones that require being in a certain area then leveling them up. They had Pokemon that evolve in a special magnetic field (like Charjabug to Vikavolt) evolve using a thunder stone instead, the one who evolves around a moss rock(Eevee to Leafeon) use a leaf stone instead, and the one who evolves around an ice rock(Eevee to Glaceon) use an ice stone instead. To my knowledge, this is the first time they retconned an evolution method to one that has already been used before (unlike the case of introducing a new method, like the prism scale item for Feebas to make up for not having the contest-dependent beauty stat in generation 5). I honestly think this is a good move, and really opens up the door to either making things easier for people who don’t like currently cumbersome evolution methods, or changing them in the future to make them reflect the lore better (hoping using a shelder to evolve a slowpoke can become a reality in the future) but what do you think about them suddenly becoming more open to changing long-standing mechanics that they’ve been careful not to contradict before?

It just seems like fairly straightforwardly a good thing, to me.  I mean, those weird location-based evolutions mostly exist, I think, to satisfy the rule that an old Pokémon getting a new evolution has to use a method that wasn’t previously available, to keep the games consistent.  That is a dumb rule in the first place.  Not only is it a dumb rule, though, it saddles us with a requirement that any game with Magneton in it must have an area with a weird magnetic field, and any game with Eevee in it must have a Mossy Rock and an Icy Rock, and so on.  Day/night mechanics are just standard now, but that was actually a problem in generation III because Fire Red and Leaf Green have no clock and it was impossible to evolve Eevee into Espeon or Umbreon in those games.  Even Pokémon that had unusual evolution methods when they were first introduced are kind of a drag… I mean, Inkay, for heaven’s sake; you can’t evolve Inkay if you’re playing on a big screen because there’s no way to turn it upside down.  Meltan’s evolution is tied to a completely different game that Game Freak doesn’t have direct control over.  Like… at some point, common sense has to kick in, just to keep us all from going mad… right?

Leafeon

Official art of Leafeon, by Ken Sugimori; Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Nintendo wgah'nagl fhtagn.I’ve never been entirely sure what to think of Leafeon.  My initial impression, just to get it out of the way, was that ‘Leafeon’ is an incredible cop-out of a name; I’d always hoped a Grass-type Eevee would have a somewhat more creative name like ‘Arboreon’ or ‘Chloreon’ or something.  I guess the name isn’t that important, though – right?  Let’s look at what else he can offer us.

Leafeon is a pacifist.  He doesn’t fight if he can possibly avoid it, and frankly he doesn’t need to, because, unlike most of Eevee’s other forms, Leafeon isn’t carnivorous – in fact he doesn’t eat at all.  He’s instead adapted his cells to photosynthesise, like plant cells do, and spends most of his time basking in the sunlight.  Because of the way he sustains himself, Leafeon, in a reversal of the standard set-up for animals, breathes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, creating a permanent zone of fresh, clean air around his body.  The issue I take with this is that it’s really rather boring.  As I mentioned months ago when I complained about Sunflora, it’s just not interesting to talk up the fact that a Grass Pokémon photosynthesises when all Grass Pokémon photosynthesise, even the ones like Gloom and Amoonguss who are based on things that don’t.  This is, you may have noticed, something of a pervasive trend with Eevee’s evolved forms; often the most significant aspects of their designs are that they’re just like other Pokémon of their respective elements, which sort of makes Eevee more interesting by emphasising her potential for change at the expense of the evolutions themselves (more on this at the end of this series).  I suppose it’s true that the idea of purifying the air has never specifically been called out as an attribute of any other Grass Pokémon – again, it’s something that they all do, but the fact that photosynthesis, y’know, makes the air breathable is an aspect of the process that people often forget, and it does deserve to be emphasised once in a while.  I’d be much happier if it were actually related to Leafeon’s powers or art in some way, though.  It would make me feel like there’s some point to the design, which is currently rather lacking.

 A Leafeon surveying his forest domain, by Diaris (http://diaris.deviantart.com/).

Leafeon and Glaceon mark the point at which Game Freak finally committed to the idea floated in Gold and Silver that Eevee’s evolution into multiple different forms is triggered by exposure to different environments.  Leafeon will evolve in the presence of a Moss Rock, which is… well… exactly what it sounds like, a great big boulder covered in moss.  There’s one in the Eterna Forest in Sinnoh, and one in the Pinwheel Forest in Unova.  I’m not entirely sure why the rock is necessary.  Eevee doesn’t actually need to be near it; her evolution is tied to the whole wider game area in which the rock is located, the way Nosepass and Magneton are tied to Mount Coronet.  I guess the game designers just wanted to have some kind of marker.  Anyway, Leafeon’s evolution method makes the question of his environment relatively straightforward: Leafeon is an Eevee adapted to life in dense, old-growth temperate forests.  This, surprisingly, raises some odd questions.  Leafeon is an animal who is specifically adapted to use photosynthesis instead of hunting or grazing for food.  This makes absolutely no sense for a temperate forest environment, where biomass is plentiful but sunlight is at a premium, most of it drunk up by the tall, old trees that make up the forest’s canopy.  If you’re a plant anyway, it makes sense to go with it and learn to live on relatively little sunshine, or become an epiphyte and leech off larger plants, but if you started off as an animal (as Leafeon did), already reliant on eating plants or other animals for energy, there isn’t really any logical reason to make the change.  I suppose it would make some sense of things if Leafeon actually spent most of his time in the canopy, clambering around the highest branches where it’s reasonably bright and he doesn’t have to deal with tall trees hogging all the sun.  It would follow, then, that Leafeon is more dextrous and nimble than he appears, probably able to climb and jump with great speed and skill – like a peaceful version of the Malagasy fossa, a catlike relative of the weasel that can move on the ground and in the trees with practically equal ease.

