The key is a sharp blade. Ideally, a straight razor that you whet and strop regularly. Next best, the cheapest store-brand razors you can find; $0.50 for a new razor each shave will give you better results than $2.00 for one razor over four shaves.
The face needs to be clean, as any oil in the hair will lubricate the blade and move it over, rather than through, the hair. The kind of shaving cream doesn't matter so much as how it is applied: the idea is to get bubbles under the hair, to stand them up; if you're not using a brush, you're just washing your face again.
Aftershave is just a poorly disguised cologne, if you ask me.
Straight razors become a hobby. They aren't hard to use or maintain. Sharpening them is simple: the back of the blade is the right width so that laying the blade flat on a whetstone gives the proper angle. Do this maybe once a week. Lots of variety in whetstones, much like choosing an amp. Then there's the strop: a length of leather and a length of rough canvas. Wipe the blade along these to take off the burrs that form when shaving or sharpening. (The blade edge is very, very thin--it is designed to be as sharp as possible, and not at all durable--so your hairs actually knick the blade, and the strop takes off those burrs.) The different materials provide different levels of refinement: the canvas takes off the roughest burrs, the rough side of the leather next, then the smooth leather makes the blade, well, smooth.
Shaving with a straight razor is pretty simple. Never go sideways, or against the grain of the hair. If you shave against the grain, the blade isn't sharp enough. You can cut yourself, but the minor cuts one gets as a learner are painless: they're usually longer than one gets with a safety razor, but they don't tear the skin like a safety blade, so they stop bleeding sooner and heal faster. The biggest hurdle is psychological: just like driving along the edge of a cliff and knowing you could turn the wheel and go flying, some people don't like the fact that this knife could cut through their throat.
It can take as little time as with a safety razor, for the same results; but I always found myself wanting to get a perfectly smooth shave, so I spent more time at it. Never had a shave anywhere near as good as with a straight razor using a safety or electric.
Why past tense? They're expensive. Most of the places that sell straight razors to consumers cater to the cognac & cigar club: they're luxury items, and priced that way. I imagine you could get a decent kit from a barber supply store for $100-150 ... might need to look into doing that ... hm.