All the Rage
There are no random battles. Instead, each battle is part of the story (sometimes barely, but still they try) or manually activated by choosing the “Practice” option in the menu. Before each battle, you're given time to prepare: a dossier of the enemies, their formation, and even what strategy they may employ, a personal Doc Louis in your corner for every bout. From there, you pick three characters and four items into battle. In addition to making sure that the weapons and items you take into battle are effective against opponents, they have to have enough uses in them left to last the battle's duration (each item has a set amount and is removed permanently once depleted) and that your characters can actually use them, since virtually every item's stats changes depending on who's using it.
In battle, you have an Overdrive bar that increases every time you take or deal damage. Fill it enough, and you can perform destructive attacks or major heals, depending on what items you bring into battle. Each enemy has three levels of attacks (Normal, Rage, and Max), and which one they use corresponds with whatever stage the enemies' Rage Meter is at (not only does the Overdrive bar fill every time you deal damage, it fills their Rage Meter). Every time a character starts their turn, regardless of which side they're on, the Rage Meter decreases, so if the Rage Meter is at “Rage” level, there's a chance that it could drop back down to “Normal” level. Though when it's at “Max,” there's no stopping it then; best to prepare for a major attack and afterwards, when the bar reset, prepare for a counter.
Every time an enemy dies, part of the Rage Meter gets cemented and is permanently filled, so it becomes much easier to tick off the enemies as the battle goes on. Total genius. Know how in other RPGs when you're fighting a boss who's surrounding by a bunch of small cronies? The basic tactician within dictates to pick off the easy guys first and then hone in on the big guy, whereas in Riviera it's the exact opposite: killing them first will only make it easier for the boss to set off its Max attack more frequently, and Riviera is hard enough so that you don't want this to happen. Battles now become a matter of risk versus payoff: as your enemies fall, are you prepared for the comeuppance?
Even though each enemy only has three attacks and which attack they'll use is completely predictable, this doesn't simplify the battles. In fact, they never grow stale. For one reason, your inventory size (choosing four items for battle from a sack of 19) is very small so the constant shuffling of weapons and items guarantees that you rarely use the same ones battle to battle.