It occurred to me, briefly, that I was probably reading way too much into this.  Then I remembered that reading way too much into things is kinda my schtick.

You people have no idea how awesome it is being me.  It’s like being a rich American on holiday; you strut around yakking, utterly fascinated by things that everyone else takes for granted, and people are nice to you for no discernible reason, even though no-one has any idea what you’re saying.

Anyway.

 A clean, minimalistic take on Leafeon by LyricaDreams (http://lyricadreams.deviantart.com/).

It is, unfortunately, one of Game Freak’s most important rules of design that Grass-Types Do Not Get Nice Things.  Furthermore, as we have established, it is another important rule that Eevee’s evolutions have an extremely limited selection of attacks.  These two factors conspire to make Leafeon very difficult to find a niche for.  His best stat is physical defence, but this is offset by his poor HP and special defence scores.  He has very good attack and speed, but his usable physical movepool is tiny.  Leaf Blade is an excellent start, but X-Scissor is almost totally redundant (Grass and Bug have four weaknesses in common and don’t really complement each other at all), Aerial Ace is just a little bit pathetic as far as damage goes, Normal attacks are Normal attacks, but at least they’re always good for neutral damage, and… and… yeah, okay, I think that’s it, actually.  I guess if you really enjoy basking in the awfulness of Leafeon’s movepool you can always give him Rock Smash; it’ll outshine all his other attacks against most Steel-types, not that this is saying much.  Leafeon can improve his attacks with Swords Dance, but they’re so easy to counter that this is unlikely to help.  He’s probably better off using Baton Pass to let someone else take those Swords Dance boosts, and with his good speed he’s actually not that bad at this.  The trouble is that, unlike his brothers and sisters who also favour Baton Pass, Leafeon doesn’t really have a niche here.  Jolteon is one of the fastest Pokémon in the game, and as such it’s very difficult to stop him from passing.  Umbreon is easily the toughest Pokémon capable of passing Curse.  Espeon was hands-down the best Calm Mind passer (aside from Mew) even before she got Magic Bounce.  Vaporeon’s massive HP stat allows her to create and pass very powerful Substitutes to soak enemy attacks.  When we come to Leafeon… well, there are quite a few Pokémon who can pass Swords Dance, and many of them are very good at it.  Leafeon has competition from the likes of Scyther and Scizor, Blaziken, Mienshao, Gliscor, Ninjask… hell, Scolipede is faster than Leafeon and has a much better physical movepool.  Naturally, Leafeon also has a few nice moves like Wish, Yawn and Heal Bell that the whole family shares… but if you use Leafeon for those moves, you sort of have to ask yourself why you aren’t using Vaporeon or Espeon.

 Leafeon sitting in a secluded hideaway, by Peach-Momoko (http://peach-momoko.deviantart.com/).

The final insult is that Leafeon has a Dream World ability which would be absolutely perfect for a Swords Dance sweeper (as Sawsbuck demonstrates, in fact) – Chlorophyll doubles his speed in bright sunlight, allowing him to outrun practically everything that he could possibly want to.  Unfortunately, as we’ve established, Leafeon is not really a good sweeper because of his appalling physical movepool, and no amount of speed is likely to change that.  The Chlorophyll boost can’t be passed either (although it does, admittedly, make it easier for Leafeon to get off a Baton Pass without being knocked out).  His regular ability, Leaf Guard, makes him immune to poison, paralysis and the like in bright sunlight, which is very useful to have, certainly, but you don’t actually need status attacks to beat Leafeon anyway, and if he happens to take one while the weather is less than clement, Leaf Guard does him no good.

In the end, Leafeon is disturbingly reminiscent of Flareon; a theoretically powerful Pokémon who is utterly hamstrung by a lack of synergy within his skillset and a small variety of options.  He’s also, to my mind anyway, that most sinful of atrocities – a boring Pokémon with no clear design goals, and no particular niche to distinguish him from either the rest of his family or the rest of his element.  I realise this will probably sound like ‘new Pokémon hate,’ a pervasive evil which I prefer not to condone, but I really do think that Leafeon and Glaceon passed the ‘too much’ threshold for the Eevee family.  Better not give away too much of the next entry, though…